Will Lowering The Drinking Age Make Us As Moderate As Europeans?
Before I got married two years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on that dealt with parenting-specifically, parenting teenagers. And even more particularly, teenage stepchildren. So, bopping along through my list of potential reads, I came across a title that made me smile, “Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy” by Dr. Michael Bradley.
Ordered it, read it, LOVED IT! Gave me so much insight into the mindset of my new teenage stepkids…and I was really ashamed to admit I’d forgotten what it was like to be a teen. But his book put me right back into the mindset, the insecurities and the oddities of teenage life. I’ve since recommended this book to dozens, maybe hundreds, of parents with teenagers (hey, it’s the least I can do, right?)
Tonight, Dr. Mike Bradley’s E newsletter popped up in my in box. Felt this is good blog food for Drunk Driving Speaker since, well, it’s all about teens and drinking.
Let it never again be said that Europeans know moderation and Americans do not. Here’s Dr. Bradley’s article:
Dr. Mike Bradley’s e-Newsletter
“Lowering the Drinking Age Will Save Teen Lives”
The dad who said this was a member of my audience in a talk about the alcohol abuse tsunami that has swept over America’s teenagers. Like the hundreds of other parents (along with many college presidents) who have said the same thing to me over the years, he was thoroughly convinced that allowing teens to drink alcohol at younger ages would reduce this problem: “We should let American kids drink like they do in Europe—you know, where kids grow up using alcohol from a young age so that they learn how to drink responsibly. European kids don’t see booze as a ‘forbidden fruit’ so they aren’t as attracted to it as teens are here. I know because I grew up in Spain and saw kids drinking wine at age four. They would just sip it. Everyone knows that kids in Europe don’t abuse alcohol like American teens.”
First, a disclaimer: I’m a myth junkie. I fervently hope that “Nessie” (the Loch Ness Monster) truly exists. And no one would love it more than I if one day it is proven that space aliens have been visiting our planet. I love those myths. They give me a welcome relief from the tedium of the day, an exciting respite where I can believe that magic is possible, that there are simple answers to complex issues, and that the experts don’t know what they’re talking about. I hate it when scientists rain on my fantasy parades by telling me that the odds of anyone having ever been abducted by space aliens are about the same as the odds of being abducted by space—well, you know what I mean. So I very much sympathize with folks who believe that handing Coors to kids will cure this epidemic of dangerous teen drinking. If that worked, I’d be the first to buy my son a keg and share a few with him. But science tells me that that “life-saving” act could well kill him.
According to those party-pooper researchers at the National Institutes of Health teenagers who start drinking at age 14 have a five-hundred-percent increase in the odds of becoming an addict than kids who wait until age 21 to imbibe. Teen brains are apparently “soft,” much more prone to the addictive effects of substances such as alcohol. Adolescent gray matter seems to get whacked much more powerfully by booze than does adult brain tissue. And alcohol is associated with everything bad that happens to teens to include car crashes, school failures, arrests, sexual assaults, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and that worst of all parental nightmares, suicide.
So what about those European adolescents who can legally drink anywhere from birth to age 16, who are given alcohol at early ages, and who “everyone knows” are drinking responsibly? Well, I’m afraid that they must be off swimming with Nessie or teleporting to Mars since we can’t seem to locate them on Earth. In comparing adolescent drinking patterns (via the 21 nation European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs and the United States Monitoring the Future Survey), it becomes clear that American kids (ages 15-16) are pikers when it comes to the “boozing Olympics.” For example, while 39% of US teens admit to drinking in the past 30 days, they only tie for last place with Croatia. The adolescents in each of the other 20 European nations easily beat out the US with some nations doubling our “scores” of active teen drinkers (Greece and the UK tied at 74% with Denmark being the runaway “winner” at 81%). Well, you could argue, maybe those EU kids ar e drinking, but surely they’re drinking more responsibly, right? Wrong! US teens “lose” the party-‘til-you-puke event as well. While 24% of America’s kids binge drink, every other EU nation (except Portugal) handily beats us. Interestingly, Denmark again “wins” that binge drinking event with 61% of its teens regularly drinking themselves into oblivion. Clearly, providing kids with access to alcohol does not teach responsible drinking. It does teach life-threatening risk taking.
I love myths as much as you might but if you ever had to bet the ranch on Nessie surfacing or ET phoning home, would you bet for or against those events? Well, that same cold calculus must also hold true for the deadly myths about teen drinking. The brutal fact is that an astounding number of us parents promote adolescent alcohol madness by voluntarily providing this deadly substance to our kids based upon an insane belief in those killer myths. A third of drinking teens say that their parents hand them the booze. A fourth of our kids say that parents drink with them.
If we grownups all stop pushing this drug, will our teens stop drinking? No, but science also shows that our calm but firm opposition can limit the frequency and intensity of adolescent use. Few folks obey speed limits, but everyone knows that those silly signs and annoying tickets do limit our dangerous excesses. So when it comes time to bet the life of your child, avoid the loud “everyone knows” myths and instead trust the quiet science which yells, “Teenagers can’t drink.”
Dr. Mike Bradley
Dr. Bradley is available for speaking events on a variety of topics. Check out docmikebradley.com for more information and for excerpts from all of his books, including his latest release When Things Get Crazy with Your Teen: The Why, the How and What to Do NOW! (McGraw Hill, 2009).