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Defining Adulthood

In recent weeks, there has been a buzz around the country regarding lowering the national drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen. College presidents from more than one hundred schools around the country are calling on ...

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In recent weeks, there has been a buzz around the country regarding lowering the national drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen. College presidents from more than one hundred schools around the country are calling on lawmakers to do something about binge drinking. Based on their research, they believe that lowering the drinking age will assist them in lessening binge drinking among college-age students.

A number of prominent college educators believe that twenty-one as the drinking age is not working. They believe a culture of dangerous, clandestine binge drinking has developed off campus. What is fascinating is that many prominent college presidents have signed a statement supporting that recommendation " the presidents of Dartmouth, Duke, Syracuse, Manhattan College in Riverdale, Ohio State, Tufts in Massachusetts and Colgate in upstate Hamilton, New York, to name a few.

In 1984, Congress voted to penalize any state that set its legal drinking age lower than twenty-one. The consequence would be rescinding ten percent of the state s federal highway funding.

Believe it or not, the United States has the oldest drinking age in the world. Most nations allow alcohol consumption at sixteen or eighteen; some countries have no minimum drinking age at all. Some experts believe that lowering the drinking age could lead to less binge drinking.

Probably, the greatest point for lowering the drinking age is the inconsistency as to what age an American is considered an adult. At eighteen, you can marry on your own without parental permission; you can serve in the military; you can vote; you can enter into legally binding contracts and you can drive with a senior license.

The drinking issue is a complicated one. Whether you re for or against lowering the drinking age, we have a problem in this country with binge drinking and recklessness around the consumption of alcohol.

Since the drinking age was raised to twenty-one, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that traffic fatalities involving drivers between the ages of eighteen and twenty have been cut back thirteen percent. Mothers Against Drunk Driving are adamant that lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. They believe that the college presidents who support lowering the drinking age are looking for an easy way out of a very painful problem. They re urging parents to think carefully about their children s safety at those colleges whose presidents have advocated lowering the drinking age. They also believe that those colleges who are advocating lowering the drinking age will make little or no effort to enforce the present drinking age of twenty-one.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) further reports that more than two out of every five college students are binge drinkers. Ninety percent of all alcohol consumed by US youth under twenty-one is in the form of binge drinking, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The debate around the drinking age is an important one. Since raising the drinking age to twenty-one, too many people have felt that was doing enough to address the drinking practices within our culture.

Since raising the drinking age, a number of important things have taken place. Most of our schools, along with the tremendous support from MADD, have been reasonably successful in raising student awareness regarding drinking and driving. Although underage drinking is epidemic around the country, in most communities, teenagers will appoint a designated driver if they are going to drink. For the most part, they take that social responsibility very seriously.

However, we have failed miserably in a number of other areas relative to teenage drinking. First of all, we have all kinds of legislation on the books regarding underage drinking. It is not universally enforced. If a student is caught drinking underage, the official consequences are rarely, if ever, imposed.

Underage drinkers are rarely ever arrested and charged. Only if they are stopped while drinking and driving, are they arrested and then they run the risk of having their drivers license suspended.

How many young people have made an art of obtaining falsified identification indicating they are over twenty-one, so they can legally drink in our local drinking establishments? Falsifying identification is a crime!

At this moment, there is really no hard core scientific data to support lowering the drinking age that proves binge drinking among college students would be less.

We need to continue the conversation on the drinking age, but I think we need to refocus our energy. Whether we want to believe it or not, whether the drinking age is twenty-one or eighteen, in our culture, our children are beginning to drink in middle school. They re not just experimenting with alcohol, they re drinking regularly.

We live in a culture that subtly tolerates irresponsible drinking at every age level. Look at our advertisements during the World Series and the Super Bowl. We are bombarded at every commercial break with manipulative commercials encouraging us to have a beer and implying that if you don t, you are not normal!

Constantly, we hear adults from all walks of life say, if a kid wants to drink, he or she is going to drink. Drinking is the rite of American passage from young adulthood to adulthood. Each of those statements possesses a sliver of truth, but not for the right reasons.

As adults and as parents, we have abdicated responsibility on challenging our children to act responsibly and respect the laws of the land, even if they don t like them. Our children mirror what they see in us. If we have little or no regard for the drinking regulations in our country, why would one think that our children would look at things differently?

This conversation is not about restoring a prohibition against alcohol, but rather is about addressing what it means to respect the law and drink responsibly. This conversation needs to address our inconsistency in our definition of what constitutes an adult and consistent enforcement on whatever our social norms are.

As a parent, when was the last time you talked to your son or daughter about responsible drinking, moderation and using good judgment when it comes to social situations? Unfortunately, where some parents might have this conversation on an on-going basis, our high school and college students report that most parents do not have this conversation at all.

We must address the inconsistency of how we define an adult. In our culture, in most things you are considered an adult if you have reached the age of eighteen. At eighteen, you can move out of your house, get married without your parents permission, purchase a gun, vote, buy property, enlist in the military, bear weapons against the enemy and obtain a senior license entitling you to drive a car whenever and wherever you please. However, we also say that at eighteen, you are not old enough or mature enough to decide whether or not you can consume alcohol.

There are eighteen year olds who are far more mature than people in their thirties, forties and fifties. Our inconsistency on the drinking age only fuels the recklessness around this issue. Allowing someone to drive a car at eighteen or enlist in the military can be as dangerous or even more so when talking about maturity. In recent months, there have been countless stories of reckless behavior by those under twenty-one driving cars and acting inappropriately in the military.

If we are genuinely concerned about binge drinking among college students, the heart of the issue is not age, but rather calling students to accountability, responsibility and holding them to it. That means colleges and high schools for that matter, have to practice what they preach. They need to work harder at holding students accountable for their choices and having law enforcement be more consistent across the board in doing their jobs in enforcing the law and its consequences.

As parents, we need to lead by example and continue the conversation, even though at times it s hard and seems to fall on deaf ears. We must not give up!