Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?

Many university presidents say that we need to have a national discussion on lowering the drinking age to 18 again. I couldn't disagree more. Our culture is set-up, presently, to extend adolescent behavior well beyond the teenage years for many people. Allowing people to legally drink to their hearts' desire in that kind of environment is a recipe for disaster.

Do most people drink while underage? Studies repeatedly say the vast majority do. But, because of the legal issue, it also can delay drinking, reduce binge drinking and allow for some barriers to be in place. Has the law fixed anything? Absolutely not, but allowing the drinking age to be lowered before we change the culture will not help.

I found this quote quite telling:

Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore from Singapore, where the drinking age is lower, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful.

"There isn't that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18," she said. "If the age is younger, you're getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don't freak out when you get to campus."

Absolutely wrong. There is a huge difference between an incoming freshman and a Senior in college - at least in the USA, if not Singapore. Of course, there are mature freshman and immature seniors, but the statement above is a non-starter.

We can't even have this discussion until we start to honestly explore the reasons why students break the law, live in a culture of drunkenness, seek to "party" so frequently, etc. Coming from that same culture and being someone who bought into it completely - I understand the challenges of trying to change it. But, we have to try to do so. Maybe, just maybe, if we can see some results and changes in the culture - then we can talk about the drinking age. But, not before that time.

On a somewhat related note - the question "is getting drunk a mortal sin" is still one of the most frequently requested links to our site. Check out the answer.

17 comments:

Jeff said...

If the drinking age is not lowered to 18, then military eligibility should not begin until age 21. I know people will say there is a difference, but if you can get killed for your country, you ought to be able to enjoy a beer first...

Marcel said...

Why are the two not different?

Jeff said...

I think the logic people use for drinking is that the age is based on maturity. One could argue that serving in the military, especially in combat, requires a certain level of maturity. If one assumes that the drinking age is based on maturity (that's the most common argument I see/hear), then perhaps the military should only be an option for those 21 and older.

One could also apply the same logic to handguns. You have to be 21 to legally purchase a handgun, but you get handed one in the military.

I just think similar logic should be applied. If you are using maturity as a gauge, then make it the same across the board.

Of course, there is the driver's license issue as well. Some say that 18 should be the minimum age to drive. If I hadn't had my license at age 16, things would have been much more difficult on my parents. Some kids I went to school with wouldn't have been able to do any extra-curricular activities or work without a car.

Personally, I think you should be able to join the military, buy alcohol, and buy a handgun at age 18. Driving should be restricted until age 18 as well (to/from schoo/work, not after a certain time at night, etc...)

Marcel said...

I think your reasoning is decently sound in making an exception for the military. But, I still can't imagine that lowering the drinking age to 18 for all would be a good idea.

Jeff said...

I just don't see why 18 is mature enough to go to war and decide whether you will take the life of another human but it is not mature enough to drink a beer or buy a handgun...

Marcel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcel said...

I didn't make that argument.

Jeff said...

There is a huge difference between an incoming freshman and a Senior in college - at least in the USA, if not Singapore. Of course, there are mature freshman and immature seniors, but the statement above is a non-starter.

I thought you were making the argument based on maturity...

Marcel said...

You said "I just don't see why 18 is mature enough to go to war and decide whether you will take the life of another human"

I didn't say it was.

Jeff said...

I didn't say it was.

OOPS! Missed that one.

I have actually wondered what the ramifications would be if the minimum service age were raised to 21. Would too many people change their mind by then? I imagine some would.

The main problem is that, as you noted, you can't equate maturity with age. I know 15 year old people who are more mature than some 40 year old people.

It's not an easy issue...

Marcel said...

Jeff - you are correct, not an easy issue, but when lives are on the line, it shouldn't be.

Casperred5 said...

Lowering the drinking age to 18 is foolish. It will only enable more freshmen to drink. I say lower it to 14. There are two problems with alcohol: absolute prohibition and absolute drunkeness. Our society enforces a legal prohibition until adulthood but celebrates abject drunkeness through the teen years. Let teenagers drink and teach them moderation before they are sent away to college where, absent supervision or experience, they become drunks. So I say 14, if any age at all.

Geoff said...

I think the military is entirely irrelevant to this subject. But if we MUST, here's an anecdote.

I had a friend who enlisted in the Marines right out of high school and got a tattoo before he was out from under his parents' roof, saying that if he was old enough to die for his country, he could get a tattoo if he wanted to.

It just seemed like rebelliousness to me and I thought that action and it's reasoning was dumb at the time, and still do.

But what is the difference between an average 18 year old and an 18 year old ready and equipped to die for his country (but not ideally die)?

His time in boot camp is the difference. I haven't been through it myself, but I'm made to understand that a lot of growing up happens in that period of time.

Furthermore, an 18 year old soldier doesn't make the decisions that put him in harm's way. They are under leaders who are at least a few years under them, often more.

So in a similar way, should 18 year-olds be provided with authority figures to monitor their alcohol use? Answer: they already are if they have parents. The law already provides for parents to allow their children to consume alcohol with their permission (only in their presence).

I took this bait, but I still maintain that the military is irrelevant to the topic.

Geoff said...

Speaking of the difference between a regular 18 year old and an 18 year old enlisted private or seaman or what-have-you, I'm reminded that many 18 year olds are in high school when they turn 18.

Alcohol is more available to high schoolers than it should be already. Is this situation going to IMPROVE if high school seniors are able to increase this supply among their peers?

I know 26 year olds in this culture who still show evidence that they haven't formed an appropriate attitude to alcohol. 21 isn't a magic age, but it is better than 18 for many reasons.

I agree with Marcel that the culture needs to change the way it views and consumes alcohol. And it's not just for the sake of young people.

frival said...

I have to question just a little bit the correlation between military service and drinking age. To make that correlation valid you'd have to have the military take any and everyone who has reached the age of 18, give them a gun and without any training or supervision send them into battle and that simply doesn't happen.

In that perspective, I'd argue that Jeff seems to be trying to solve the wrong end of the issue. Should the drinking age be 18? Absolutely not - far too few 18 year olds are sufficiently mature to handle their liquor (particularly in a college environment where dangerous activities are encouraged by their peers). Should the minimum age of conscription / enrollment in the military rise to 18? Most likely not as that would probably (and this is based on the conjecture that it would require those finishing high school to pick up a career before they could enter the military) cause a severe drop in people signing on to the military.

If you want to be fair, and I agree the present situation at least seems ludicrous, what would make more sense is to leave both ages the same but allow for members of the military to drink under controlled situations and only after they've hit some sort of milestone (finishing boot? one year in uniform?).

Undecided said...

The problem with what you said is that most incoming 18 year old freshmen haven't been through boot camp. I think a lot of maturing happens there. Personally I think anyone who is in the military should be allowed to drink.

Marcel is right Freshmen are very immature. There are exceptions of course but for the most part they are. I think it's the hard classes or starting a family are what causes most people to grow up.

forenglandjames1 said...

I was born in Ireland and lived there until I was 22. Alcohol is legal at 18 and smoking at 16. Alcohol is very much a way of life there and it has many negative effects on our country. Fist fights every weekend, ER rooms full of teenagers caught in fights or needing their stomachs pumped give you an idea. Teenagers are teenagers and they are susceptible to peer pressure, not very mature and by allowing them to drink I'm sure it will negatively affect American society.