This year’s Welcome Week resulted in eight students being sent to the hospital within one night. Such serious consequences of student’s irresponsible behavior showcase the unfortunate state of drinking culture in America today. Although there have been various proposals recently for how to curb the rise in alcohol-related accidents, few have addressed the heart of our generation’s drinking problem. Rather than continue to create irrational rules around drinking, there needs to be a more open discussion around alcohol and teens.
At tonight’s meeting, Berkeley City Council will consider a grant that would fund increased enforcement of underage drinking laws. But this is certainly not the right way to go about the issue. Negative enforcement rarely has a large effect — a point fully proven by the federal government’s largely unsuccessful war on drugs.
Last Tuesday’s editorial offered another solution to the events of this year’s Welcome Week: host events in which older students can share with new students their personal experiences with alcohol abuse. However, such a solution predicated primarily on scare tactics is also doomed for failure. Many of the alcohol-related accidents during the first week of school were caused by the irresponsible behavior of freshmen who do not have much experience with drinking. These primarily underage students become careless with their first nights of having the freedom to consume to their hearts’ content. Most of these college students, fresh out of high school, are unlikely to be significantly impacted by learning about the dangerous experiences of other students. There is little evidence that suggest a few horror-stories on drinking would curb students’ desire to push the limits on their newly founded freedom.
Rather, the solution to our generation’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol must come from the home. Parents must come to terms with the fact that their children are likely to drink while they are at college. Instead of continuously fighting against this natural tendency, parents need to adequately prepare their children for the world ahead and have a more open attitude about alcohol.
Making a behavior taboo almost always ends up strengthening the behavior’s appeal. The same is true for banning alcohol. I am not advocating for parents to give their children alcoholic beverages (although in small amounts, this may well be a good strategy for increasing exposure), but teens should be exposed to alcohol and its effects in a safe environment before coming to college. Doing so could teach upcoming college students about drinking in moderation, along with other important healthy drinking habits.
Furthermore, when parents who still drink alcohol prohibit the use of the same beverages by their children, their teens are more likely to scorn and rebel against such hypocritical behavior. A more nonchalant attitude could well serve to reduce the appeal of drinking to freshmen, who often act irresponsible during Welcome Week as a way to fully break away from the totalitarian rule their parents exercised at home.
Being more open about drinking may seem counterintuitive to solving the problem, but if that were the case, how is it that a nation such as Germany, with the highest per-capita alcohol consumption in the world, has relatively few problems with binge drinking? I would suggest that this is caused from European’s relaxed attitude toward drinking. The legal drinking age in Germany is 16, and drinking is commonplace in grocery stores, gas stations and even newspaper stands. Although this culture allows for a more public display of alcoholic consumption, Germans also seem to drink at much more moderate and healthy amounts.
Certainly these suggestions require a radical change in cultural norms surrounding drinking in American life. Establishing a completely new outlook on drinking, would take many years. However, it is a change that is long overdue.
Binge drinking continues to grow as a problem in the United States, and American families — parents and children alike — need to learn from their neighbors across the pond to drink for the drink itself and enjoy their beverages rather than the latent and often catastrophically misjudged effects of alcohol. After all, a good time results more often from good friends then from good beer.
Maximilian Pitner is a student at UC Berkeley.