Thursday, August 21, 2008

"If I Can Die in a War, Why Can't I Buy a Beer?"

As college freshman leave home this week, presidents from 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Tufts, and Ohio State, are asking lawmakers to lower the nation's drinking ages (ages, plural...drinking age is a state issue, although every state in the country has adopted the age-21 requirement or face losing 10% of its federal highway funding) from 21 to 18.

Many groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, oppose this measure, saying it encourages binge drinking and will lead to more fatal crashes.

I disagree. In fact, I think it will be the exact opposite, and I applaud the college presidents for taking the lead.

We've previously discussed this in a roundabout way when Gwen said she occasionally allows her kids wine with dinner:

In countries where the drinking age is 18, 16, or even no drinking age at all, teenagers are exposed to alcohol at a much earlier age by having a glass of wine at dinner with their parents. It's just a normal part of life, so when they go off to college or get to the legal drinking age, it's no big deal. They don't feel any pressure to binge drink because it's just alcohol.

In the US, however, we treat alcohol as a taboo. And teens love taboos. Let's face it...teens love to rebel. If you say something's off-limits, they'll immediately gravitate towards it.

So if you're at a party where the booze is flowing, you'll drink. And drink. And drink. Who knows when the next time is that you'll get to drink, so you overdo it. And because you can't drink at home or in a safe environment, you end up having to drive afterwards.

Same thing with college. Once campuses started really cracking down on underage drinking, it was pushed off-campus. Why do you think the Duke lacrosse players were at an off-campus house the night of that ill-fated stripper party? Because they couldn't drink on campus. And when you push drinking off-campus, you inadvertantly force students to drive. (Yes, I know they could call cabs. That's not the issue here. The issue is off-campus vs. on-campus.)

Lower the drinking age, and you'll bring alcohol back to campus. Social life will return to campus, and students won't have to drive. They can just walk back to their dorm.

Lower the drinking age, and students won't feel the need to binge drink. We're one of the only countries in the world with a binge-drinking problem among teens and college students. Why is that? Well, I think it's because of our high legal drinking age.

When something's illegal, you tend to overindulge in it, for fear that you won't get to do it ever again. But if it's just a normal part of life (like how alcohol is treated in many other countries, particularly in Europe), then you don't feel any need to binge.

So I applaud these college presidents for a common sense solution to a problem and hope that lawmakers follow suit. And even if the drinking age doesn't get lowered, at least the president have started a dialogue and hopefully other solutions will be offered as well.

I know my opinion won't necessarily be popular amongst parents (although it will be amongst teens), but that's OK. So what do you think about binge drinking and drunk driving? Do you think the drinking age should be lowered? Raised? Left the same? Did your parents let you drink as a teen? Dish!


  1. Not a parent, but not a teen either (23).

    I've always been against the drinking age being 21. It makes no sense that you get your license at 16, you can vote at 18, and you can drink at 21; if anything, it should be the other way around. Give an irresponsible person a beer and they're going to make a fool of themselves; give an irresponsible person a car, and they might just kill someone. (Give an irresponsible person both...)

    I prefer the way many European nations handle it, where kids can have beer and wine at younger ages but not hard liquor till they're 16, and no driver's license until they're 18 or 19. Makes much more sense, in my opinion.

  2. Keep it at 21. Doesn't matter if you can drive at 16; vote at 18; enlist at 18. Keep the drinking age at 21.

    There's an issue with teens talking on the cell phone or even texting while driving. Can you imagine what would happen if they'd be stupid enough to do either while driving under the influence?

    I also can't help but to wonder if this "binge drinking problem" doesn't have something to do with the child's upbringing. (Yeah, okay, I'm blaming parents.) We're in a society today where we have to coddle kids, rather than punish them. I grew up knowing that if I did something *wrong* or *bad*, that I'd get hell when my parents found out, so I just didn't do it.

    I didn't drink illegally. Yep, I even went to college too (University of Cincinnati), and lived on campus. I went to parties where there was alcohol, but I didn't drink because the rules said that you had to be 21 to drink.

    Sorry if my parents installed the necessity of "rule following" in me. Maybe more parents need to do that to their own children, then leave it to others to do their job. (Yep, probably going to annoy parents with that comment).

    And that whole bit of how you're at a party, and you'll drink, and drink, and drink, and you overdo it? It's an excuse, pure and simple. Because I'm 33 and I've been known to drink, and drink, and drink, and I overdo it on occasion--since I've been of legal drinking age--and I can drink in a safe environment, too. But it's more fun to drink and drink and drink and overdo it when you're in a social setting. That doesn't change regardless of how old or young you are.

    And, yes, there's been three times where I drove where I should not have been--and I was much old enough to know better. I even knew when I got behind the wheel that I shouldn't be driving, but I did. I just can't see an 18-year-old be that *aware* if he/she is in a similar situation. Or what if he/she *is* aware that they shouldn't be driving, but peer pressure makes them do it anyway.

    "Awww, come on, it's just a 15-minute drive. It'll be fine."

    I did a 15-minute drive once while intoxicated. I still wonder how the hell I got home. Took quite a lot of focus, especially chanting "red, red, red" at red lights, so I knew that I had to remain stopped.

  3. Wow, this is a tough issue...I can see both sides of it.

    I wasn't a drinker as a teen. In fact, I didn't have my first alcoholic drink until a month before my 21st birthday--it was a wine cooler.

    So I'm not sure I can really give a good perspective on it, because it wasn't an issue to me as a teen. And my kids are still too young for it to be an issue in our house right now.

    I'll be interested to see others chime in with thoughts.

  4. I have never been a big drinker, and I attribute it to being allowed to have wine with dinner when I was a young teen. My parents took the point of view that I should be allowed to taste wine if I wanted, because it would teach me to appreciate it and think of it as a normal part of life.

    And guess what? I never drank at parties in high school (mostly because I thought getting drunk was stupid...did you see how stupid those kids acted?...and also because they only had keg beer...yuck). Yes, I drank in college when underaged, but never in excess.

    Why never in excess, even though my friends did? Because I'd never viewed it as a taboo. It was just normal, so I treated it as normal.

  5. Anonymous10:14 AM

    Honestly, it's very easy to get your hands on alcohol, whether you be 15 or 18 or 20.

    The good thing about keeping the drinking age 21 is that when a parent lets her underage kids have a party and then allows the kids go home drunk, the parent can be held responsible. I think that is a good thing.

    Whenever you're first granted something new-- whether it be a driver's license or the ability to drink, you're probably not going to act as responsibly with it as a a seasoned user would. Letting teens have all that freedom, the ability to drive PLUS the ablitity to drink right around the same age is a recipe for disaster.

    I know, I was a very "responsible" person and nearly drank myself to death when I was 19.

  6. Anonymous10:26 AM

    I'd like to see both the age to do military combat AND the drinking age be 19, the age when most kids are out of high school.

  7. Interesting comments. Keep 'em coming.

    Deanna, 19 for both is an interesting idea as well...would you also raise the driving age and the voting age?

    For the record, I think 15 or 16 (and isn't it as young as 13 in some rural states???) is way too young for a driver's license. (Spoken like someone who grew up in a state where it was 17.)

  8. Personally, I don't think the drinking age matters one way or the other with regards to alcohol abuse or binge drinking. Whether they raise it or lower it won't stop the problem. IMO, the reason behind getting drunk is the same reason behind doing drugs - a need to escape, to shut down the brain, to not have to think or worry or feel. It's pretty sad that too many people - of all ages, btw - are unable to cope with reality to such a point that they feel they have to shut down their brains. (And I used to be one of them, which in retrospect was just pathetic.) I've taught my daughter that her brain is her only means of survival and that excessive alcohol or any recreational drugs would damage her ability to survive and succeed. Her life is the most important thing, and she's capable of handling anything if she puts her mind to it. Escaping is never the answer.

    Touchy issue for me, as you can see. I could go on, but I don't think this is the place for ranting. Great topic, though, Amanda. =o)

  9. Idiots come in all ages. 55 year olds drive drunk and talk on cell phones while driving too.

    You can vote.
    You can join the army.
    You can drink.

  10. Shantal11:53 AM

    I think the drinking age should be lowered. It doesn’t do anything to stop teens from drinking, or other people. So what if they can’t buy the liquor? Someone else will just buy it for them. If the drinking age is lowered, then they’re responsible for their own actions.

    Teenagers aren’t stupid contrary to what many believe. They know the risks of drinking and refuse to ignore them. By drinking they’re considered rebellious and that is what a lot of teenagers want to be. There are a lot of reasons for being rebellious but I’m not going to list them all. Teenagers know they aren’t supposed to binge drink but they do it because they know they aren’t supposed to. Lower the age and they won’t have as much of a reason to binge drink.

    Yes, a child may take on the same traits as the parents if the parents drink a lot, and/or drive under the influence but those children, those teenagers, are educated about drinking. It isn’t hard to observe what drinking does to a person, or the consequences of binge drinking or driving under the influence. You see it in life, you hear it on the news, you hear it in school, and some parents tell their children.

    A person, regardless of age, always has the choice whether to drink or not. They choose to drink until they are drunk for whatever reasons they have.

    Why is the drinking age so high? Because you don’t think they’re old enough to make the choice? Again, the argument, if they can’t drink at eighteen the government shouldn’t allow them to enlist at eighteen. Both can kill them, so why not make it even? Both at 21 or both at 18.

    About talking on cell phones and texting while driving, adults do this all the time, yet no one seems to care about that. Every time a teenager does something an adult does, the action is magnified for no reason. Is that because of age? If you haven’t noticed, most children are growing up faster. Judging them based on age is discrimination.

    That is my opinion. But then again, I don’t live in the U.S.A. I’ve never even been there before. I first started drinking when I was 11. My mom gave me a cooler. I’ve never gotten drunk before, and I’ve never been even close to drunk.
    Oh, and since I see others commenting on it.... I think the driving age should be raised, to 18, where everything else should be. ^^ Driving is something teenagers are stupid about – one of the reasons I don’t want to get my license.

    Age 16

  11. I think raising the enlisting age is more appropriate than lowering legal drinking age. My main concern is that most 18 year olds are still in high school and still have high school aged friends and gf/bfs.

    And peer pressure is much more excruciating during high school. I'm thinking of say...the girl or boy who turns 18 at the beginning of their senior year. That kid's friends are most likely 17 and 16 and are going to ask for beer buying.

    I think the age of 20 would be a better match for both the enlisting and the drinking. Even though my husband was military--I don't agree with recruiting from high school. Although I can see the benefit to kids who may not have a chance at college or even getting out of town any other way--I don't think it is a valid time to make such big choices that they can't change their mind about. Perhaps a two-year training period in which they can take the next step at 20 or something would be better.

    Of course, I am a mom. If you look at two generations before mine--their lives were a lot different. Their teen years were a lot closer to their adult years than they are now. They had to grow up a lot faster then. Now it seems that our culture dictates the benefits of growing up faster without the know? We push such an artificial sexuality at them, but expect them to still be kids.

  12. WOW, these are really good comments. And Shantal, thanks for leaving your feedback--it's good to hear how teens feel, too!

  13. Great comments, everyone! And thanks for leaving feedback,
    Shantal! We love hearing what teens have to say.

  14. I have a son who will be 18 in January. Honestly, I think the college presidents are right.

    I think it's ridiculous that we have multiple standards for being legally an adult in this country. If he can vote, enlist, and be convicted as an adult, he ought to be able to buy alcohol as an adult.

    He'll be old enough to get married without our permission -- but not old enough to drink at his wedding reception? He can work a double shift in a coal mine, but can't buy a beer in a bar afterwards?

    It just doesn't make any sense.

    Of course, if you really want to prevent binge drinking, drunk driving, etc., we should just ban all alcohol sales to everyone, regardless of age. Oh, wait, we tried that once ...

  15. if you can die for your country or elect the leader of the free world, then you should be allowed to buy a beer.

    They should be the same age. If you wanna raise voting and draft age to 21, go for it.

  16. Nicely put, Gwen:

    Now it seems that our culture dictates the benefits of growing up faster without the responsibility... you know? We push such an artificial sexuality at them, but expect them to still be kids.

    As it's been mentioned already, it's up to us parents to teach our children responsibility and not cry foul (or sue) when we don't do our job.

    I would prefer that the government's measure of adulthood be consistent across the board. 18 would suffice.

  17. Keep at 21. The argument that you can enlist at 18 and therby be entitled to drink misses the point of irresponsiblity and accountability still present in the later teen years. Servicemen and women have accountability, rules and punishments in place for going beyond limits. The teen at home or working has few to none. Drinking and driving are still major problems, and the "invincibility" syndrome that affects so many teens at 18 is much scarier with a lowered drinking age, than sending that teen to war.

    Studies of the brain indicate that this age has an underdeveloped lobe that permits greater impulsiveness; this area of the brain continues to develop and at 21 and beyond the "maturity" of becoming less impulsive and more purposeful has grown.

    Leave the age alone and save a few lives. Make the presidents of prestigious colleges enforce the existing legal drinking age instead of trying to remove their obligation (& potential for legal action by parents of harmed, underage collegians) by lowering it.

  18. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I believe that no matter what the legal age for drinking is or what the laws against driving after drinking are, there are those who will do as they please. The laws only stop those who pay attention to the rules.

    However, I remember in California when they lowered the speed limit to 55, people drove 65-70 without hesitation. Then the law changed and the speed limit returned to 65. Now I'm passed by motorists that think 80 is close enough.

    Probably not the best comparison, but it does speak to human nature.

  19. Anonymous6:10 PM

    Going to let my gray hairs out here. I remember when the argument was: If they're old enough to die for this country, why can't they vote, buy a beer, etc. Also, I don't see that raising the drinking age to 21 has cut down on the illegal high school drinking. Just as many kids were going to parties when my daughter was in high school (2 years ago) as when I was in high school (multiple decades ago). Of course, more of them were illegal. But that didn't stop them from drinking. Some of them were even doing so with their parents okay.

    I'm with Nonny and anyone else who thinks that the Europeans treat alcohol use sensibly--preferably with meals, as part of a social occasion, and usually beer or wine. I think that its illicitness is one of the biggest attractions for alcohol.

    I'd be a big fan of raising the age when teens could get their license, too. Although I doubt that will ever work, because the kids want to be able to drive so they can get jobs to pay for their cars, which they need to get to their jobs. I keep hoping that the price of gas will lead to a reduction in teen driving, but I don't see any evidence in my local high school parking lot.

  20. Anonymous10:51 PM

    As a high school teacher (15 years) and someone who was 17 when the age changed to 21, I fully believe the age should be lowered again. YES, kids definitely drank before, but this binge drinking epidemic is way worse now. Not only that, but if the US govt. believes 18-yr-olds can join the military, vote, pay the adult price for crimes committed, 18-yr-olds are old enough to drink legally. Will they always be responsible? No. But I know an awful lot of 39-yr-old teachers who can get a little carried away at times also. :-)

  21. Anonymous2:21 PM

    I'm 27. The whole underage thing is still pretty clear in my mind. I drank underage because my parents were strict and never allowed alcohol in the house. So turning 18 was like being let out of a cage. Drinking alcohol was naughty and I liked breaking the rules. The whole taboo thing was very attractive at that age. When I turned 21 I was pretty much finished with the whole drinking thing. The thrill was gone. I've decided that when I have children they will be allowed wine at dinner as in Europe. I think normal exposure to alcohol is better than villainizing it.

  22. Here in Australia we're lobbying to get the drinking age put up to 21, at the moment it is 18. Our per capita stats may not be as bad as some but the binge drinking episodes don't stop just because you lower the drinking age. We have the same morality, social, and physical issues that those countries who have a higher drinking age do, and perhaps in some cases it's worse, as we've got a small population that's vastly isolated.
    I can understand when people say that they are legally an adult why can't they drink like an adult, but it doesn't change things, binges still happen.