Answering Questions About Underage Drinking

What can you say to people who think teen drinking is not a serious problem?

Despite the law, the statistics, and the science, some people still think teen drinking is not a serious problem. Here are some of the more common questions and assertions you may hear from neighbors and friends may ask about teen drinking — and how you can respond. Please share.

Q. Doesn't the legal drinking age just make teens want alcohol more, because it is ‘forbidden fruit’? 

A. If this were true, teen drinking would have gone up after adoption of the legal drinking age. It did not — teen drinking has gone done by 24 percentage points since 1984. And here is another advantage of the law: the drinking habits of 18-year-olds have a big influence on younger teens — 13 to 17. Data show a big decline in drinking by 10th and 8th graders, too.

Q. All the other kids drink alcohol. How can teens fit in if they don’t drink?

A.  In fact, most teens don’t drink. This includes 58% of 12th graders, 72% of 10th graders, and 95% of 8th graders. So, when it comes to fitting in, not drinking is the way to go.   

Q. Wouldn't a lower drinking age allow parents to teach their kids to drink responsibly?

A.  Parents don't have to drink with their children to teach them responsible drinking. A recent U.S. study shows that when parents don’t allow their teens to drink alcohol in high school, their children drink less in college and have fewer negative alcohol-related consequences than do kids of more permissive parents. 

Q. Don't kids binge drink because they haven't “learned to drink” when they're living at home?

A. Again, this question assumes that binge drinking was less common when the legal drinking age was 18 or 19. That assumption is wrong — binge drinking by 12th graders has dropped by 13 percentage points since 21 was adopted as the national legal drinking age. A recent European study tested the theory that parents can teach responsible drinking by letting their teenagers have alcohol at home. In a study of 428 Dutch families, researchers found that the more teenagers were allowed to drink at home, the more they drank outside of home as well. What's more, teens who drank under their parents' watch or on their own had an elevated risk of developing alcohol-related problems, such as trouble with school work, missed school days, and getting into fights. 

Q. Kids are going to drink anyway. They always have. Isn't it better to hold the party at my house, so my kids and their friends aren't out driving?

A. It's not your decision to make. Letting other teens drink in your house undermines other parents, and in many states, it violates the law. Drunk driving isn't the only danger associated with teen drinking, and you can't guarantee that your teen guests won't drive after they leave your house. Offer non-alcoholic choices rather than another drinking venue.

Q. If the kids drink when I'm home, I can control what happens. Isn't that the best way to prevent teen injury?

A. Can you really control what happens? There are too many real stories about teens who are injured from drinking under adult supervision. This includes instances of serious alcohol poisoning, sometimes resulting in death. Giving permission to drink at home also may be interpreted to mean that you approve if they drink with friends when you're not around.

Q. The legal drinking age in Europe is younger than it is in the U.S. Why don't European kids have alcohol-related problems?

A. Actually, they do. European teenagers drink more alcohol more often than their American counterparts and get drunk more frequently. The concept that European teens do not have drinking problems is a myth.

Q. How does my opinion matter? Teens don’t listen to their parents anyway.

A. Studies have shown that parents have a significant influence on youth decisions about alcohol consumption. Around 80% of young teens feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol, and a parent’s attitudes about alcohol use continue to influence drinking decisions even after a teen has left for college. 

Q. I don't believe that the reduction in teen drinking and driving accidents since 1983 is entirely due to the minimum drinking age. There must be more to it.

A. Seat belt requirements, zero tolerance laws, increased enforcement, and frankly, increased public education and information on the dangers of teen drinking have contributed to the downturn in teen drinking and accidents. However, after careful study, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that the minimum drinking age law, by itself, has played an important role in reducing both teen drinking and driving after drinking.

Q. If kids can vote and join the military at 18, why do they have to wait until they're 21 to drink legally?

A. It's the law. In addition, ages of "initiation" vary. You can work at 14, vote at 18, and drink at 21, but you can't run for Congress until you're 25. Researchers who have evaluated the data say the minimum legal drinking age delays the onset of alcohol use, reduces drinking and driving, and reduces teen traffic fatalities.

This article is part of a series: We Don't Serve Teens
Tagged with: Alcohol