Some day we might find out how many of us were conceived in an automobile. The results of such a census might be quite revealing about our society! I was born (and adopted) in the late 1920s, so I was probably conceived in a Model T Ford.
Does any other society on our planet have this problem? Certainly not to the extent we do, that’s for sure. Only South Korea, Malaysia, Ukraine and Russia share our late age 21-year-old drinking requirements. The Europeans (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and most of Switzerland) aim for 16 (for beer and wine mostly). Most countries require an older age (e.g. 18) for hard stuff. Much of Canada looks to 19, with Iceland and Japan holding out for age 20. Many countries allow 16 year olds to drink with parents in commercial establishments.
I’ve spent a significant time wandering the planet, and I’ve not noticed that any other society, except possibly Russia, has the problems with alcohol consumption that we do. The Russians’ problems stem from their consumption patterns with their basic distillate, vodka. Hard liquor is not easy for the best of us.
In my youth, during the period between my two wars (World War II and the Korean War), the comedian Red Skelton did a radio skit about being “a bad wittle boy.” When he had been bad enough, he’d shout: “Ooh, I scared me-self!” In the same vein, our society seems to be out of control regarding our children. According to a 1994 Gallup Poll, American adults think that almost half of all violent crime is committed by our children. This contradicts the real figure of 13 percent. Much of the crap that goes on in our society is done by that same percentage of people. (For example, seven in ten people drink, but only one of those seven has a problem with alcohol.) One of our local media columnists put it quite succinctly: “The people adults are scaring the most are themselves.”
Kids on Their Own
I believe it’s much worse than that. The real issue is control. We want to be certain that we have complete control over our children. We want to cram adulthood down their throats, but we don’t want them underfoot. We don’t want them too loose, either. It seems that we leave two of the most important areas of instruction—sex and alcohol—to their own devices. Let them figure it out for themselves. I blame the “Just Say No” attitude. Forget that!
Sex? “Hey, if we just inflate this condom and put it between us there can’t be a pregnancy, right?” Beer? “If we do this right we can get our friend sick and drunk out of his mind.” If you’re in adolescence, your friends will do whatever they can to get you drunk. It happens in real life for kids time after time!
In most countries, it is quite rare to find young people abusing alcohol. This is because their society takes care to ensure that they become educated in the management of this dangerous, but delightful, substance. Wine and beer are household items, not contraband. Their religious culture doesn’t preclude beer and wine. They don’t suffer from the sneaky suspicion of some religionists that somewhere, somehow, someone is having fun. Heaven forbid!
Some time back (after another of my diatribes here), I received a letter from a young lady of 18: “I have had the pleasure of touring Europe twice and living in a southern region in Russia. I have witnessed the usage of alcohol in both the U.S. and about 11 other countries. I found the differences astounding. In the U.S., most of the drunken idiots I encounter are, yes, underage, but in other countries, where the drinking age is lower and not as enforced, I’ve never encountered a younger person abusing alcohol. Whenever I have discussed this issue with someone older than myself, I have been basically called an idiot for wanting to lower the drinking age.” She thanked me for being “someone of a greater age… [who] has embraced the same ideas.” Thank you, Kelly.