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!