Andrea McCarren, a Washington, D.C. reporter for WUSA-TV recently did a series of stories on underage drinking and how teens in the area access alcohol. It was provocative. Teens’ easy access to alcohol should have been a warning to parents and the broader community that we must do a better job of enforcing underage drinking laws. Instead, the reaction was a muted one among parents and a threatening one from underage persons enraged that local underage alcohol sources were exposed. The reporter and her children were threatened via Facebook and at school. As a result, the reporter surrendered her carefully crafted series to another colleague to ensure her children’s safety.
How pathetic! The entitlement generation wins again – claiming a right to drink even though it is illegal for people under 21 to do so. I’m a mom to young children now and I haven’t yet faced the parental situation of enforcing the underage drinking law. When that time does come, I plan to follow my parents’ example.
When I was a teen, I had no idea what the legal penalties were for drinking underage. I didn’t need to. The penalty my parents would have imposed if I had been caught drinking underage was my main concern. They made it clear that drinking underage was a crime and totally unacceptable. They talked to me about drinking and why it was not healthy for me. Alcohol was kept in a locked cabinet, available only to my parents. They kept track of my activities, my friends, and my friends’ parents. They worked together to keep us out of trouble. There were very clear punishments for underage drinking, including my right to attend the college of my choice and any privileges I may enjoy during my high school years.
According to the most recently available government data 40% of High School Seniors and 27% of 10th graders report drinking alcohol in the past month. Said another way, the majority of today’s youth adhere to the underage alcohol laws in their state yet, among some parents and teens, there is a troubling lack of concern for abiding by the law. Alcohol is illegal for people under the age of 21. There are a host of reasons to support that law including physiological and safety reasons, but the bottom line is – it is a crime and that’s reason enough for parents to forbid their teens to drink underage.
One of the biggest obstacles to decreasing underage drinking across the nation is adults, specifically parents. The vast majority of kids who drink alcohol are accessing it from adults they know. This includes parents and siblings. As long as we continue to accept underage drinking as a rite of passage, undercut law enforcement efforts to enforce the law and allow bullying via social media against those who expose underage drinking – this problem will persist. It’s time for adults to act like adults and instill in our youth a level of respect for the law.
Vice President, Government Relations
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility