Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

Do teens care about the drinking age?

One of our readers has started an interesting dialogue in the comment section and we’re inviting everyone to have their say.

Do teens care enough to get involved in forming the policies
that impact their use of alcohol, among other topics,
and will policymakers listen to them if they do?

Please comment below and remember to keep it civil. We all want kids to be safe, healthy and happy.

Submitted on 2012/08/15 at 9:16 am

“…a constructive dialogue among parents, educators and the law enforcement community.” [Comment made on Author Bio page]

I guess in the current climate it’s not too surprising that the youth themsleves are not considered part of the conversation, Except, of course, as recipients of the “message” handed down.

HM Epstein

Submitted on 2012/08/15 at 1:22 pm | In reply to chris.

Chris, I agree that a dialogue must involve all sides including those most impacted by the new laws. Will legislators listen? At the very least, the so-called minors who are of voting age should get involved. What do you think?


Submitted on 2012/08/17 at 3:25 pm | In reply to HM Epstein.

Sorry for my late reply. I recall that when the drinking age was raised in 1985, those most impacted were overwhelmingly against it, yet legislators overwhelmingly did not listen, as they do not listen on any number of issues. Don’t polls consistently show a majority of the US public would like some kind of single-payer health care system, yet there are practically no advocates for this in legislatures, mainly because there’s no money behind it. Those old enough to vote should most definitely be involved, but my years of experience on college campuses leads me to the conclusion that there isn’t much open activism in this direction. Part of this is probably due to the fact that it’s easy to get a drink and having to sneak around adds some challenge and excitement. Also, penalties are far from draconian. And there is precious little official discussion of this issue. There is, however, loads of propaganda. One school I worked at had a campaign urging students to be “Sober 24/7″, a standard most adults don’t hold themselves to.

HM Epstein

Submitted on 2012/08/15 at 3:10 pm | In reply to chris.Thank you, Chris, for pursuing this conversation! I’ll mention a few established and impressive organizations that might benefit from your involvement regardless of your age or position. Starting with one that’s college oriented, check-out Choose Responsibility at www.chooseresponsibility.org, a non-profit founded by the former president of Middlebury College, John McCardell, to create an informed debate about our current alcohol policies regarding 18 to 20 year olds. He also introduced the Amethyst Initiative, a document signed by almost 130 college and university chancellors and presidents seeking an open debate because they believe keeping the drinking age at 21 has been a failure. There’s also NYRA, National Youth Rights Association at www.youthrights.org, who advocate for many issues, including lowering the drinking age to 18 and the voting age to 16.

Sadly, you’re right that there isn’t a great deal of activism on campuses for alcohol policy issues that empower young people to rally for their own rights. NYRA, on Facebook, where it’s easy to show your “commitment”, has approximately 2,400 “Likes”. The group, Binge Drinking, I’ll drink to that has over 2,300 “Likes”. However, adult-led organizations that fight underage drinking have been successful in getting student-involvement. One active organization is SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions. According to their website, www.sadd.org, they have almost 10 thousand chapters and 350 thousand members. On Facebook, at facebook.com/saddnational, they have 8,666 “Likes”. 

A recent, and exciting, high school youth-led group is “Fight the Social Host Ordinance” out of Laguna Beach, California. You can find them on Facebook at Facebook.com/Fight the Social Host Ordinance. This amazing group of high school students, led by a then-10th grader and several 12th-graders, used every community organizing tool available to them, including traditional media and attending city council sessions, to convince the city council to rethink a poorly written social host ordinance and give full consideration to the unintended consequences. They came armed with research, facts and a commitment to reason that made it feasible for the city council members to reject the proposed law and ask for community input on a revision. The next meeting on the topic is this November. 

 I find that hopeful. 

5 comments on “Do teens care about the drinking age?

  1. Caroline Tanner
    August 28, 2012

    Dear all,

    On behalf of Choose Responsibility, we are pleased to see that others are having conversations about about the effect of the drinking age on all Americans, especially teenagers.

    Choose Responsibility was founded to spark dispassionate debate about the presence of alcohol in America. While our founder, John McCardell, is a college president, we are not solely college focused. However, it should be recognized that that MLDA21 makes college students’ lives more dangerous by making alcohol a forbidden fruit and forcing drinking behind closed doors.

    As our name indicates, we advocate for a responsible attitude towards alcohol for all age groups, and we are supported by those of age, including parents and college presidents, and those under age.

    In examining our email correspondence and our list of volunteers, it becomes obvious that teenagers care about the drinking age. They are preparing to go to college and are considering the implications of a culture and peer group that support drinking and a legal system that does not. Moreover, these students understand that upon arriving in college (or their eighteenth birthday), they are legally able to do anything they would like except purchase alcohol.

    It should be noted that Choose Responsibility does not support breaking the law. MLDA21 stipulates that those under the age of 21 cannot consume or purchase alcohol. However, our conversations with people of all ages, the signatures on the Amethyst Initiative, and the number of college students who die unnecessarily each year from binge drinking demonstrate that it is time to reevaluate our current policies. Teenagers agree.

    For more information, please visit http://www.chooseresponsibility.org or email us at info@chooseresponsibility.org

    • HM Epstein
      August 28, 2012

      We’re happy to see Choose Responsibility get involved in this conversation. All of us, on all sides of the dialogue, wish to keep teens safe so they can grow up to make good choices for the rest of their adult lives. Choose Responsibility, and the Amethyst Initiative, are asking the smart questions that need asking since the MLDA21 has moved the growth in binge drinking rates from high school students to those who are 18-20 years old, in college and out. We agree that we need to throw aside any of our assumptions and convictions that aren’t backed by hard data and take a fresh look at what we can do to save lives and teach our children about appropriate use of alcohol. The law is the law, but the law is a living, breathing component of our society; open to improvement.

      For those of our readers who wish to learn more about Choose Responsibility, please visit their website: chooseresponsibility.org

      HM Epstein

  2. chris
    August 22, 2012

    I’m glad to hear that college (and high school) social life conitnues. I’d be really fearful for the future of this society if I thought that official policies really had reduced the youth of America to cookies and lemonade.

    My main point is this: when I was a college student, back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, we considered ourselves adults (even if we didn’t always behave as adults) and would have been offended to be referred to as “kids”. At some point, that age group wasdeprived of adult status and now consider “adults” to be those older than they are. The university itself has stopped being an adult environment, even for those over 21. How many college now have campus-wide “smoking bans” and other such infantilizing nonsense? And the baby treatment doens’t stop after one graduates.

    I and my peers enjoyed the freedoms we did because those right before us (the 1960s) raised hell and in many cases got into trouble or even beaten up for those rights. We were lucky enough to be there after all that had died down, but right before the crackdowns of the Reagan era.

    I also realize that today’s youth face economic problems that we didn’t, like graduating with huge debts and a scarcity of decent jobs, etc. and that precludes activism over more “trivial” matters.

    I want to let all you younger folks out there know this: the vast majority of people my age drank in both high school and college (and did lots of other things as well) and liked it. I have NEVER heard anyone my age say they wish there’d been a drniking age of 21 or a crackdown on our behavior when we were younger.

    More later.

  3. Andrew
    August 17, 2012

    I agree with College “Minor.” Access to alcohol is almost laughably easy considering that it’s an illicit substance for those under 21.
    Personally, I disagree with the drinking age for a couple different reasons. As a non-drinking teen, I say with complete honesty that the law has no sway over me whatsoever. I do not drink because I do not have interesting in it and I see it as harmful to my physical and psychological health.
    However, if I were to begin to think otherwise, it’s easy to imagine that I would circumvent the law with absolutely no moral qualms.
    I’ve always been told to question authority, and in this scenario, I feel that the law does not make any sense.
    How is it possible that I can go overseas and die for my country and still not be allowed to drink?
    Why is it that I can own a car, firearms, and cigarettes, but not alcohol?
    TL;DR, I really don’t care about the drinking age. If it weren’t for my own unwillingness to drink alcohol, I would have no problem disobeying it.

  4. College "Minor"
    August 17, 2012

    Chris is right about it being ridiculously easy to get a drink, especially on college campuses, but the fact that it’s illegal adds more stress and frustration than anything else.

    It might be exciting the first time someone hands you a beer at a house party, or the first time your fake ID passes muster, but the glow immediately fades and drinking becomes just another activity, or often just the background necessity to any party. People 18-20 aren’t going to the polls because, on campus at least, it isn’t necessary. Alcohol is incredibly easy to get, 50% of your friends will have fake IDs, and even if *you* don’t there’ll probably be a couple places that don’t card anyway. If you are caught, you probably have at least one or two strikes before serious action is taken, more if the drinking wasn’t happening on campus.

    Why take the time to run to the polls when you could be running to the bar?

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