How does underage drinking work

POSITIONS : Drink like in America

I still remember my first (and only) forged ID. In less than two hours, a college friend got me a fake New Jersey driver's license. Because it had to go so quickly that evening, the back of the ID card had slipped completely. But in the whole year that I used the card, I was not turned away in a single pub.

So how sensible is the American regulation that alcohol is only served to 21-year-olds when you can get older so easily and minors can get alcohol so easily? Very useful. After all, I was already 20 when I set off with this fake ID, while German teenagers were officially allowed to drink beer and wine four years earlier. Indeed, until then, the risk of getting caught had kept me from going out as often as I would have if allowed.

In high school, my classmates and I found the German rule better: Let teenagers drink, but teach them to drink responsibly. We thought that there would be no attraction of the forbidden.

That sounds good, but it rarely works in reality: Just recently a young person in Berlin drank himself to death. Of course there are also young people in the USA who drink, some are even only 13 or 14. But I believe that the age limit of 21 makes it harder for many and even impossible for many to get alcohol. In America, if a 14-year-old tried to buy alcohol in a store, in most cases he would be laughed at. There it will probably only be possible for 19 or 20-year-olds to do so.

According to a study, one in five people in Germany between the ages of twelve and 25 drinks regularly. It also shows that young people drink more and earlier. Direct comparisons are complicated, but the National Household Survey on Substance Abuse comes to similar results for the United States - almost one in five participates in what is known as binge drinking.

None of the systems seem to work really well. But I think Germans should raise the limit to an age when most have lost their youthful impulsiveness - and then look at the results.

Statistics from both countries also show that the age limit is not the only solution. Both countries deal with culturally deeply anchored problems. Schools, parents, companies and even governments should therefore work together to discourage and educate young people from alcohol.

However, parents have the greatest responsibility to prevent binge drinking. My father and stepmother spoke to me openly about alcohol when I was growing up. They weren't Puritans, but neither were they indifferent. They regularly asked me what I was doing on the weekend, who I was going out with and where I was going. I had a curfew. All of this didn't stop me from drinking, of course, but it moved the point to an age at which I could handle alcohol better than if I had started when I was 12 or 16.

Young people will always find a way to illegally get alcohol - the temperament at this age makes you inventive. Therefore one should not stop the attempts to restrict the sale of alcohol, or even make it freely available. Raising old age is a strategy that Germany should be pursuing in order to cope with the problem. After all, there is too much at stake for twelve to 14-year-olds - in both countries - to lose their newly developing minds in an alcohol haze of detached inhibitions and blurred vision.

The author is a journalist with the "Union Democrat" in California and is currently an Arthur F. Burns scholarship holder with the Tagesspiegel.

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