Tuesday, July 28, 2009

At what age are you an 'adult'?


When do you officially become an adult in the U.S.A.?

If you're talking about voting, or enlisting in the military, you're old enough to make that decision at 18. If you're talking about consenting to have sex, all it takes is being 16. But if you're talking about taking a drink legally, you have to be 21.

This inconsistency in our definition of "adulthood" has long bothered opponents of the law that raised the legal drinking age to 21.

And now, one of the leading proponents of the law, whose testimony helped legislators decide to pass it on July 17, 1984 (when Reagan was prez), is having second thoughts, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times . Apparently, psychiatrist Dr. Morris Chafetz is now advocating lowering the legal age back to 18.

"Legal age 21 has not worked," Chafetz was quoted as saying by the L.A. Times piece. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States."

One group that is actively pushing for a lower drinking age is Choose Responsibility. "Alcohol is a reality in the lives of young Americans. It cannot be denied, ignored, or legislated away" says the group's Website.

Though there are certainly valid arguments (and supporting data) on both sides of the issue, I think it's time to take a serious look at the alarming pattens of alcohol and substance abuse among our younger generations. I saw a very powerful documentary at the Delray Beach Film Festival called The Spitting Game, about the rampant "hooking up" culture among college students today. This behavior is largely fueled by binge drinking and extreme drunkedness. Here's a link to the movie trailer. (Please, please see the movie if you get a chance -- especially if you have kids in that age range -- it will scare the bejeezus out of you, believe me!)

Could we possibly teach more responsibility and have more resources devoted to substance-abuse problems if we lowered the legal age and taxed it appropiately? That is something to consider, at the very least.

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