A commentary on CNN.com by John McCardell, president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont asserts that the legal drinking age of 21 has not curbed on-campus binge drinking – or the problems that come with it.
As with many arguments of this sort, the commentary misses the core of the problem: no legal drinking age, by itself, will ever be successful in curbing binge drinking or the injuries and fatalities that stem from it.
Furthermore, I do not believe any amount of education, heart-to-heart chats, preaching, scare tactics, etc can put a serious dent in the statistics McCardell cites.
Regardless of any sort of temperance-rooted cultural attitudes towards alcohol, young people, in general, will test their autonomy and independence. They will push the boundaries of the taboos with which they were raised. And they will demonstrate bad judgment in the process.
McCadrell’s idea of issuing a license to buy and consume alcohol to young adults, contingent on completion of some sort of education seems interesting, but the odds are stacked high against it being successful.
More than likely, this education will be packed with information and admonitions (all well-intentioned) – probably just like those in the D.A.R.E. program. The D.A.R.E. program is a noble, well-intentioned effort, but having attended a few of the programs “graduation ceremonies” for my kids, I am skeptical. I was most appalled by what seemed to be a scare tactics – based approach. Never mind that, for many young people, some lessons just don’t “stick” and they have to be learned personally – and often in a very bitter way.
Young people have a sense of invincibility, a “not-going-to-happen-to-me” thinking. Couple that with poor judgment and impulsiveness that are intrinsic to the developing neurophysiology of young adults (into their mid-twenties) and one understands why it is so difficult to effectively curb young adult irresponsible drinking and prevent the attendant problems.
As a parent, I struggle with this issue. I want to see some successful programs which will let me sleep through the night when my kids reach high school and college age. I just have not seen any approach which would conceivably work. In large part, I think this is because all efforts to date either ignore or disregard the realities of the time line of brain development.
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