YARMOUTH – The drinking age is now 21. When I was in high school it was 18. Now, as then, kids try beer, wine, whiskey and other alcoholic drinks during their adolescence — illegally — in large percentages.

And after they can drink legally, the overwhelming majority will — for the rest of their lives. Recent studies put the percentage of adult drinkers at about 64 percent, holding steady, even amid the recession.

Remember that Prohibition idea? I was not around then, but I seem to recall reading that it did not pan out very well.

So, we know that banning drinking in adults does not work, that the urge to have a glass of wine or beer now and then is too strong to prohibit.

We also know that alcohol was involved in fatal auto accidents 37 percent to 60 percent of the time from 1982 to 2008. Accordingly, making good decisions about drinking is a life and death matter for the vast majority of us, every day that we are alive.

Yet, the approach to drinking in this country is to forbid it by those under the age of 21, and to punish those who seem unable to do precisely what adults have convincingly shown they cannot do — choose not to drink.

More fundamentally ridiculous and dangerous is that we cannot legally teach our children how to manage their drinking responsibly. We cannot legally teach them life skills that will not only save their own lives, but the lives of many others on the roadway.

Some of the arguments used by school administrators and others to support the “just say no” position to underage alcohol use are that binge drinking by those whose brains are developing may have a negative impact on brain functioning, and may be related to alcohol dependence later in life.

Even assuming there may be some truth in those hypotheses, common sense tells us that binge drinking has more to do with peer pressure than anything else.

Moreover, even conceding that there may be some relationship between underage drinking and problems that develop later in life, I for one would much rather have a child with fewer brain cells caused by some underage drinking than a cemetery plot to visit and a hole in my heart big enough to swallow my world.

I shall never agree to do anything that will harm my children, no matter what the law says about it. So, if my child tells me that he or she will be drinking alcohol on any given night, my response will be to make sure that plans are in place so that my child and others come home safely.

If I simply tell my child, “No, you will not drink” and presume that I have discharged my parenting function, then: 1) what I did is completely within the law and 2) my child may not come home some night when he and his friends have a couple beers.

If we can’t do better by our kids than to put our heads in the sand and forget about and deny our own adolescent experiences when it comes to alcohol, then we are dropping the ball in a big way and accepting avoidable and tragic alcohol related deaths of our loved ones.

We can model good drinking habits, we can stress moderation in everything, and we can give our kids the message that we are there for them, to help them make good choices.

We can tell them that if they do drink, if they are in a car with someone who is impaired, that they should call us and we’ll pick them up, no matter the time, no matter the place, no questions asked.

Their intellectual performance and their mental health are important factors to consider, as well as what the law tells us, but all of that is irrelevant if our child ends up dead because he decided to drink and we failed to teach him how to make good decisions regarding alcohol use.


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