With all the bad news about underage drinking, some good news is refreshing: The minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 seems to greatly reduce alcohol consumption both among underage youths and among adults of legal age. More action is needed, however, in order to further reduce the instances of underage drinking and their related consequences both for individuals and for society at large.
Why are alcohol control laws even necessary?
Included in the large body of evidence documenting its effectiveness, increasing the MLDA to age 21 MLDA has caused alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents among underage youths to decrease by an average of 16 percent. The Task Force on Community Preventive Services encourages reduction of alcohol sales to minors through even greater enforcement of laws that prohibit it.
Another recommendation includes increasing alcohol excise taxes and decreasing alcohol outlet density in the form of liquor licenses. Yet another proposed recommendation is to reduce the exposure of underage young people to alcohol marketing. The Surgeon General and Institute of Medicine approve such strategies and continue to research and evaluate was to increase their effectiveness. The reason for promoting such policies is clear: The states with greater alcohol control have reduced rates of adult and college binge drinking.
How important is it to have the community’s support for alcohol control?
Despite the risks involved in underage drinking and the laws in place to help reduce them, many adults contribute to the problem instead of being part of the solution. Many ignore the problem altogether, while others refrain from confronting other adults who serve alcohol to teens.
Certain sub-cultures seem to produce more underage drinking than society in general, and team sports are one such sub-culture group. Overall, teen athletes drink more often and consume more on each occasion than their nonathletic peers. As younger athletes try to fit in with their older teammates, the average age at which teens first start drinking has fallen from age 17 in 1965 to age 14 today, yet few adults are willing to confront the problem.
From parents to coaches, many adults see teen drinking as “none of their business,” but this type of attitude sends kids a mixed message. Underage drinking will continue to plague our society as long as all the adults in American communities fail to make it their business.
How important is it to have parental support for alcohol control?
Some parents actually provide alcohol for their teens and their kids’ friends; in fact, more than ¼ of underage drinkers obtain alcohol from family members, and 1/10 access alcohol from their parents’ liquor stash. Even those parents who say they’d never enable underage drinking often choose to ignore the empty bottles found after teen parties.
While many parents may think it’s a losing battle, Penn State research suggests otherwise: Parents can influence their teenagers to change how they think and behave regarding alcohol. What’s more, research suggests that changing teens’ attitudes can be as easy as sitting down for a simple conversation. So talk to your teens about the dangers of alcohol. Studies indicate that these conversations result in a 30 percent reduction in underage drinking. The “Parent Handbook for Talking to Teens About Alcohol” produced by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) can be a helpful tool in guiding your discussion.
Even if you talk to your teens about alcohol abuse, statistically speaking, it’s highly probable that your teen could still experiment with alcohol. Although this type of behavior should not be excused or encouraged, it is nothing to be alarmed about, as teenagers are known for their rebellious (and occasionally poorly-thought-out) behavior. If your teen’s alcohol use has gotten out of control, however, or if they have begun engaging in other types of risky, illegal, defiant, or self-destructive behavior, then it could be time for you to seek help from an outside source.