October 28, 2020

The best defense is a good offense: Build responsible drinkers by drinking younger

A typical Friday night at one of the big state schools like Mizzou means the bars are full and there is a party on every block, depending what street you are on. And I can almost guarantee all of these parties and bars have patrons under the legal drinking age of 21.

While it is not as big here at Webster University, the parties are still around and there are plenty of minors drinking illegally.

I’m not saying we need to crackdown on underage drinking — far from it. The biggest danger to those minors drinking at college parties is their lack of experience in drinking responsibly. They think drinking involves a minimum of five beers and at least that many shots.

The problem is education. Ever since I was 17, my mom would, on occasion, offer to let me have a beer with dinner or maybe a glass of wine. But I always declined. Coming to college last year at the age of 18, I finally decided to try drinking for the first time. And like most college students, I was stupid. I drank way more than needed and thought “to drink” meant “to get wasted.”

Skip to this past summer when I finally took my mom up on the beer with dinner. I began to realize that drinking didn’t have to mean getting drunk every weekend. But instead, drinking became a beer after work or with dinner. I was drinking more frequently but more responsibly. When I was in high school I didn’t understand why my mom would keep offering me alcohol when I kept refusing. But she understood that drinking with her was going to set me up for better drinking habits in the future.

I should say that I’m from Iowa and not Missouri. The only reason this is important in this context is that Iowa has a law that makes all the difference in learning safe drinking habits. Iowa allows minors to drink with their parents or legal guardians in a private residence whereas Missouri does not.

Each year, over 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many of the deaths were from car accidents where a driver was intoxicated or in result to alcohol poisoning from just drinking too much. Stupid mistakes like this are because of a lack of education. This change starts with a change in the law in states like Missouri. The law needs to allow parents to make the choice to legally drink with their kids and instill good drinking habits.

The other change is more a paradigm shift for the whole nation. We can’t let alcohol continue to be as taboo as it is for minors. Teenagers are rebellious. You tell them not to play with matches, and as soon as you leave the room the trash can is on fire. So when schools are preaching that if you touch alcohol before you are 21 you are going to die and endanger everyone around you, they are doing more harm than good.

Instead, schools and parents should be teaching what responsible drinking looks like and the dangers of irresponsible drinking. But parents hold the final choice on whether or not they allow their kids to drink. And it may not be the right choice for every kid. But with our current perception of alcohol, any parent who allows their kid to drink while in high school is a bad parent. When really it could be the most responsible way to prevent bad drinking habits in the future.

While blind to it before, I now see what my mom did for me was best. And when I sit in my dorm room on Friday nights listening to the drunken freshmen stumble back to West Hall loudly, I wish more parents had done the same.

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