by the Sports & US News Editorial Staff
As the end of the school year nears and students head off on summer adventures, there’s one thing they didn’t learn in school: how to drink responsibly.
Though the legal drinking age is 21, many young people encounter alcohol long before then. Unfortunately, most have little or no background knowledge about how to behave in the presence of or under the influence of alcohol. The stories that teens hear from their friends about alcohol entices them to drink, not for the taste or cultural experience, but often to get drunk.
“I definitely don’t [drink] for the taste, I do it for the group experience, it definitely is bonding. People are really honest when they’re drunk and it’s cool to hear what everybody really is. I like the state of mind. I do it to experience something else, something different,” says an anonymous student at Monticello.
The level of education about alcohol that young people receive from their parents differs from family to family, but the level of education that schools provide is always inadequate. Students are taught to abstain completely from drinking, rather than to form a healthy relationship with alcohol as they grow up. A healthy relationship with alcohol should include both knowledge and experience about alcohol’s appeals and consequences. In most cases, sophomore health classes spend a single unit on teen drinking and drug use, and only reiterate one warning: “Don’t do it.” The teachers play dated, overdramatized movies about tragic teen deaths caused by underage drinking, in an attempt to try and scare students out of drinking.
This system of talking about alcohol, or rather not talking about alcohol, is not effective as it only turns drinking into a forbidden fruit. By suppressing the conversation, many teenagers end up experimenting with alcohol in unsafe ways. Drinking becomes an act of rebellion, or something to sneak around.
Instead,what teachers should be advising is, “Please don’t drink. But, if you do end up drunk at a party, here’s what you do to get home safely. Here’s how to drink in moderation.”
We’re frustrated with the current system because it is so unrealistic. Society tells young people not to drink for the first 21 years of their lives, and then expects them to suddenly have a healthy relationship with one of the most addictive available substances in the world.
Bottom line: the current system for teaching young adults about alcohol isn’t working. Binge drinking on college campuses is widely recognized as a growing problem in the US, and “researchers consistently have found that approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol.”
We don’t want schools to advocate for underage drinking, but we do want schools, teachers, parents, and students to start having a more fluid conversation about alcohol.
Schools need to teach alcohol awareness in a way that will actually help young people make smart decisions. Surely there is a conversation we can have, or a class we can take, which will form a happy medium between warning young people about the dangers of alcohol and educating them on how to drink responsibly.
Countries that do have a more open dialogue about alcohol, such as France, Italy, and Spain, rank among the least risky in a World Health Organization report on alcohol. Cultures where it is acceptable to allow children to enjoy an occasional glass of wine with their meal or a celebratory glass of champagne are deliberately helping young people to form a healthy relationship with alcohol. However, this relationship with alcohol was built up over centuries.
The taboo surrounding alcohol consumption in the United States is a deep cultural practice that will take years to break, but the process should begin in school, by educating young people about how to drink responsibly.