American teenage culture is often characterized by excessive partying, beer kegs and the infamous red solo cup. Yet our country is one of few to have drinking age as high as 21. By labeling alcohol as forbidden, we also label it as dangerous and the act of drinking it, rebellious. America’s strict restrictions on alcohol have the opposite effect of what the law intends: they make it more appealing to teens and, in turn, promote teenage binge drinking.
In 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed, which penalized states that did not raise their drinking ages from 18 to 21. If they did not comply, states would lose a portion of their federal highway funds. Within four years, all 50 states had raised their minimum drinking ages as a result. However, there has since been debate about the sensibility and effectiveness of this law.
“If you’re going to take on the responsibilities of being 18,” senior Grace Colson said, “shouldn’t you be responsible enough to control your drinking?”
In contrast, in other countries with fewer restrictions on alcohol, adolescents binge drink less. Students who participated in the Italian trip last year were surprised to see a very different culture surrounding alcohol, in a place where you can have beer and wine at 16 and all alcohol at age 18.
“[The Italian kids] seemed very comfortable around alcohol,” senior Isabelle Metzcus said. “They never seemed like they needed to have any. People are seeking it out in América. It’s dangerous. It’s something that’s cool. Something that’s fun. Where as for them, it’s more of a normal thing.”
“In Italy, teens don’t binge drink because it’s not rebellious,” Colson agreed.
English teacher Sophie Abitbol described similar experiences growing up in France. In her youth, she frequently had small amounts of alcohol at family gatherings and social events but she never perceived it as dangerous or rebellious.
“It wasn’t something that I did in secret,” Abitbol said. “And it wasn’t something that I did to get drunk.”
In coming to America at age 15, she was shocked by how differently people drank.
“All of a sudden it was this thing that people did to get drunk,” Abitbol said. “It wasn’t part of the social activity, it was the social activity. It was the point.”
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, teenage alcohol abuse is a major issue, one that kills 4,700 people each year. I do not believe that we should simply ignore this problem. However, with the nature of teenagers in mind, the more we forbid alcohol, the more interesting and exciting it becomes. Telling teens they can never have a sip until age 21 is not a solution.
“The more you make it be an age-based decision, the more there is an emphasis to do it before that age,” Abitbol said.
By making drinking seem like a normal, everyday thing that doesn’t need to be done in excess and by increasing education about alcohol and its effects, we can begin to fix the drinking problem of America’s teens. a