The air is getting cooler–at night, it’s almost downright cold in Philadelphia. Each day is a little shorter. The leaves are beginning to change their colors. The birds are beginning to fly south for warmer weather. The air is beginning to get a sweet smell from leaves biodegrading and from mothers firing up their ovens for the first time in a few months to bake their children cookies. Children who will then head out for high school and college, and attend class, and go out afterwards and get recklessly, hopelessly, intoxicated.
A few of them will get drunk enough to do something stupid. They’ll jump out of windows and break arms and legs, or pick fights with people far too large for them. They’ll drive and run red lights and get into accidents. Of course, the same can be said of almost any age group, but it’s no surprise that it’s the underaged who find themselves in the most trouble, in regards to alcohol.
When I was underage, drinking was facilitated through a number of means. First, almost always could an older sibling or friend be found to purchase alcohol with our dollars. The actual acquisition of alcohol for an underage drinker is remarkably easy. The summer after my 19th birthday, I estimated that I spent approximately one-thousand American dollars on cheap beer and liquor, for myself and my two closest friends, as well as anyone who cared to come to our parties.
A bigger problem, frequently, was location. Unlike the of-age crowd, we could not go to bars, if we wanted to, and we didn’t own homes for ourselves. So, during the summer, we became professional house-sitters. You’re going on vacation? Yes, I’d love to stay in your home, clean-up, feed your dogs, and throw gatherings for myself and only 25-50 friends and all the Beast Ice I can afford. Oh, and you’ll pay me for this? Lovely.
When no empty house was available, people resorted to less trusty means. The most popular method was to travel to the home of some whose parents were heavy sleepers, and early to bed. Once they sleep, their blessed son calls everybody and within 45 minutes, there’s 50-100 people in the woods behind the house, drinking out of plastic cups. In fact, houses with woods were always popular places to drink, because even if drinking inside was popular, in the event of a police visit, where does everyone run to? The woods. Run to the woods. Hang out for 30 minutes. Come back. Keep drinking. [In fact, I have a fantastic story regarding this very event, but Mrs Thursday has informed me that this story is not to be repeated where certain parties can find it until 2027. So, keep reading. In less than two decades, we’ll get that story to you.]
Now, personally, I believe that the stupidity of underage drinking almost always occurs because the drinking age is 21, and since parents are liable for their children’s indiscretions, most parents are justifiably unwilling to facilitate underage drinking, even if they, too, disagree with the law. The common, pithy remark from people who support a lower drinking age goes something like, “At 18 you’re old enough to vote for President, or die for your country, but you can’t sit down with a cold beer.” It’s not a bad quote. It does show some confusion regarding what the US Government thinks needs the wisdom of age to do. However, it’s oft repeated, and while it shows that the law is silly, it fails to show that the law is dangerous. The fact the the 21 drinking age is dangerous is what people need to see, if anything is to change.
Why dangerous? Because of the method of introduction. Sociologists and psychologists and other people who study high schoolers gauge that the two biggest influences in their lives are their friends, and their parents. These are people that little Billy has known for most of his life. There is an inherent trust–even as things may be hostile between a parent and a child, most children can admit that their parents generally look out for them. However, children are forced to avoid their parents in order to have alcohol. So they go to their friends, whom they trust almost equally, and who aren’t going to judge them or prohibit their activities. These friends, however, are ignorant. At least, they’re no less ignorant than Billy. And they end up drinking foolishly, irresponsibly, whatever, because there is no one to keep them in check, or teach them responsible drinking.
Then the child graduates high school, and goes on to college, and all those trusted relationships are gone. At least, they’re placed on hold. New relationships are formed, and, at least, at first, they’re not as trustworthy. Most of the kids who didn’t drink in high school start drinking as freshmen in college. Again, because they can only obtain alcohol illegally, they drink cheap, disgusting drinks, and drink them quickly, and in large quantities. When you’re under 21, you only drink to get drunk. You can’t relax with a beer because, after all, you’re drinking in the woods.
Most of the lower drinking age advocates push for a drinking age of 18. Honestly, I think this is inadequate. I think provides a parent only a few scant months to teach a child to drink safely, to appreciate a good beer or wine. Plus, it’s given Billy far too much time to run around in the woods, avoiding cops.
I think parents should have the ability to serve alcohol to their children. A 14 year old cannot buy alcohol, but if mom wants to give her daughter a small glass of wine with Christmas dinner, it’s perfectly legal. To buy alcohol, I think 16 is appropriate. A 16-year old can legally consume alcohol, and can legally buy beer and wine. To buy liquor, or to drink anything in a bar, the necessary age is 18. Thus, there’s a natural progression. Alcohol only under the supervision of parents, followed by beer and wine, independantly (but, theoretically, still with some supervision, as they’re going to have to drink somewhere) and then at 18, the kids are adults, and they’re free to drink as they please, where they please.
It’s not a perfect system. Certainly, 16 year olds will buy alcohol and provide it to their 15 year old friends, and so on. But, at least, parents get the change to teach their children responsible drinking before the children learn from their friends to get blackout drunk, and the children learn to handle lower alcohol beverages before they head for the Wild Turkey 101.