Opinion: Softies

POSTED: 06/4/12 1:52 PM

Michiel Hennink, a student of political science at the University of Reading in Great Britain, gave the Dutch government a piece of his mind in an opinion piece that appeared in De Volkskrant on Saturday – and he had a valid point. The government attempts to protect young people against any and all risks, Hennink wrote. That leads to condescending measures that now have to take so-called dangerous snacks away from them. It seems to me, Hennink wrote, that every form of rawness, courage, hardness and power has to be fought.
Last Thursday Amsterdam’s health service announced that it wants to ban energy drinks for students. This fits with the approach of the Labor Party that wants to ban French fries around schools. The Christian Democratic Appeal supports an increase of the age limit for buying alcohol to 18.
Seems healthy for young people all those measures, Hennink writes sarcastically. He wonders whether the Netherlands is not in the process of creating more and more softies. That’s a shame, Hennink opines: who is able to become a strong person without taking risks and without incurring damages? Previously young people were firmly molded to turn them into something beautiful – these days we make sure the clay is soft.
This way, Hennink argues, an elephant skin becomes a tender baby skin, scars are replaced by jewelry (also for men) and lovers recognize each other by the smell of their perfume instead of by the smell of their bodies.
Hennink objects to these condescending measures. The energy drinks the health service in Amsterdam wants to ban contain as much caffeine as a good cup of coffee. A child would have to drink about a hundred of them before it causes any damage, he wrote. This is actually an exaggeration, but that is probably necessary to get his point across.
Hennink is also up in arms about the Labor Party’s idea to ban French fries from around schools. Basically the party wants to close snackbars in the vicinity of schools during the student’s breaks. Hennink wonders how it wants to enforce this, and whether bakeries and supermarkets will also come under scrutiny. And what happens, he wonders, once these students arrive in the world of adults where they have to make their own choices and where the Labor Party no longer stands guard for them?
The only concession Hennink is prepared to make concerns a higher age limit for buying alcohol. Alcohol is simply damaging, especially for youngsters, he wrote. But even here the political scientist has questions. The average binge drinker in the Netherlands is 15 years and four months old. The largest alcohol abusers are therefore youngsters who are already below the 16-year age limit. And anyway, Hennink muses, it is almost a taboo, but is it not allowed for a beer to be fun, even though it is not healthy?
It’s the idea that counts, Hennink notes. Should youngsters show their ID in the future when they want to buy a bag of candy? Will helmets for cyclists become obligatory?
What will become of us if our future entrepreneurs don’t have guts? Who will we be on the global stage once there is not a single Dutchman left who is able to take a hit? Where will we find talented players for the national soccer team? A backsliding youth will result in a backsliding country, and this condescending policy is the first step in that direction.
Not everything has to be safe and healthy, Hennink argues. Young people must burn their fingers every now and then, as long as they turn into nice ladies or a solid guy in the end.
And what about this Hennink-observation: “What happened to the time that men and women still had beards, the time when you masked a fart with a burp? Previously the raw smell of sweat was stalwart. It threatens to become something of the past with an overprotected youth that will soon not be allowed to eat French fries anymore, that will not be allowed to buy a soda and that will not be allowed to drink a beer during the summer.”
Hmm. When we said Hennink had a point, we did not mean to say that we agree with him on all points. We’re not looking forward to a rise in popularity of natural sweat – but maybe that’s more of a problem in the Caribbean than it is in the Netherlands.
If kids want to eat French fries, drink energy drinks and have a beer every now and then – who cares? That’s where Hennink would have a point. But the reality is of course that youngsters do not have enough with one energy drink or one soda or one beer.
Binge drinking is a serious national health problem, as is obesity and overweight. Should we then let our young people make their own choices until they are ridiculously overweight or until their brains are fried from alcohol abuse?
If Hennink means to say that the government policy ought to address youngsters’ own responsibility, we are with him. If that is done properly, there is no need for banning this, that and the other from the vicinity of schools. And indeed, such measures look good on paper but they seldom have the effect politicians are after.
That is the weakness of the Dutch Labor Party: after all these years it still believes that the society is malleable after the ideas it puts forth. Reality is too stubborn for that. Any restrictive measure will be countered by moves to get around it.
So yeah, maybe the Dutch government is indeed creating more softies with all these restrictive measures. The thing is that Hennink does not offer a real alternative. That’s maybe because he is still young.

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