I regret not having attended the . Clearly, many different opinions and strong emotions have been stirred up by this. We have those who feel overly-regulated, and who don’t agree with the spirit of the law in the first place. We also have those who believe that the current side-stepping of the law -- which clearly prohibits underage drinking -- is a kind of Faustian bargain to save more teens from even worse outcomes if their inevitable drinking is engaged beyond the watchful eyes of some parent-hosts. We have teens wanting to bear the responsibilities for their own actions without “big brother” telling them what to do. Some people see social hosting as part of a wholesome approach to teach kids how to drink responsibly, which they call the European Model. We even have Mr. Hansen, a columnist at the Coastline Pilot, who compares the reinforcement of the legal prohibition of underage drinking to coercing 12-year-olds to wearing pink socks in support of breast cancer awareness.
My question is this: exactly how does the proposed ordinance change an already existing situation where underage drinking is illegal? How does it empower local law enforcement beyond what powers they already have? In all the coverage read, I haven’t seen this clearly delineated. This seems really critical in understanding exactly what we are debating about in the first place.
Having attended multiple PTA Coffee Breaks and parent education meetings put on by the High School, I am aware that there really is a lot out there in terms of unambiguous research on the effects of teen drinking. For example, many people see the European Model as a means to prevent alcohol abuse by introducing children to alcohol in the home. Yet in Europe, 25% of male teen deaths are related to alcohol (10% among female teens). This same study by the European Commission shows the average age for one's first drink is 12 and a half; for getting drunk, 14 years old. Among 15-16 year-olds, over 90% have drunk alcohol, 18% have "binged" three or more times in the past month. (Binging is defined as having 5 or more drinks on a single occasion,) According to the World Health Organization, France's death-rate from alcohol is two and a half times that of the U.S. (4.0 per 100,000 vs. 1.6 per 100,000 U.S.). These statistics suggest that the effectiveness of the European Model is a myth.
We now understand that the development of the teenager's brain is still in process and will continue to be until they reach 25. (This fact is widely accepted by experts in psychiatry and major industries such as insurance and car-rentals.) In fact, studies have shown that the age of “first use” is correlated with the development of alcohol and other drug dependencies. In one study, among kids whose first drink was at the age of 11 and 12, nearly 30% went on to develop alcohol abuse or dependence within 10 years, for 13 and 14 year olds, abuse/dependence was 22%. For those whose first drink was at age 19 and older the rate dropped to 3%. (source: American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 157, No. 5, May 1, 2000)
While I sympathize with Mr. Hansen’s discomfort about what feels like teen (or parent) coercion, underage drinking is not choice of sock color. And to suggest this polarizes the discussion. This proposed social host ordinance is more a pro-teen effort among people who have looked deeply into the realities of teen drinking. It’s less a question of civil rights as much as it is a question of responsible parenting and abiding by already existing law. We all live in a culture awash in sensation-enhancing substances and ambivalent parenting styles. It’s hard to know what is best if the facts are obscured by emotions. But we still must understand what exactly this new ordinance will change. And it has not even been drafted yet! But with the laws against underage drinking already on the books, teenagers continue to be served alcohol in the homes of presumably well-meaning adults or when the adults are away, and an ordinance may or may not have the desired effect. Possibly, the highest good to come out of this entire process is a healthy discussion in our community about the facts and the surrounding issues.
Or perhaps, as my husband suggests, the best penalty for breaking the law in serving underage teens should be “your name in lights” in our local police blotter!
— Kate Rogers