Lowering the Legal Drinking Age?

Rach, the “teen”

My hall has had five kids go to the hospital in the first six weeks of college. Everyone who lives in this hall is underage. Still, every weekend a group of us meet in the common room and we all walk together to the frat that’s having the best party. Clearly, underage drinking is a problem on my campus. But we’re not alone, this happens at almost every college.

We have had lots and lots of meetings and assemblies on how to take care of a drunk person, the signs of alcohol poisoning and when it’s time to call 911. But we haven’t had a single meeting on how to drink responsibly. This bothers me, not everyone experiments, but those who do, are not told how to manage themselves. Those who don’t drink are taught how to manage the drunk kids. Besides being unfair, this sucks for those of us who want to be responsible.

Lowering the Legal Drinking Age?

I’m angry that I went to a school that has greek life and a partying culture. The thing is, a lot of college presidents want to lower the drinking age. The president of my college isn’t on that list. He might or might not want to lower the age, I don’t know. But what I do know, is that drinking is a huge culture at my college, and yet the frats and sports houses are open every weekend letting freshman in. And that makes me regret my decision to come here. To be honest, the fact that there was a Greek life here had no effect on my decision, I didn’t even think about it.

So “mom” and “dad,” what do you think about the drinking age, the college presidents who want to lower it, and schools that have such a huge culture of drinking?

Mary, the “mom”

I have such mixed emotions about this.

I wonder why your college spends time teaching about how to take care of a drunk person instead of how to drink responsibly. I expect that their lawyers tell them that it’s unacceptable to lecturing on how to drink responsibly to an audience of students for whom drinking is illegal. That’s a shame, given the reality.

I wonder if those kids would drink so much if it wasn’t taboo – if there was a pub and having a beer or two was no big deal. Maybe the “greeks” still would, but at least the rest of you would have something else to do on the weekend.

I wonder how “we” can let an 18-year-old risk their lives serving in the military, but not allow them a beer.

Lowering the Legal Drinking Age?

I wonder how “we” can consider 17-year-olds old enough to marry and have a child, but not old enough to toast with a glass of champagne. (Of course, alcohol may well be how they got in the mess in the first place and, given the pregnancy, they shouldn’t be toasting anyway.)

I wonder how “our” system could actually charge nice kids like you with a crime if the authorities caught you having a beer with your friends.

Then I read what Stephen Wallace, Chairman of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) has to say on the issue and I think my wonderings are outdated. I was in high school (17 years old) at the time when the states were raising the drinking age. Having grown up with the drinking age being 18, I resented the change. I guess I still harbor that teenage resentment. But, as a parent, I have to take Mr. Wallace seriously. His statistics are eye-opening. The driving fatalities stat is the one that bothers me the most. The thing is, even if you trust your own kid to not drive drunk, what about everyone else on the roads? And, there is no way I think high school kids should be drinking and the lower the drinking age, the easier access to alcohol becomes for the high school set.

So, while I have some reservations about it, I think the legal drinking age needs to stay where it is. And, bottom line, I have trouble believing that this effort is going to get any real traction. As, for the culture of drinking, I have no idea how we fix that – maybe I’ll ponder it over a glass of wine later.

Lowering the Legal Drinking Age?

Brad, the “dad”

Really interesting, Rachel – and really disturbing. Because the Valkyrie came home from college just this weekend and told me about the three boys that live right across the hall from her in their co-ed dorm, and how two of them are drunk pretty much all the time, and the third about half the time. And that’s not really very unusual in college c. 2008, she tells me. La, la.

So I’m worried. Plenty worried.

I have to be honest: I was a pretty enthusiastic drinker in my twenties (post-college in my case, but so what?), and boy howdy, I was good at it. Lots of parties, and lots of stupid decisions. Inexplicably, I survived, and for some reason I lost the ability to function with alcohol in my system right around the age of 30 – apparently I’d used of all my Get Out of Hangover Free cards in less than a decade – so alcohol was a relatively rare thing in our house by the time the Valk and the Elf came along (they actually don’t believe my “back when I was drinking like a fish” stories; that’s just not me, they say.). But I know how easy it is to fall into, even for smart and stable kids; Frankly, I know how much fun it can be – at first when you’re young and bullet-proof. So yeah: it worries me.

But the Valk’s college isn’t quite like yours. The Chancellor has openly, repeatedly stated that he’s against lowering the drinking age – he thinks it’s just a ploy to avoid taking responsibility – and a big part of the school’s (apparently highly ineffective) orientation program was about not drinking, as well as dealing with the drunks you’d run into. They’re trying to cope by putting policies into place that isn’t quite ‘zero tolerance’ – and I agree with them, I think zero tolerance is a stupid, modern-day variation on Prohibition, and doomed from the outset. But they have already suspended one kid (for a first-night-at-college binge that resulted in alcohol poisoning) and said “Al-A-Teen or expulsion” to two others (including one of the guys across the hall) in her dorm alone. And AA has meetings right on campus, every night. What’s more, the RA’s have no trouble confronting the drinkers directly, and the Valk swears that these drinking kids, and others like them, are being ostracized from most activities. Binging is hugely popular with a small group, it seems, but avoided and even shunned by the majority — including, by the way, the majority of Greeks on campus.

So she says. And so I believe. Because I have absolutely no alternative but to trust she’s not into it. After all, at this distance, there’s nothing I can do. And as for changing the culture that says, “Drinking until you’re so hammered you throw up and fall over in your own sick is FUN!”…heck, I don’t know how it got to that point in the first place, so how can it be fixed? We just have to shiver in our jammies and hope that even the semi-healthy students will see just how dangerous and stupid binge drinking is, and take a step back into the Land of the Occasional Beer.

But truthfully? Confidence is low, Ground Control. Confidence is low.