Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Drinking Age Debate

For parents placing their children in the hands of universities across our nation, be warned - 123 college presidents want to lower the drinking age. The leaders of these colleges have gone on record with the Amethyst Initiative to make the claim that young people cannot wait until they are twenty-one to take a drink of alcohol.

Why do they make this claim? Because they believe that the age limit of twenty-one encourages irresponsible behavior in those under that limit who wish to drink.

Okay, if the irony of that statement didn’t take you by surprise, please go back and read the last paragraph again. The argument is being made that legalizing alcohol consumption at a younger age will lead to more responsible drinking. Let’s step back for a minute and theorize the thinking on the situation.

Currently, the age limit to consume alcohol is set by each individual state, but is “threatened” by the federal government, who will subtract ten percent of a state’s federal highway money if they set the minimum age at anything below twenty-one (the infringement by the federal government on individual state’s rights is a separate topic). To my knowledge, no state has tested that threat. The university presidents see two problems – 1) under-age individuals show disrespect for the law by acquiring fake ID’s, and 2) these same teenagers participate in binge-drinking because they cannot consume alcohol legally.

So, following their thinking, let’s presume to lower the drinking age to nineteen. Anyone who previously acquired a fake ID and was between nineteen and twenty-one is now in the clear. But how does this touch the second item – binge drinking? Their argument is that underage students currently hide and drink in large doses because they don’t have the freedom to consume an occasional beer without the threat of being arrested. Okay – maybe that argument holds some weight, though I have my doubts. What I observed in college was that students participated in binge drinking simply because they wanted to, even those who were legal.

Isn’t the real issue here one of teaching responsible behavior and respect for the law to our teenagers? By lowering the legal drinking age, we are essentially telling our children, “There’s no way we can trust you to do the right thing, even though the law prohibits you from drinking before you are twenty-one. We just don’t think you can wait. It worries us that you will choose to consume alcohol in great quantities because your desire to experiment is greater than any sense of self-control that your parents instilled in you. So we are going to lower the legal age, and trust that you will now drink responsibly because there is no threat of legal or police intervention. Enjoy!”

And so, it is proposed that we modify the law to accommodate underage drinkers, believing that this will solve the problem. But what about the eighteen-year-old who is now only one year away from legal drinking and will suffer the same pressures and temptations as the twenty-year old used to? Do we modify the law yet again to accommodate these teens, who are of an even less likely age to demonstrate self-control? Is there a magical age where this practice stops? Do we look at other age-related rights such as smoking and driving, and consider lowering their legal entry point in the hopes that we will produce less wrongdoing?

The real solution to the problem is for parents to raise their children to be responsible. Parents must once again claim the responsibility for bringing up children to be mature adults. And this doesn’t mean it starts when the child turns eighteen and goes to college. Our current expectations that teens will go through a rebellious adolescent period are relatively new. There was a time when marriage during the teen years was commonplace – I believe because maturity was expected and acquired at a much younger age. Families were started, careers launched, and maturity set in at the same ages that we now send children off to four years of college. Is it possible that we have slipped into a routine where we not only assume adolescents will rebel, but we laugh it off, fund the nonsense for four years at a university, and lower the age of legality in the hopes that it will encourage the maturity that used to be expected?

I recognize that some people reading this may feel unfairly treated or may even be offended. Many families today are in no shape to survive financially, they are split beyond repair, or they have no hope of recapturing the loss of innocence in their children. I am saddened by that, and I pray that we can find a way to bring those families back to the Lord’s blessing and comfort. But for those families who are fairly young and still have the opportunity, I encourage you to give yourselves up to the training of your children. Establish in them a godly, moral sense of direction. Talk to them often about temptations that they will face and how to combat the evil one. And have high expectations that by the time they reach their early teen years, they will have the maturity and wisdom to go out and face the world with an unshakeable moral foundation that rocks this world. Finally, teach your children to instill this character in their own children. If we begin to see this effort as a purposeful, lifetime journey, we can change the world.

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