Drinking vs Driving at Age 16

July 24, 2018


Something interesting came up as I was talking with an acquaintance recently. Our conversation had begun with the question, "Do you ever think you'll live abroad again?" which unbeknownst to her is, of course, something I never stop thinking about! So I launched into my usual answer that we love Zurich and miss it every day, but that living away from family can be hard and feel selfish, but that it's an amazing opportunity for our kids and would expand their opportunities in life immensely; and of course Switzerland is a beautiful country and safety is one of the main reasons I would want to move back, especially when I think of having teenagers. That piqued her interest and she asked why with teenagers in particular? I explained that the crime rate is very low and the laws are set up for greater safety. "Kids can buy wine and beer when they're 16...but! They can't drive until they're 18," I said with a satisfied smile, assuming that she would share my view of the positives of this arrangement. But she did not. Her face fell and her retort was that alcohol is highly damaging to the adolescent brain and that the drinking age should be kept high and parents should do their best to keep their kids from drinking until they are 21.

Whoa, what?! Isn't that like preaching abstinence? While everything she said is completely true from a biological and developmental standpoint, I couldn't help but find her view incredibly unrealistic. Teenagers in the US drink; and they have cars and they drive. In my humble opinion, it is the actual worst possible combination. I would much rather have my teenage children drinking wine openly and legally with their friends in the park and then taking the tram home, I explained, than drinking illicitly at a party with zero adult supervision and getting into the car with a friend who had been drinking. My acquaintance, however, remained resolute in her view that if we encourage teens not to drink and warn them of the risks, they will not. No way, rosé! was my thought, and in the end we had to agree to disagree.

But it got me thinking, is hers a common view in America? Do American cultural feelings toward alcohol tie back to our puritan roots and the days of prohibition? I had always assumed that with American cities being built for cars and the constraints that inherently created, that the driving age was kept young and the drinking age high out of sheer necessity and against all common sense - not as the best option. How do you see it? Would you rather have your child drive or drink at age 16? Please chime in with your reasons why in the comments below!

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Join the conversation!

  1. I think, just like anything else, the earlier you can teach a kid how to do something responsibly, the better. Eating, sleeping, and yes -- drinking! If they can drink before they can drive, they learn how their body reacts before getting behind the wheel of what amounts to a giant weapon. They also learn how to get rides or utilize public transportation while they're impaired. It's like you said -- teenagers are going to drink. And if you take away the "forbidden" excitement of it, they're more likely to learn to do so responsibly. On the one hand I'm relieved we'll be leaving Italy before my daughter is old enough to pick up a smoking habit. But on the other I'm really bummed that I won't be able to (legally) teach her to drink responsibly before she can drive. It seems so puritan and archaic.

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  2. Agree with this comment 100%

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  3. I totally agree with Katie...though I will say that making it legal earlier doesn't necessarily mean that they'll do it less (my teenaged Danish niece and nephew may or may not be proof of this...)

    That said, there is never a worry that they have to hide it, or sneak around with it, or, yes, drive with it. They can safely get around and they can have open conversations about drinking and alcohol.

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  4. I'm with Anileys in saying 100% to everything Katie said. Especially the bit about a car being a large weapon. People forget this! I also 100% agree with Jessica that a lower drinking age does not necessarily mean less drinking, in fact probably not. But it might mean less binge drinking because the forbidden factor is not there. The best possibility I would hope for with a younger drinking age would be the ability to educate my children on the effects of alcohol and knowing their limits and listening to their bodies, instead of having that be a defiance of laws and culture to do so at all. As Jessica said, open conversations. Yes to that!

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  5. My impression from abroad as an american looking in is that americans seem to not treat teenagers as the young adults that they are. I recently read that my friend's local mall has banned teenagers from being there after 4pm without an accompanying adult over 21. WHAT? They can't go to the mall? I feel like there are a diminishing number of places that teenagers can even go.

    I like the laws in Germany that teens can be at bars until midnight, and it is VERY normal to see 12 and 13 year olds at the mall by themselves. I do not understand why we cannot give teenagers more responsibility and trust, gradually. As for drinking, mostly it's all been said above. I will add that I feel like alcohol is very stigmatized in the US - as in, alcohol should be used for getting drunk and nothing else. Americans are often shocked when we go to biergartens here with lovely playgrounds, or people bring wine and beer to childrens parties for the parents. There just isnt that culture of "separation" that seems to exist in the US. I don't get it either but it's clearly very culturally ingrained.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head with the stigmatization of drinking in the US. I agree that it is very culturally ingrained to the point that people can't imagine there is another way. Too bad!

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  6. I totally agree with you. The safety of Switzerland and the tram factor would make me feel much calmer raising teenagers. Teenagers are not going to listen to public service announcements very much and all it takes is one dumbass mistake to completely ruin your life.

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    1. Yep. And they're so oblivious to this reality! Cringe.

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  7. Indeed, even as these gatherings keep on promoting safe driving propensities, there are as yet the individuals who recklessly keep on driving affected by alcohol.מחיקת רישום פלילי

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