Denmark’s teens have a drinking problem, and rather than change the country’s famously liberal booze policies, the government is turning to YouTube videos and virtual reality games to teach kids to drink responsibly.
Starting at age 16, Danes can buy beer and wine around the clock from any convenience store. According to Peter Dalum, project manager for the Danish Cancer Society’s alcohol campaigns, they’re even allowed to drink in schools. This combination of access and a heavy-drinking social culture made Denmark teens the booziest in Europe, in a recent World Health Organization survey.
Case in point: the infamous “puttefest.” Every year in late summer, thousands of high school students gather in a field outside Copenhagen to celebrate the new school year. For lack of a more polite expression, they get shitfaced. The Red Cross sets up a tent where they perform first aid for the hopelessly inebriated, the police simply watch events unfold, and many of the kids told VICE News that their parents helped them buy drinks and dropped them off.
In the last few years, other countries in Europe have cracked down on such teen booze binges. For instance, Iceland, where until recently teens were getting even more lit than the Danes, imposed curfews and got young people involved in extracurricular activities. And drinking rates fell dramatically.
But Denmark’s authorities have taken a different approach, emphasizing reason over rules. One idea that’s currently in development is a new VR game sponsored by public health foundation Trygfonden. It simulates a teen party and lets players choose what to drink, how much, and with whom: Researchers working on the project say the choose-your-own-adventure game will inform teens about consequences, so they’ll make better choices.
VICE News Tonight went to Denmark to ask how this soft-touch approach could get Europe’s top-drinking teens to change their ways.
This segment originally aired February 11, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.