August 20, 2008

When Age Matters

According to a recent article filed by the Associated Press, "College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus." College students everywhere raised beer bongs in celebration then promptly passed out while Mothers Against Drunk Driving members went apoplectic and tried unsuccessfully to make non-alcoholic Molotov cocktails to firebomb said colleges. Both understandable reactions.

There are as many schools of thought on this subject as there are actual schools with binge drinkers. Some folks say that if you lower the drinking age, kids will just start drinking at even younger ages. Others dismiss the issue entirely stating that booze is easy to get whether you're 21 or not and the law is virtually unenforceable. Many critical of the move by college presidents mention that lowering the age takes the burden of enforcement away from the colleges themselves. Of course, there's a study - or many studies - that can be cited to prove any of these arguments. Studies - and the data that comprise them like accident stats, drinking deaths and alcoholism rates - are a dime a dozen.

If you look at the cluster of freedoms and privileges we're granted starting around age 16 and continuing until we turn 21, there are a lot of similar concerns and arguments. I live near my old high school. I see kids heading to and leaving from school. And they're just that - kids. As an adult, I find it absolutely ridiculous that my parents ever tossed me the keys to a several-ton death machine car. Granted, it was an old Jeep Cherokee that really couldn't go that fast and broke down a lot. I know this view will be cemented when my own kids turn sixteen (god help me) and start driving (that's when I should start binge drinking). Two years after that magic sixteen mark, you can get drafted, enter the military voluntarily, vote and get charged as an adult for urinating in public. Of course, you can't drink.

Maybe I'm just getting old and crusty but to me sixteen seems too young to drive. And 21 seems too high and arbitrary an age to drink. You can go to war and die for your country but you can't get legally blitzed the night before you ship off. But if you grant all those freedoms at the same age - say 18 - then you end up with a bunch of drunks trying to vote and waking up in the morning to find themselves in Iraq with a large automatic weapon strapped to their backs. And that's crazy talk.

What do you think? Is the driving age too low? And what about the drinking age? What's the solution?

Posted by Chris at August 20, 2008 6:27 AM

I think the age should be the same across the board because I like everything neat and tidy. I would go with 18 because of what you mentioned and because that is the age when you can marry without parental consent. I don't think it is a solution. Those inclined to misbehave will do so regardless.

Posted by: Maria at August 20, 2008 7:48 AM

As the mother of an 18 year old heading off to college in a couple of weeks, I am torn on this issue!
As in all cases, just because you turn a certain age, doesn't mean you are ready for the privileges that come with it. My son got his license closer to 17 because he had too much going on and I wouldn't let him add drivers ed. to the mix. I think he would have been a good driver at whatever point he got his license. But as we all know, there are asshole drivers of all ages.
As for the drinking, I grew up with the drinking age at 18. But I was drinking at 14. Would I have still been if the drinking age was 21? Most likely because that's just what we did.
All through high school I have stressed to my son RESPONSIBILITY because I know he on occasion drinks. I talk to him of the pitfalls of drinking, of drink and driving, of getting into the habit of drinking, how dangerous it can become before you know it. I do this because there are alcoholics throughout both sides of his family tree. Not raging drunks, but functioning alchoholics.
I don't think attaching some arbitrary age is the answer for anything and I think whether the drinking age is 18 or 21, people are going to choose to drink or not. It's whether they do it responsibly is the issue! The same goes for driving. Moving the driving age to 17 or 18 is not going to change the fact that some people just shouldn't have a license.
I do question whether colleges are trying to abdicate their responsibilities by looking for a change in the drinking age but I also think they have come so far in their addressing the issue and trying to steer activities away from it and provide peer counselors and help etc. that maybe they have a point. We ALL KNOW drinking is going on at college campuses and I think if at 18 people were allowed to drink it would be able to be better controlled on campus than taking place secretively and/or off campus where they really have no control over the situation. I think having a drink or two (ok or three) is fine, binge drinking is not and if people are taught to drink responsibly.
I'll step off my soapbox now, thank you very much.

Posted by: NancyJak at August 20, 2008 7:49 AM

I definitely think the driving age is too low - and so did my parents apparently. They wouldn't let me get my license until I was 18. Back then I hated them for it, but looking back now as now a parent, I completely agree with their decision.

And the drinking age? Most college kids are going to drink no matter what the legal age is. And the kids who don't drink in college now, are probably not going to start just because the legal age changes. But lowering the legal age could make it easier for colleges/bars/parents to monitor, instead of the kids hiding in the dorms.

But I think the only solution to both issues is parenting, parenting, parenting. Parents need to prepare their kids for responsibility looong before they get to college. I already talk to my 7-year-old about drinking responsibly and not drinking & driving. Obviously she's a little young to be drinking at all, but I know kids drink even earlier then I started. I want my kids to be informed and prepared for the day they're offered their first drink.

Posted by: margo at August 20, 2008 8:05 AM

The drinking age over here is 18. We have a huge problem with binge drinking. That said, i don't believe that it's the 18 year olds who cause the majority of the problems with binge drinking. From what i have read it's the twenty-somethings who really drink themselves into the gutter on a regular basis, which seems more to do with British society than what age we are allowed to start drinking.

Plus, although they are stricter these days - and even i at the age of 27 get IDed sometimes - it's pretty easy to get alcohol if you are under 18.

I think for pretty much all these age-restricted things the most important thing is being educated about what each new right or privilege means. To be fair, I turned 18 without a clue on how to vote or find out what each candidates policies were. The more we teach our young people what the very real risks are of drinking, driving, drugs, sex etc, the more able they will be to make a mature and responsible decision about each one.

Posted by: starrynite at August 20, 2008 8:10 AM

I've just been reading a paper this morning that was suggesting we raise the age for buying drink in the UK to 21. I don't know if that's the answer, I'm more inclined to go with the increasing the price option, but then that doesn't really work with cigarettes (incidentally, the law was changed last year that you have to be 18 instead of 16 to buy them).

Here you need to be 17 to drive a car, I think that's too young and given the statistics on accidents with young drivers I'm surprised there's not more of a movement to increase it. But we're a car obsessed society.

Posted by: Katherine at August 20, 2008 8:12 AM

Drinking age should be 16 and driving age should be 21. I think that will settle most issues.

Posted by: William at August 20, 2008 8:26 AM

I think the driving age is okay at sixteen. Although, I can see some logic to holding off until eighteen for that. It is a bit odd for someone to have that much potential for wreaking havoc before they can legally be held responsible. As for the drinking age, I do think that if you are old enough to die for your country, you are old enough for a beer. I think eighteen for the drinking age is reasonable. But, in conjunction with lowering the drinking age, I think there should be real enforcement of DUI laws.

Posted by: OS at August 20, 2008 8:30 AM

The legal drinking age when I turned 18 was 18. Did I drink more than I did when I was say 16 or 17. Not really. I did go clubbing some, and life went on. the year I turned 21 the age reverted back to 21 being the legal drinking age. I thought it was a bit stupid. I think I still do. If you can vote, serve in the military, then you should be able to drink as well.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 20, 2008 8:35 AM

I say 18 across the board for everything.
I think the reason why we have many of the problems we do is because we are one of only a few cultures who do not have a clearcut right of passage. There is nothing that says here is when you are a child and here you are an adult. How can we expect our youth to understand what is appropriate when we ourselves are giving them mixed messages?

Posted by: fauve at August 20, 2008 8:37 AM

Where I grew up in NY you could get a license at 16 but unless you passed driver's ed you couldn't drive after 9 PM until you were 18. So I took drivers ed and got a full, unrestricted license at 17, which seems like a good plan. Of course that was back when public schools offered driver's ed. Not sure many of them do anymore.

Here in Virginia you can get a learners permit at 15, which is crazy.

I've always thought 16 was a bit young to drive, but then I heard this over and over from parents of teenagers: from about age 12 until they get their licenses, they are packed with activities and they want a social life on the weekends. Therefore you spend four years with no life of your own because you are always driving your kids around. So by the time they hit 16, you are more than ready to let them drive. I can see that.

As for the drinking age, I've always thought 21 was too high simply because it creates such a problem for colleges. I bet there is a direct correlation between the increased drinking age and the incidence of alcohol poisoning on campuses.

On the other hand, you have so many kids today who don't start school until age six. Therefore, you have more of 18 year olds still in high school. So I say 19. Unless you join the military at 18. Then you get a free pass.

Posted by: Jeff St Real at August 20, 2008 8:49 AM

As a personal injury attorney, I absolutely think 16 is WAY too young to have a license. I see so many teenagers involved in accidents, I'm dreading the day my son will get his license (15 years from now, but still).

In my state, you get a learner's permit at 16 1/2, a provisional license at 17 and your full unrestricted license doesn't kick in until 18. I think that's great.

As far as the alcohol thing. The drinking age was 18 when my parents were kids. I have a serious problem with sending our kids off to war, but not letting them have a Bud (weiser, that is). I'm all for lowering the drinking age --- but I worry about even younger girls getting preyed on by nasty older men at the bars...

Posted by: Robyn at August 20, 2008 8:54 AM

I think everything should be 18. They're slowly moving the driving age to 18 here (I think), and I do agree that if you can vote, and if you can go to war and die for the country, then you ought to be able to drink a beer with your buddies after a rough day. Just make 18 the standard all around.

Posted by: secha at August 20, 2008 9:03 AM

18 sounds like a good compromise. 16 is WAY TOO YOUNG. They look like babies! And 21 is, well, unrealistic.

Posted by: sunshine at August 20, 2008 9:32 AM

Oh, let's bring back prohibition.


As parents, we all approach these issues differently, but more importantly, we worry about it a lot more than we did when we were teens. Frankly, I'm much more in favour of a more European attitude where alcohol is not seen as some sort of taboo kids can't touch until a magical age. And many adults still treat alcohol irresponsibly... too many drinks consumed at once to get a buzz instead of moderate consumption on a regular basis. (Not that I'm advocating everyone should drink every day. To each her own.)

Ah well. Right now I have no point. My kids are 3.5 and 1. I'll probably be some right wing zealot once they hit 16.

Posted by: Mandy at August 20, 2008 9:51 AM

I spent some time in Germany as a 16 year old where the drinking age was much lower (16) and the driving age higher (18) and for the most part alcohol was no big deal. There always abusers, but mostly it was just a drink and who cares that it's alcohol? Maybe if alcohol was introduced earlier with a less uptight attitude, then kids would know how to drink responsibly before we ever grant them the privilege of driving a vehicle. Makes sense to me.

Posted by: Shannon at August 20, 2008 9:51 AM

I think making drinking less of a big deal would go a long way to teaching people how to drink responsibly. I'm all for lowering the drinking age.

The driving age...I'm not so sure. I was not a great driver when I was 16, but I sure did love driving. Would I have been a better driver if I'd had to wait until I was 18? I have no idea. I was a better driver by the time I was 18, but that was because I had two years of experience by then!

Posted by: bad penguin at August 20, 2008 9:53 AM

I've got a 15 year old, and while I agree that WE are too young for him to be driving, I'd rather he learn now while he is still at home and I can still enforce rules & guidelines. At 18, a good number of kids are heading off to college where there would be no supervision for that sort of thing. Plus at 18 they get that attitude that they don't have to listen to anything because they are an "adult"!

I totally agree that the drinking age should be lowered to 18.

Posted by: Angie at August 20, 2008 9:57 AM

I think many of the European countries have it right -- drinking at 16 and driving at 18. It gives you time to learn how you can handle alcohol (or not) before you're allowed to drive. Granted, many families in Europe (okay, of the Europeans I know in real life) let their children sample alcohol prior to 16, but they make sure they learn how to properly handle it. Not to mention, its expensive to even get a driver's license over there!

And for the record, my bro is nearly 20 and is still hesitant at getting his DL! He'll have to start commuting when he transfers next fall, and unlike me, who had two years driving experience in a small town before commuting to the large college city, he'll have next to none. Scary if you ask me--for him and the other drivers...

Posted by: Christina at August 20, 2008 10:02 AM

Absolutely nothing to do with your post today, but found
yesterday and thought it may be a great place for your butterfly cake.

Posted by: Kathleen at August 20, 2008 10:03 AM

I was just reminded the other day that my daughter can her learners permit in 3 short years - she is 11. The law is really to help out kids who live on farms but it applies to all of us who live here. My response was when you start hauling hay you can get your permit.

I say 18 across the board.

Posted by: flybunny at August 20, 2008 10:11 AM

I think the European model is just fine. You get all the privileges AND all the responsibilities at the same time. Driving at 16 seems insane, although I must say that there is a difference between European and American roads (driving in US being, in my experience, much easier)...

As for alcohol, my American friends, who wouldn't be served in a pub in States, always knew how to get a half ounce of weed. To me, the problem is just slightly shifted from drinking to soft drugs. That said, we were drinking beer in the pubs at 15 all over Europe (UK excluded) - it didn't ruin my life, I go to a top university and would never drive drunk.

I don't understand why is alcohol so obsessively forbidden in the USA, while cigarettes (which *do* cause lung cancer), marihuana (admit it or not) and guns are so widely tolerated. Excuse me, but buying a gun, actual weapon, before you can legally get a bottle a beer? Seriously?

Posted by: Alex at August 20, 2008 10:15 AM

well, the good news is that here in Va, they have already changed the permit age to like 15 1/2 with a lot of restrictions, and the driving age to 16 and then some. Maybe by the time we have to worry about it, they will change the age to 17 or 18...the only downside i can foresee is that I'm gonna have to be the mom taxi until i'm 50

Posted by: shannon at August 20, 2008 10:32 AM

16 for driving is good. I'd rather my kids learn to drive while they are still living in my house and I monitor them, and limit them as I see fit. We can share the family car, and I can limit or grant access. It also gives them the opportunity for a job. We have a long line of teenage grocery store workers who have benefited from the responsibility. Driving at age 18, they are headed to college and the apron strings have been cut. The parent has no say about driving in your first snow storm, unaccompanied, at night. Yikes!

I like 19 for drinking. Not many high school seniors are 19. No need to make it any easier for high school kids to get access to alcohol. By college, most kids have established a sense of self and are less likely to succumb to peer pressure. It's a nice dividing line in my opinion. (of course, not everyone goes to college...)

Posted by: OhioGirl at August 20, 2008 10:36 AM

I was married at 18, and was not allowed to go into a bar. I haven't had a drink since I was 16, because in the year that I did drink, it became quite apparent that I had a problem with it. However, the fact that I was allowed to choose to get married, but not enter a bar seemed quite ridiculous. And it seems SO MUCH more ridiculous that some people can actually DIE fighting a war, and not be deemed mature enough to drink legally. I honestly don't get it. But I also think marijuana should be legal, so there you have it.

Posted by: Jane at August 20, 2008 10:41 AM

Either raise the age of the draft to 21 or lower the drinking age. It'd kinda stupid and--as you say--arbitrary. However, anyone old enough to vote or get married without permission should be able to have a beer. Also, raise the age of smoking. No one needs those idiot sticks anyway. Why are my two oldest old enough to give themselves cancer but not old enough for the other? Hint: The US Gov't wants every dollar it can make from Big Tobacco. It really doesn't give a shit about your kids or mine. Just saying.

Posted by: apathy lounge at August 20, 2008 10:43 AM

I don't comment often but i liked this question. I think the driving age is actually ok. I prefer the states that allow a learners permit at 15 and require a certain time frame (1 year) after procuring said permit to hold a real license and even then it is only a junior license. That gives a good amount of time to learn with an adult. Also, in many smaller towns it is more of a necessity to be able to drive, it was for me. In larger cities (NYC) i know you have to be 18 to drive, there is no reason to do so any earlier, i agree with that as well. As for drinking i think 21 is as you said arbitrary and if one can be tried as an adult, go to war, and vote then i think they should, no NEED to drink! That's a lot of shit to deal with, they need something to take the edge off. :P

Posted by: Regina at August 20, 2008 10:46 AM

I think when you become an "adult" at age 18, you should be able to do as you please. So, lower the drinking age, but raise the driving age. 18 for everything.

Posted by: alfredsmom at August 20, 2008 10:53 AM

i so agree. i think the drinking age should be lowered only on strict principle that if the government thinks you are old enough to decide to get yourself blown up for your country, then the government should consider you old enough to drink or not to drink. HOWEVER, i don't have any delusions that it will actually solve any problems. it still all boils down to the amount of character a kid has accumulated before he decides to drink, regardless of his age.

anyway, i find it really interesting as i turn 30 this year that just five years ago, people that were 20 or 30 all seemed to be "about the same age as me" but now, those 20 year olds just look like little kids!

Posted by: kati at August 20, 2008 11:03 AM

I don't know if the laws have changed since, but when I was a kid, you get nothing until you're 18. At 18 you get to drive and drink (not at the same time, of course). No 16 year-old driving stuff. You're still in school and that's all that you're supposed to focus on. At 18, you have to drive yourself to college, so you will need a car.

The voting age used to be 21, but they have since changed that to 18 as well.

Binge drinking? Yep. We have that problem too. Drunk kids can be found stumbling in and out of clubs all over the city.

I think parenting has to do with a lot of it though.

Posted by: oakley at August 20, 2008 11:05 AM

I agree that 16 seems too young to drive. My parents evidently thought so too, since they made me wait until I was 17. Man, I was steamed at the time, but now I see the logic behind that decision.

In terms of drinking, 21 seems too old. I agree with you that if you can go off to war and die for your country at 18, you ought to be able to have a beer legally before doing so.

Thinking about it, 18 seems like a good age for everything - voting, drinking, driving, age of consent, etc. (Hopefully, not all at once though).

Posted by: Kimberly at August 20, 2008 11:06 AM

I think there should be some sort of maturity test accompanied with the privilege to drink. :) When I was 19 I was much better equipped to handle drinking then when I was 15, or even 18. (NOT THAT I HAD ANY ALCOHOL BEFORE 21!!! :D )

Posted by: Poppy at August 20, 2008 11:08 AM

Great post and a ton of great comments. I agree that things should be across the board - at 18 you are a legal adult and should be responsible enough to now have your license, have a beer and if you stand too long outside the recruiter's office ... go fight for your country. My son is 13 and is already talking about driving ... and drinking.

I was raised in a household where we were allowed to drink in our home earlier ... so that our parents could monitor it, etc. My husband and I have had this discussion and will do something similar as he gets older. I think it's a good way to take the appeal/mystery out of it in a controlled environment.

I'm kind of crossing my fingers and toes that the driving age will go up to 18 before he gets to 16 - or at least have different levels of what/where they can drive.

Posted by: Kristy - Where's My Damn Answer at August 20, 2008 11:14 AM

In my 6 months at a Swedish university when I was 20, I found it remarkable that they had THREE pubs ON CAMPUS. And then it occurred to me that at no time was I near transportation during our drinking. We walked to the place, walked home. We got drunk, yes, but most times we were just socially drinking with friends (and hot Swedes).

I would be interested in an 18-year-old-on-campus drinking age. ie... you can't go to a drive-through liquor store and buy it, but you can drink it from the tap at your college pub.

As for the driving age, 16 is low but I don't think our driving would be better at 18. There's a learning period, and by having it at 16, the kids are driving around town near parents and not off to college.

Posted by: Brad at August 20, 2008 11:21 AM

I'm fine with kids learning to drive at 16. It's all the other kids in the car that concerns me. I feel we have to teach our kids responsibility and trust them to do the right thing like everything else.

We will probably let our son drive at 16, but will greatly limit or not other kids in the car with him. I read somewhere that for every kid in the car with a kid, the risks increase for serious injury/death.

It has long seemed silly to me that you can marry, vote, serve in the military, be drafted, but can't legally drink. It seems beyond stupid to me.

Yet, in Europe where they drink younger and they don't have the massive issues that we have here with drinking/driving and alcohol abuse. Is it their culture or something else? I wish I knew the answer.

Posted by: One Moms Opinion at August 20, 2008 11:33 AM

I think 16 is fine for driving....just because they are still living at home and have parents who should teach them to drive. Imagine how bad it would be if they learned later.

In my honest opinion, if you can live on your own, make your own decisions and die for this country, you should sure as shit be able to drink. I always wonder, if it was changed, would there be as many problems with it on college campuses.

Posted by: Issa at August 20, 2008 11:45 AM

I am still floored that at the tender age of 18, we are able to get married, choose to NOT attend college, choose a major, and choose to enlist in the military. Those decisions will affect the rest of our life! Whose idea is it to allow us to make such HUGE decisions at that age?

But we aren't trusted enough to have a beer? Though we've been driving a 2 ton death machine for 2 years at that point? What's up with that?

Posted by: Mindy at August 20, 2008 12:23 PM

My youngest is 17 and about to head off to college. She has been driving since the instant she turned 16 and has my mothers '93 Saturn. I have driven with her and I have to say that she makes me nervous as hell. She is very impatient and tends to go too fast, in my opinion. She is going to go to UC Santa Cruz and thankfully they don't allow freshman to bring their cars...yeah is all I can say. If she needs to come home, we will just have to drive over the mountain on damn highway 17 to get her.
If I could have my way, she would still be in grade school. Not driving, not dating, not spending my money like it is going out of style. People the age of 16 should not be driving, people the age of 18 should not be drinking and I dont think anyone should be in Iraq. When I was 16, I got my permit just as fast as my daughter did. I did not have a car though. I had to beg for my parents car or depend on friends for rides and I drank as much as possible before I was 21. It is all different though when it is your child growing up and doing things all kids do. It's awful and I promise you that you will look back and WISH for the days when Mia's biggest problem was not being able to decide between grape or orange juice.

Posted by: Peggy at August 20, 2008 12:25 PM

I think that 16 is a good age for driving. As the mother of a 17 year old (recently 16 and a new driver) I feel it is good for the new drivers to still be at home with parental control/input on their driving. It is scary as hell the first time your child drives off alone but at least at 16 they are still at home where you hopefully have input on when and where they drive. All new drivers are bad drivers (though they all think that they are wonderful drivers) - it is experience that makes a driver better. I think it is better and safer to get that experience while still at home.
And I like the 18 year old drinking age.

Posted by: beth at August 20, 2008 12:48 PM

i'm risking a lynching for saying this, but i don't think changing either of the laws would make a bit of difference. it's our culture; it's america. on a certain level, we seem to have difficulty finding balance, and laws only make the dynamic more 'interesting'. i don't see this getting better, i see it getting worse, and before this turns into a political rant, i will just say that someone(s) or something(s) big needs to set a tone for this country, for reasons starting with, but ranging far beyond 'privileges' such as driving and drinking. i am hopeful, but i'm not naive. the focus group you mentioned yesterday would be a great start, but, like i said, we need a shift of gigantic proportion. we owe it not only to our children, but to ourselves.

on a lighter note, i'll be seeing ms. carlile on monday at the state fair. will carry your spirit along, if you like...

Posted by: jessica at August 20, 2008 12:52 PM

I'm from New York - my husband grew up in NJ. At that time the NY law was 18; the NJ 21 and he tells me the roads were made more dangerous by the NJ kids crossing over into NY to drink and buy alcohol. NJ never lowered theirs - NY went to 21 when they were threatened by the Feds who wanted the whole country to conform.

I lived in a "dry" country in Arkansas for 8 years. The bootleggers got rich and I'm sure they tithed every Sunday as they were sitting in their pews.

We had "wet" counties on all sides with liquor stores at the county line and you couldn't pay me enough to get on one of the roads out of town on a Friday or Saturday night.

Prohibition doesn't work and furthermore it never did. Forbidden fruit is always more attractive which may be part of the reason for the drinking problems on campuses.

Left up to me (who doesn't drink at all anymore), I'd go back to 18 unless they can furnish absolutely convincing proof that 21 is working. If these kids are old enough to die for God and country, they're old enough to buy a beer.

As for driving, sometimes I'm tempted to suggest we raise the driving age to 35 or so.

Posted by: Ann Adams at August 20, 2008 12:56 PM

I started driving when I was 19 (almost 20) and I am the world's WORST driver. This has nothing to do with drinking, but I just thought I'd tell you :-)

Posted by: GreenCanary at August 20, 2008 1:15 PM

The driving age is fine. The drinking age should be lowered.

For example, I grew up in a farming community. We started drinking at around 14, not to be little drunken dipshits, but just because we wanted a beer. By the time we were 16 or 17, it was pretty evident to us that a lot of the adults in the community had a harder time handling themselves around alcohol then most of us. By the time those of us who were leaving at 18 actually left, it wasn't as if the we were babes in the woods where alcohol or it's potential effects were concerned. In one case, a kid who refused to drink throughout high school entered Ohio State, took his first drink, and dropped out two years later with an alcohol problem. This is only one example and doesn't constitute an all-encompassing reason to support lowering the drinking age, but is might be worthy of consideration.

As for driving, few people under 22 are mentally or emotionally stable enough to do a lot of things, so who can possibly apply a sweeping generalization to responsibility based on age? No one, that's who.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 20, 2008 1:29 PM

I have all kinds of feelings about these things and with my personal history of alcoholism, I'm not sure I'm totally objective about it. But then again, this is MY comment...

I live in a farming state. Kids drive tractors and ATVs and all that stuff when they're like 8. Those kids? They've learned a healthy sense of fear for large machinery and vehicles. They get that cars are dangerous. Not all of them, mind you, but the majority of them. They also know how to use a gun, so watch out.

City kids? They're dumber than a box of rocks when it comes to danger and vehicles. Just my opinion. No need to try and argue with me over the rightness of this. If you don't agree, then stop reading.

Drinking? I do believe that had I been exposed to any sort of temperate drinking while I was in high school, I don't think I would have gotten quite so crazy when I got to college and was not under my parents' watchful eyes. By the time I was 21, I was not interested in drinking anymore really. I'd already been there done the binging thing from 18-20, it was old hat and no longer fun. So - yes all done illegally. The real drinking that made me almost kill myself? That was my 30s. Alcoholism is an equal opportunity disease. It'll get you no matter what your intentions are if you're predisposed to it and you're half insane like I was.

Joining the military. Um. I think you should have to be 25. That's a huge decision and a huge commitment - to give your life to your country? I say the older the better for that one.

I'm done now.

Posted by: k8 at August 20, 2008 1:57 PM

Check out what BC,Canada is like:

At age 16 you can begin learning how to drive (however, it's a lengthy, graduated process)
Age 19, drink alcohol, go in bars/liquor store
Age 16, have consensual sex (actually it's currently 14, but they are changing it)
Age 19, buy cigarettes
Age 18, be recruited to the army-but you also can if you are 16-17, with parental consent.
Age 18, vote

I find it a little weird that at 18 you can vote for the leaders of your country, have sex, drive, even be trusted to run around with an AK-47 in the name of protecting your country, and not be allowed to smoke or drink. It seems a little off.

As an aside, there have been numerous times that I've been nearly run over by teens driving a car. And, despite the 19 year age limit on drinking, kids have no trouble getting their hands on it anyway.

Posted by: scatteredmom at August 20, 2008 2:15 PM

Unfortunately, I don't think it's a situation we can legislate our way out of. Some 18-year-olds are probably mature enough to drink responsibly, and some 50-year-olds still can't handle it.

Maybe there should be a test, like for driving. The written portion could include questions from Jeopardy's "Potent Potables," and the practical exam could give kids a chance to demonstrate that they can hold their liquor. I would volunteer to teach the drinker's ed class.

Posted by: julie at August 20, 2008 2:53 PM

I haven't really put much thought into it. I guess now that I am, yes 16 is too young to drive. I waited until I was 18 because I wanted to. I think that 17 or so would be a good age. 16 is just too young. For drinking I don't think it would be a good idea to lower it. If it was lower, kids would start drinking sooner then they do now. I understand the idea that people can go fight a war and not drink, but whose fault is that. Maybe the age to join the army or whatever unit they'd like should be 21. Has anyone ever thought of raising that rather than making everything younger?

Posted by: Dianna at August 20, 2008 3:17 PM

Really, I couldn't care less about what they make the drinking age, since I'm past it now. :)

People really are going to drink if they're going to drink. I know it very, very easy to get alcohol no matter your age. But what I don't get is the arguments- the hullabaloo around well, you can vote, you can die for your country, but you can't drink. The horror! Everything should be the same!

That's bull. I mean, all right, I can vote for president... so I should be able to BE president, so they should lower the age to be president from 35 to 18- it's only fair, right?

Everything is graduated. Even licenses, first you can only drive with a licensed driver, then alone but not between midnight and six am, and then finally you can drive. We grant privileges one at a time.

Not that I don't agree 21 is a high and arbitrary age, I just don't like the arguments people are making for it.

I mean, if you're really going to get into it, I don't even know that we should *have* a drinking age... the countries that don't, the children tend to learn alcohol is no big thing, it's something you have at dinner, with your parents, social occasions, and everyone is happy.

Oooh, I'm ramble-y.

Posted by: Caleal at August 20, 2008 4:44 PM

I am glad we live in NJ where the driving age is 17! I think 16 is too young to drive and 18 may be too young to drink too. Thinka bout the decisions you made at 16 or 18 and how bad they were and how faulty your logic was.

Posted by: Tuesday at August 20, 2008 4:50 PM

I am really tired of hearing that Europe has got it right for all the wrong reasons.

Europe doesn't have drinking and driving issues because there is mass transit that people use.

There aren't massive suburbs that kids need to leave to do things (like drive to their friends' houses). Teenagers and adults take mass transit or (GASP) WALK to where they need to go. White flight doesn't apply.

It has just as much to do with the middle class's "need" for a yard as it does any taboos we put on alcohol.

This from an Alektra who doesn't drink, and didn't in college, and was in a sorority back when sororities weren't dry, thankyouverymuch.

Posted by: alektra at August 20, 2008 4:55 PM

Is it easy to go to the bar before 21?

Where I'm from, the age is 19. I think 21 is high, but who knows what the best solution is? Not I.

Posted by: Heather at August 20, 2008 9:12 PM

I'm sure some commenters have evoked Europe here. While I can't speak about the entire conglomerate (?) of countries, I can tell you that in France, you can't drive until you're 18 unless you do a special program that involves your parents. In that case, you can start at 18.

In any case, you can go to a café and drink alcohol at age 16 in France. And I always thought that was pretty smart: teach the kids to drink before you teach them to drive.

Of course, wine is a part of life over there, so kids grow up seeing wine at the dinner table.

These are just observations. I'm not sure at this point that this country can go back on the drinking age. I drank in college when I was underage. Some people are going to drink more than others, period. Some will become alcoholics. Some won't.

I'm not sure at this point that this country can go back on the drinking age.

Posted by: Alison at August 20, 2008 9:48 PM

I think the catch 22 is that we are divided as a nation on a cultural level. A large portion of kids are taught a healthy respect for the responsibilities they gain as they get older, the other half worship the freedoms they recieve when they turn of age. One half treats it as a decision to be taken seriously the other half binges on freedom like it's heroine. That makes it pretty frickin' hard to make a rule that's going to fit the masses.

Personally I think taking the time to educate kids in a way that reaches them and makes them pay attention is far more benefical than making arbitrary rules about age. And I think it's everyones responsiblity to do this, not just their parents. and that's just my two cent opinion.

Posted by: jen at August 20, 2008 9:54 PM

Oops. Regarding driving in France, you can start at 16, but the graduated process involves parental involvement. Anyhoo...

Posted by: Alison at August 20, 2008 9:58 PM

Sweet buttery Jesus, my first comment is full of errors. In my defense, I did some copying and pasting. I apparently did some repeating, too.

Sigh. Never mind. It's been a long day. And no, I'm not drunk.

Posted by: Alison at August 20, 2008 10:00 PM

I grew up in the era where 18 was the drinking age, and honestly, there seemed to be less of a problem with the binge drinking back then. Plus, the kids are not waiting until 21 to drink anyway. They go off to college at 18, and to think they are not going to drink for the first 2-3 years of college is incredibly naive.

Posted by: coolchick at August 20, 2008 10:24 PM

I live close to a high school and watch as 16-18 year olds speed out of the parking lot doing 0-65 in a 40 mph lane daily. They are assholes without the alcohol, I don't want to give it to them any sooner. Most 18 year olds are to immature to drive responsibly let alone drink, then again, so are most 21 year olds.....

Posted by: Shannon at August 20, 2008 11:38 PM

I agree with you. A lot has changed since the drinking age was raised to 21, and I think it should be lowered. It's already more difficult for kids to get their license at 16; it is in Connecticut anyway. When I was 16, you could walk into DMV on your sixteenth birthday and get your license. Now there are permits and a lot of other hoops; I'm not even sure that the age is 16 anymore. The country as a whole is also a lot tougher on drunk driving now. I know people who got easily a half dozen or more DUI's 15 or 20 years ago without much punishment at all. That doesn't happen anymore. As long as it's clear that responsible drinking is expected and rules enforced, kids shouldn't have to wait until 21. My only concern is that a drinking age of 18 would mean some high school students could legally drink; if the age is lowered, there should be a zero tolerance policy (which I don't usually like) for drunkenness at school or school events.

Posted by: Darren at August 21, 2008 9:32 AM

Ok, yes the driving age is too low. But, I had a parent that was a driving instructor, so I drove at 16 and was an excellent driver. I had a good teacher and learned how to drive in a variety of conditions. I know that many of today's young drivers do however have distractions, such as cell phones and texting. I had a cell phone when I was younger but again the technology was not as advanced and I was more worried about the road and other drivers.

I agree with you on the drinking age. I grew up in Europe (I was a military brat) and in Spain young people can drink (like around 15 or 16). It is a part of many cultures as a right of passage. I think the problem is that many young people abuse alcohol regardless of the drinking age. I read an article in Marie Claire (chick’s mag) that talked about young women and their obsession with taking photos of themselves drunk and posting the pictures to Facebook. Drinking has become a daredevil sport of sorts and it is very sad to see young adults in this predicament.

Posted by: Julie Andel at August 21, 2008 4:25 PM

I live in a country in Europe, where you can drink beer and wine at 16 and everything else at 18 years of age. You can get your driver's license starting at 17. I grew up in the US and here is what I think is the major difference: Alcohol is treated differently in Europe. It is just a part of life, they don't make such a big deal about it. You learn what good wine is or that it is fine to just have a beer with your steak. It is not about "Oh yes, I can finally drink. Where are my 21 shots and let's play some beer pong!" Binge drinking is definitely a problem there, too, but granting someone who is a legal adult, who has every other right and responsibility starting at age 18,the right to drink just makes so much more sense! I don't know if the beer and wine thing at 16 is necessary, although you could argue that at least it gives people a chance to try it and to learn their limits before getting a license (don't know if that argument is really that great, but it's something to think about). I think no matter which age you are officially allowed to drink, there will always be problems. But 21 is just so late and so random, why have drinking be the last thing you are allowed to do, after everything else?
And alektra is right that the whole drinking and driving situation is very different in Europe. There are organized busses or taxis that are often free that take you home from bars and clubs, other forms of public transportation and you can often just walk home.
I guess the bottom line is that, no matter what the legal ages are, it is so, so important to teach your children to respect the dangers of getting into a car (my Dad always said "A car is a weapon.") and to learn how to drink responsibly, that alcohol does not have to be something terrible or excessive if you know how to appreciate it.

Posted by: Catharina at August 22, 2008 12:29 AM