Old enough to die, too young to drink
Ah, the year abroad. A year of traveling, learning, exchanging, partying. And in America only, a year as a teetotaler.
In Europe, the legal drinking age is 18, the same as the voting age. Why is America alone among developed countries in setting such a high drinking age? Children as young as 16 can drive a car to their molten, fiery deaths, and 18-year-olds are allowed to vote and die for their country. In the U.S., you’re considered old enough to make a conscious decision about laying your life down for the flag, yet not mature enough to drink.
It’s mind-boggling how at age 18 you can be independent, living in your own place without your parents, cooking your own food and even doing your laundry once in a while without being trusted to drink responsibly. The reason that was given for raising the legal drinking age in the 1980s was that this would lower drunk driving accidents. However, although the number of deaths has fallen, the U.S. still has a higher rate of drunk-driving deaths than does the U.K., for instance. The way to fight drunk-driving is not to ban drinking, but rather to make people understand the risks of driving back after a night out.
Another problem is that the age limit seems completely arbitrary. To have it set so high would be understandable if social norms seemed to agree on this age limit. It doesn’t seem that many Americans wait until their 21st birthday to enjoy their first beer, however. There is no real pressure to stop underage students from drinking per se.
Most would agree that drinking is part of the college experience, but even that is far from the truth: Drinking is also part of the high school experience. As long as society thinks it normal for people under the age of 21 to drink, the drinking age will appear nonsensical.
The worst part about the law is that it actually hinders responsible drinking. Think about the last time you saw a bunch of drunk students shouting “Chug, chug, chug” in a bar. You tend to think twice about gulping down alcohol when your beer costs $4. However, college students are not given the opportunity to learn to drink responsibly.
Seeing that underage drinking is tacitly allowed, but publicly banned, it means that all the underage drinkers are forced to consume privately, in house parties where you always drink alcohol in greater quantities and where there is often no kind of supervision. This kind of drinking is much more dangerous than going out to a bar and having a few beers with friends.
There is also another, more perverse effect: The students who drink too much are often left by their friends to suffer the consequences. Most of them do not dare call the police, because they know that they could get in trouble for providing alcohol.
It feels odd to be a criminal for wanting a glass of champagne or an ice-cold beer. Even worse is being kicked out of places with an over-21 age limit. Not only are we not trusted to drink alcohol, we’re not even trusted to be in the same room as alcoholic drinks! The law stops us from enjoying a large part of the St. Louis music scene, even if we have no intention of drinking.
The truth is, until their 21st birthdays, American students are still second-rate citizens, with all the duties but not all the rights.