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Should The Drinking Age Be Changed?

When a child matures into a teenager they are exposed to several life changing decisions and responsibilities within a blink of an eye. Majority of children are taught from their parents or guardians to be careful and smart especially when entering high school. Sadly enough, no amount of education or lecturing can really prepare a child to the new world of freedom they are about to embark on. High school in itself is hard to get used to. It is a new school with all different kinds of teenagers, all dealing with their own handful of problems. Each individual wants to fit in and experience high school to the best of their ability. Today most students believe that in order to experience high school at it’s best you must decide whether or not to have sex, do drugs or drink alcohol. This decision has come to haunt many students for years. The constant pressure to fit in weighs heavily on their decision, which results in several illegal activities. The question at hand is if these decisions are really worth it. I myself have seen first hand what these decisions can really do to people. On October 11, 2010 my family received the news that my cousin, Kyle Lancon at 19 years old had died from a drinking and driving accident. This news hurt everyone so deeply that emotions can’t even be put into words. The question on everyone’s mind was why, why did this have to happen and why can’t teenagers accept that alcohol is illegal. Because of this tragic impact on my life and my own exposure to underage drinking I decided to research why teenagers believe it is so important to drink, and why it’s worth the risk of getting in trouble with the law or even losing their lives. I have found through extensive research that for the greater interest of our country it is best that the drinking age be lowered to 18.
The idea of lowering the drinking age scares many people. Majority of people believe that lowering the drinking age will in fact encourage teenagers to drink more. But, researchers have found that they may not be true. Professor Ruth C. Engs researched this topic and stated “drinking by the youth is seen as an enticing forbidden fruit, a badge of rebellion against authority and a symbol of adulthood.” He explains that because drinking is seen as something bad amongst teenagers they are more inclined to do it. I found this to be very relatable to many situations in life. He explained this research even further and compared it to the fashion industry. For instance, when a pair of shoes is limited to find and recognized by millions of people as something beautiful more people want to own this particular pair of shoes. But, the same concept also applies to a pair of shoes that everyone owns and is out of season; no one is really trying their hardest to buy this particular pair of shoes. They aren’t as interesting and aren’t at limited supply. This relates very similarly to how teenagers view alcohol. Alcohol for them is at very limited supply; because of this have they are going to take advantage of any chance they have to drink it, resulting in binge drinking. Drinking in high school is a symbol of being cool, because it is a forbidden fruit that they were able to accomplish. Professor Engs suggests that by making the drinking age legal at 18 more teenagers over time will adapt to this idea and see alcohol more responsibly and not feel the need to over do their drinking because it won’t be at a limited supply.
I found Proffesor Engs research to be very useful and decided to apply his research in an interview I conducted with a young woman who consumes alcohol underage. I asked her if alcohol would be as important to teenagers if it were to be made available on a daily basis legally. She expressed that majority of teenagers do drink because they have been forbidden to do so their entire lives, especially kids that have had strict upbringing and want to rebel and try something for themselves. She said to me” It just feels good to be seen as an adult and look cool, it’s the best way for a group of kids to come together and socialize.” This statement transmits back to the constant urge to want to fit in, sadly good grades and kindness doesn’t exactly result in a student fitting in. Some people argue that regardless of the teenagers concern to fit in, lowering the drinking age would be medically irresponsible because the brain’s frontal lobes will not be able to fully develop. As much as this may be true, there is a greater fact that people don’t want to accept, teenage consumption of alcohol is never going to stop. Professor Engs identifies this conflict through his recent study:
As a nation we have tried prohibition legislation twice in the past for controlling irresponsible drinking problems. This was during National Prohibition in the 1920s and state prohibition during the 1850s. These laws were finally repealed, prohibition did not work then and prohibition for young people under the age of 21 is not working now (Engs).
Regardless if the age is lowered or not, teenagers will continue to consume alcohol illegally hurting their brain development. No matter how hard law enforcements try to enforce the drinking age appropriately teenagers will always want to drink
A Professor at Indiana University stated that the drinking age should be lowered to 18 based on the fact that their drinking consumption could be monitored in safe environments. Rather then teens feeling the need to hide because they don’t want to pass the rare opportunity up, the professor suggests that by giving them the opportunity to drink in safe environments more lives could ultimately be saved. His research also impacted me; I was able to convey his research about safe environments back to my cousin’s tragic accident. Due to the fact that he felt the need to hide his drinking he drank as much as he could and decided to drive home, simply because he couldn’t admit to authorities or his parents that he was too drunk to drive. He decided to make that life changing decision because he wasn’t able to drink in a safe environment. He feared getting in trouble and like most teenagers made the decision to drive in order to avoid the law at all costs. The law pressures teenagers to hide and act as if they are doing nothing wrong, when in fact one phone call could have saved my cousin’s life. Because of something so stupid as an age limit his parents will never be able to see their child grow into the man they had always hoped he would be.
In order for me to thoroughly research this topic I looked to several different sources, I came across an article titled “The Debate On Lowering The Drinking Age” In this article CBS News and 60 minutes discuss underage drinking with several college presidents. I found this particular article to be helpful because it gave insight from adults that have an unbiased opinion regarding this issue. The article first states that over a hundred college presidents, including the heads of Dartmouth, Virginia Tech and Duke signed a declaration stating that the 21 year old drinking law is not working. These well-respected individuals express that the current drinking age is in fact contributing to extreme drinking. John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont stated that “This law hasn’t eliminated drinking at all it has just pushed this issue underground, behind closed doors into the most risky and lease manageable settings.” Not only does McCardell discuss this issue, a police chief also agreed with the college presidents. Chief Beckner responds to 60 Minutes questions stating “Well, we do enforce it, But what we’re seeing is it’s not being effective.” After reading this article I was able to conclude that majority of people know the current drinking law is not working, so why hasn’t something be done yet?
I looked to other countries that have a drinking age limit at 18 in order to further argue that something should be done. According to, many countries with the age limit at 18 have similar or better drunk driving statistics than the United States. Our country’s rate of traffic accidents and fatalities in the 1980s decreased less then that of European countries whose legal drinking ages are lower than 21. The facts about this issue are all present; it is now a matter of admitting that something needs to be done before it gets worse.
When it comes down to it yes by lowering the drinking age our economy could increase enormously, but that is not the main reason why the drinking age should be lowered. The drinking age should be lowered for the safety of lives, of course if the law were to be changed there would be a time period of chaos, but through time and education teens over the years will not feel as inclined to make stupid decisions. Alcohol will not be as important, and accidents will soon decline because it will be more controlled. Teens are drinking across the country right this second; it is now time to just accept it and improve the situation that is at hand.

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