The benefit of teaching teens healthy habits

Bradley Smith / The Watchdog

The topic of alcohol use in young adults is one of constant debate. Countries have set a range of laws for the legal drinking age from 16 years old in many European countries to 21 years old in the United States. Although there are valid arguments for prohibiting alcohol use in people under 21, I think the passing of that law has an overall negative impact on the health of minors in America. Despite the fact that it is illegal for people under 21 to consume alcohol in America, underage binge drinking is glorified in movies and television shows that are intended for a minor audience.

Alcohol is portrayed to be essential to any teenage party, often without mentioning the possibility of the dangers that come with binge drinking. The fact that alcohol consumption is illegal for teenagers is not often viewed as much of an issue in the youth of today because there is no widespread education on the full effects and dangers of heavy alcohol use.

The lack of education about healthy alcohol consumption is often absent in American households as well. Although it is common for parents to drink alcoholic beverages in their home and around their child, it is not often discussed in the family because it is seen as a taboo topic to bring up to a teenager. Oftentimes the only discussion parents will have with their child about alcohol is just telling them how much trouble they would be in if they were to get caught. This is done without mention of safety, moderation or healthy habits. This abstinence-only approach is clearly not effective.

Because alcohol is shown to be so unfamiliar and exciting, many teenagers decide to try it out in secrecy, often under unsafe circumstances. If parents took the time to take away the mystery of alcohol in a safe environment, their children would not be so inclined to form unhealthy habits and keep secrets from their parents.

The culture of alcohol use is drastically different in countries with a lower drinking age, such as the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, minors aged 16 to 17 are allowed to drink wine or beer in a restaurant if they are accompanied by a parent and are allowed to purchase alcohol on their own at the age of 18. Parents of British teenagers take the time to familiarize them with alcohol, allowing them to have moderate amounts under adult supervision in a family environment. As a result, the teenagers learn healthy drinking habits.

I think that if American families functioned similarly to those in the United Kingdom, the next generation of young adults would grow to be far more healthy and safe than if they were sheltered from alcohol and forced to learn on their own. American culture contradicts itself in the fact that underage drinking is illegal and forbidden by most adults under any circumstances, yet glorified by the media and peers. When people have to figure out healthy drinking habits on their own, mistakes are often made.

I do not think that the legal age to purchase all forms of liquor should be lowered in the United States because of the possibility for dangerous binge drinking in minors. However, I do think that America should adopt a similar law and philosophy as the United Kingdom. I do not see anything morally wrong or unsafe to allow a 16-year-old to have one alcoholic beverage at dinner with their family. In fact, I think this would set teenagers up for a much healthier lifestyle.

American culture cannot change overnight and changing the drinking laws would be a long process, but I think that reevaluating the effects of America’s current system would undoubtedly improve the health of future generations. It is likely that binge drinking would still occur, but by the time it would be easily accessible the person would have a foundation of knowledge and healthy drinking habits.