Let them learn

Let them learn

Not too many years ago the state of Tennessee hiked its legal drinking age to 21. Why? Eighteen-year-olds were generally considered too immature to imbibe reasonably. They were considered more likely to get drunk, jump behind the wheel of a car, and hurt someone. They were also considered likely to guzzle drink after drink rapidly, in what is called “binge drinking,” and harm not only themselves, but others around them.

A recent piece in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, however, indicates that the raising of the drinking age in Tennessee, and similar acts by other state legislatures around the country, have instead witnessed unforeseen consequences. Rather than reduce the moderate consumption of alcohol by the 18- to 20-year-old crowd, the laws have caused the younger set to embark on crazed, stupid, behind-the-scenes chugging that is producing, in the words of the Times, a generation of “feral drunks.”

As proof, the author, Jack Hitt, relies on his own college experience, at the nearby University of the South in Sewanee. There, the author relates, drinking patterns during his college days 20 years ago involved temperate experimentation with alcohol. Often in the presence of professors and other adults, in reasonable social surroundings, students would gather to drink, converse, toast one another, and immerse themselves in a shroud of good cheer. Today, the author relates, students who are not of legal age instead often travel off campus, or gather somewhere deep in the woods, where they quickly polish off excessive amounts of alcohol. So impaired, they then travel back onto campus where they attend parties at which they are not allowed to drink. In a couple of instances, students have met with injury as a result of their closeted conduct.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the nation’s current conservative mood swing is the attempt to legislate good conduct and responsible behavior. The correct way to teach young people to drink is not, however, to push them into doing stupid things. In Europe, where alcoholism rates are much lower, drinking ages do not even exist in some countries. There, young people are raised in environments where, at an early age, they learn things about responsible consumption and the dangers of excess.

We would be wise to revisit our drinking laws. If 18-year-olds can go to war, and if they can vote, they certainly deserve the right to drink responsibly.


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