Drinking age: What the U.S. can learn from Europe

My family has been living in Switzerland for just over two years. There have been many adjustments to our lifestyle since moving from suburban CT to semi-urban Zurich. One of the first was around the different ages you are allowed to legally do things in Switzerland.

My about to turn sixteen-year-old son: “Dad, do you know that now that we live in Switzerland I won’t be allowed to get my driver’s license until I turn eighteen?”

Me: “I’m sorry about that but we will have lots of  new experiences here in -”

Him: “But I will be able to buy beer or wine in a bar!”

In Zurich, sixteen-year-olds don’t sneak liquor from the liquor cabinet, use fake I.D.s, binge drink in hiding or get behind the wheel of a car drunk, because they are afraid to tell their parents they have been drinking.

If you make drinking a big deal, kids won’t learn how to drink socially and responsibly. They are encouraged to associate drinking from their earliest experiences with it as something illicit, rebellious and subversive. What a flawed system we have in the U.S. that says you are responsible enough to vote, serve in the armed forces, drive a car and yet you somehow shouldn’t have a beer in a bar.

Here is a smart piece from FEE’s website:

What good would lowering the drinking age do? It would put an end to the perverse culture of secretiveness and abuse that has grown up around underage drinking. It would allow bars and restaurants to become “safe spaces” for college-age students to drink and Uber home if they need to. Proponents will undoubtedly also emphasize the revenue gains for the state that would come from legalization.

But the longer-term gains would be cultural. We could begin to foster a more European-style culture of drinking that promotes responsibility and civilized sobriety. People are more likely to act like adults if you treat them as adults. Prohibition has promoted a horrible childishness with terrible results for everyone.

Read the whole thing.

Don’t take my word for it. College presidents have seen the unfairness and unintended consequences of the U.S. drinking age. See here. They seek a reasoned and rational discussion.

The Amethyst Initiative states that, in their experience as university presidents, they have observed, “Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students,” and therefore they urge lawmakers “to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol”. 

Europe can teach the U.S. many things to avoid but it can also provide some positive examples of personal freedom and responsibility. What should a young person learn how to do first, drive a car or drink responsibly?

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