One of the biggest challenges to raising teenagers is instilling in them a healthy relationship with alcohol, even as their peers may be experimenting in dangerous ways. There are those who argue that European countries have a leg up on America in their ability to do this, citing lower legal drinking ages that allow families to introduce alcohol in a safe setting. Some studies, however, suggest the creation of healthy drinking habits may require more than simply lowering the legal age of consumption.
Legal Age of Consumption
In the United States, the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 in the early 1980s, when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed. In most European countries, the legal drinking age ranges from 16 to 18. Culturally however, it is not uncommon for younger European teenagers to begin enjoying the occasional glass of wine or beer with their families during meal times.
The Argument for a Lower Legal Drinking Age
There are those who believe lowering the legal drinking age removes the stigma surrounding alcohol, making it more of a cultural norm rather than something taboo and mysterious. The idea is that if alcohol is integrated into daily life, teenagers will be less likely to abuse it once they reach a legal age.
European Teen Drinking Statistics
In 1995 and again in 2011, several countries in Europe took part in “The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs.” The survey set out to monitor substance use trends among 15- and 16-year-olds. In the 2011 study, 87 percent of teens surveyed had consumed alcohol at least once, with 79 percent admitting to drinking in the last year and 57 percent in the previous 30 days. Thirty-eight percent indicated they had consumed five or more drinks in one sitting over the past month.
American Teen Drinking Statistics
The 2011 “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” asked similar questions of American high school students. When surveyed about their drinking habits over the past month, 39 percent of respondents said they had consumed some alcohol and 22 percent admitted to binge drinking.
The 2011 “Monitoring The Future survey” found that 33 percent of eighth-graders and 70 percent of 12th-graders had tried alcohol at least once, with 13 percent and 40 percent, respectively, claiming to have consumed alcohol in the previous 30 days.
The results of the European and American surveys indicate that European teenagers are drinking more frequently than American teens, and that in most countries they are also more likely to exhibit binge behavior.
Still, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported that alcohol is the leading contributor to injury and death in American teens under the age of 21.
Regardless of the legal drinking age, it is advisable for parents to engage in open discussions about alcohol with their children and to model healthy drinking behaviors themselves.