Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Beginnings of a Theory...

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the rather sudden influx of underage drinking in my little niche of Massachusetts. It's not that high-schoolers getting bombed is something new, it's just that it seems to be happening more frequently around these parts. Now, I'll preface this by saying I have a very close minor acquaintance (we'll call him Steve) who was arrested on bogus OUI charges -- he wasn't drunk, he was in a driveway, and he wasn't even in the car when the cop pulled up -- so I'm of the opinion that law enforcement in this area is a little trigger-happy, but that's just me.

That's not the point. The point is that Steve is smart about drinking. He doesn't go out and get bombed with his friends. More often than not, he's the designated driver when he and his friends hit up a string of house parties. He enjoys cracking open the occasional cold one, and enjoys -- for the most part -- responsibly.

Now, Steve is turning 19 in May. He grew up in a house and among friends who have always appreciated alcohol, especially beer, for all of its delicious goodness. As such he was taught to drink, but to drink slowly and appreciatively the same way you'd savor a piece of flourless chocolate cake the night before you started a diet.

Still, as a society we have decided that it's not okay to allow minors to purchase or consume alcohol. My question is, why? I don't want to get into a conversation about changing the drinking age here; rather, I'd like to examine why it is we feel that people under the age of 21 shouldn't buy alcohol.

It seems as though the commonly held belief is that alcohol makes minors do bad things. While it is true that alcohol has the potential to alter behavior and judgement capabilities, it is not the alcohol that seems to be the problem here, but the person consuming it. When we talk about the dangers of underage drinking, for example, we're not talking about the act of drinking being bad, but rather the irresponsible acts that so often go along with underage drinking in America.

So if we're looking to solve the problem of underage drinking, the solution can't possibly be increased punishment for minors caught with alcohol, or minors caught under the influence, or adult hosts to underage drinkers, or package stores who unwittingly sell alcohol to minors, etc. Instead, a solution would have to contain at its core a message of responsibility. This involves implementing alcohol awareness programs that do not preach abstinence as so many ineffective sex-ed programs do, but rather responsibility.

After all, we're not going to stop kids from drinking. But we can stop kids from drinking irresponsibly.

No comments: