How old were you when you took your first drink? Was it a few swings of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine in the back seat of a car with some other underage friends or half a glass of wine at a special occasion at a fine restaurant with your parents? Me? Guilty to the former. You?
Anywhoo, this morning Miss Amy takes a scholarly approach and discusses the pros and cons of the drinking age debate. I’m sober and ready. Let’s go:
The issue over age–18 or 21–misses the point. It isn’t when kids are allowed to drink, it’s how they are taught. When our son turned 15, we spent a year between Drivers Ed classes and a learner’s permit before we let him drive a car by himself. Now we are facing our next challenge: the inevitable issue of drinking alcohol. Are we going to allow his college peers to teach him to modify consumption of a substance that makes him lose control? How much should be the parent’s responsibility? And, how much does the endless, on/off “18 or 21″ legalized age to drink debate lead to youthful over-consumption?
The European “system” has always been held up as a model for success. For more insight on the European perspective I discussed growing up in Belgium with Stefaan “Pommes” Vandemoortele , General Manager/Partner of Sevy’s Grill. “The legal age to drink [in Belgium] is 14, but families begin allowing consumption even earlier. Our family dinners came with a choice of beverage, beer or water, and I don’t ever remember soft drinks or juice being an option.” says Stef. As for older adolescents (18-21): “We didn’t drink as fast because of the late-evening culture. Dinner with your parents began at 10 after which kids would go out, but since the bars and clubs stay open all night there was no desire to slam down drinks. Public transportation was important during adolescence, a period when kids learned to handle some of alcohols effects before getting their driver’s license at 18.”
Stefaan and his wife Sandra are the parents of a Texas Tech student. I wondered if the drinking age had been 18 when he sent her off to college would he have been concerned? “Absolutely not, she has been brought up to have a glass of wine or beer with dinner so there was not a novelty factor for her. She was raised to understand her responsibility as a consumer and any alcohol always meant no driving.”
The Culinary Institute of America has a bar on campus. It’s a relaxing place to have a beer or wine and walk home to the dorm. During the year I lived there with my husband, I don’t ever remember seeing a student over-intoxicated at the bar, but perhaps this was because there were teachers as well as students there. I do feel that it had an impact in reducing the number of dorm or house “rages”, and the number of seriously hung-over students.
Sevy and I have always been keenly aware of the responsibilities that accompany the selling of a legalized drug. Both of us turned “legal” at the age of 18 (well, mine only lasted one year), but we are not necessarily advocates to changing the drinking age from 21 as we are also parents of a 17- year-old senior. There is no option with our kids (or their friends) of being permissive over the issue of illegal alcohol consumption at our home, the incomes of 50+ employees relies on the annual renewal of our liquor license. That said, it is completely legal in Texas for minors to be given alcohol by their parents, and in their parent’s presence.
Right now the university community is advocating lowering of the drinking age. As we prepare to let our precious children loose in the world, I want to know if the chancellors of colleges are ready to accept this responsibility the way I do as a business owner? And we’re not waiting for the determination of when it is “age-appropriate”, we have the ability to help our son learn responsibly now.