While some are firm believers in no underage drinking, there is also a growing number of people who believe that parents should actually let their children drink small amounts of alcohol responsibly before they are 21.
Experts argue that creating a culture in which alcohol is not an alluring “forbidden fruit,” but instead a normal part of family life may help to alleviate binge drinking.
Patrick Hanifan, a senior at Venice High School, agrees, “People want what they can’t have. If kids start drinking at a young age, then they’ll be less fascinated with alcohol later on.”
A 2004 study examined whether adults’ approval mattered when adolescents decide whether to drink. Kristie Long Foley, a public-health professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, analyzed the results of telephone surveys with more than 6,000 people ages 16-20 in the U.S.
She found that if adolescents drank with their parents, they were about half as likely as teenagers who didn’t drink with their parents to say that they had drunk alcohol in the past month. As for binge drinking, those that drank with their parents were about one-third as likely to say they had had five or more drinks in a row in the previous two weeks.
In the Journal of Adolescent Health, Foley and her colleagues concluded, “Drinking with parents appears to have a protective effect on general drinking trends.”
When asked her opinion, Venice High senior Kaitlin Amorde said, “I think that wine with dinner has a positive effect in some cases, but overall, no, I don’t think it makes teens much more responsible.”
Culture may influence the consumption of alcohol. For example, teenagers from European countries such as France, Italy, and Spain get drunk slightly less often than American teens.
This may be because alcohol consumption is more common, with lower drinking ages and supervised drinking within families.
The World Health Organization reports that Italy and Spain have very low rates of alcohol dependence or abuse (less than 1% and 2.8%, respectively) compared with the U.S., where the rate is 7.8%.
“I come from France where the drinking age is 18, so I think that teenagers in the U.S. should be allowed to drink as well,” said Guillaume Leger, a senior at Venice.
In fact, the adolescent brain may be better equipped to handle alcohol than the adult brain.
According to research done on rats and mice, the National Institute of Health said that teens may be less sensitive than adults to alcohol-related motor impairment, alcohol-induced sedation, and the development of seizures during withdrawal.