Lower Drinking Age?

The gang of 100… the university presidents who are suggesting that Congress consider reducing the drinking age to 18… have taken a stand against taking a stand. It could be said that they are putting up the white flag on binge drinking on campus, washing their hands of any responsibility, and shrugging their shoulders as they go off to a meeting with wealthy alumni. Or am I being cynical?

For many years, the drinking age was 21. Then, during my youth, our country’s military draft of 18 year olds begged the question: if someone is old enough to be forced to go to war for their country, isn’t it silly that they can’t get a beer? That was a very good question, and the drinking age was lowered to 18 in many states.

So, why was the drinking age brought back up to 21? I can’t say with authority that I’m sure, but my guess is that the carnage on the highways may have had something to do with it. The uniform drinking age also had the benefit of stemming the nighttime treks across state borders and back.

While it’s true that the legal drinking age is regularly ignored by many, bringing it back down to 18 seems like a bad idea to me. As it is now, if a 15 year old wants to have a beer bash, they need to rely on someone to break the law on their behalf, be it a parent, older sibling, or unscrupulous store owner. Changing the age to 18 won’t change any of that. It would only expand the number of purchasers who are friends, school mates and siblings of 15 year olds.

My generation ushered in a new phrase when we started to have kids. Here it is: “Kids are going to (fill in the blank with whatever distructive behavior is being discussed) no matter what, so we should give in to their desires, and try to make it as safe as possible.” This is, in my opinion, a lazy and incorrect approach, no matter what the destructive behavior is. A more useful statement might be: “Kids are going to try to do (behavior), so we should make it clear that it isn’t okay with us, and provide serious consequences both for them, and anybody who helps them do it.”

I am not a tea-totaler. I have a beer a few times a week, but I don’t drink to get drunk, probably due to control issues, meaning, I don’t like the idea of losing control. It is true that people of all ages can drink in moderation. It’s also true that there is an inverse proportion between the age of the drinker and the liklihood that drinking happens in moderation.

So, what would I do if I were king, God help us? Well, the University of Wisconsin wrings its institutional hands about binge drinking every year. They have committees and studies and offer positive alternative activities for students. That’s all fine. Here’s what they don’t do, which might help: forbid alcohol in dorm rooms of underage students, expell students arrested for being intoxicated or using a fake ID, and prosecute AND expell students who are of age who provide alcohol for minors. Thousands of students are denied access to that great institution every year, so those not wanting to play by the rules could go elsewhere, and people who can’t now get in would have the chance at a first rate education, as long as they follow the rules. By the way, the UW was not one of the gang of 100.

Most people drink, and many sometimes drink to excess. I get that. It’s not an awful thing, and more to the point, it’s none of my damn business what people do if they’re not hurting me or the people I care about. I understand that I’m the odd man out here, and I don’t want to make it my quest to change people’s minds about drinking. However, the deaths that result from young people drinking, not to mention the pregnancies, STD’s, physical and emotional abuse, and suicides shouldn’t just be chalked up to the inevitibility of youth, should they?

Oops. Gotta go. The guy came and he wants his soap box back.

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