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Switch drinking age, age of majority (08/21/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

If the first week when college students are back in town isnít a good reason to lower the drinking age to 18 and raise the age of majority to 21, I donít know what is.

Think of it. If kids could drink at 18, theyíd do all their experimentation with malt liquor, Jell-O shots, vodka mixed with energy drinks, and jungle juice while they are still living at home. They would learn that it isnít always wise to drink as long as you can keep opening your mouth, that throwing up on a date isnít a turn-on, and that there are consequences to drunken behavior such as being grounded, having the car taken away, raking the yard every week for a summer, paying your own tuition, and having your mother start to cry every time she looks at you.

As it is, the combination of Freedom and Free Booze (or nearly free) leads kids to do things away at college that they would never do at home. They drink way too much, get into trouble with the police (who are Winona police, and not some buddy of their dadís from the golf course or bowling alley), and end up starting off the school year in debt, in trouble, labeled a loser by the people who matter, and maybe have a permanent record.

Look at the police blotter today. One underage kid is walking around where police find him, and heís carrying two (!) beers. Another one broke into a house, drunk and confused. And then there are the ones who are passed out ó on a porch, on a couch, in a parking lot. Would they do that at home?

Of course there are those who say that college kids just shouldnít drink at all, which is the way it is supposed to be now, until they turn 21. But it just doesnít work that way. When kids are out of sight of parents, who are usually the best monitors of their childrenís behavior, they are going to push the limits, taste the forbidden fruit. The trouble is, they donít know that the forbidden fruit has a way of sneaking up on you and making you drunk, dangerous, vulnerable, and obnoxious all at the same time.

At the College of Saint Teresa, when my sisters and I were there, it was the days of in loco parentis, meaning the nuns were given the same rights and responsibilities over us as our parents. If we got into too much trouble they let our parents know. Today, kids are considered adults at eighteen ó which means they canít drink, but they can get drunk and into trouble ó and their parents can be none the wiser, because it is illegal for colleges to rat them out to their parents. Totally backwards.

If kids donít fear the wrath of their parents, if there are no consequences that will tip off their parents, what good are the usual ineffective punishments? Why are we stripping parents of any authority at the same time we set their children free into a veritable Garden of Eden with a passel of snakes waiting to tempt them?

And itís not just drinking trouble that parents canít learn about. Parents whose kids are in many colleges can be unaware that their kids are failing classes (often a sign that there is too much partying and drinking going on) until it is too late to redeem them. One of our kids went to a college where we would never see her grades if she didnít feel like showing them to us. The other college sent the grades home while she was still away at school, but addressed to our daughter (because it would be illegal to send them addressed to her parents), leaving the parents to decide whether to open their kidís mail.

The current laws are unfair to kids, colleges, parents, and the cops who have to deal with it all. Raise the age of majority to 21 so that colleges and parents are partners, not strangers except for the tuition checks. Lower the drinking age to 18 so that kids experiment with drinking while they are living at home with parents who have real and legal authority over them. I donít want to find some strange kid passed out on my porch or my couch. I donít want to use my tax dollars for police to pick up drunk and puking kids. I want parents to know what their college age kids are up to and be able to do something about it.

Winona colleges try very hard to get their students to behave. Winona State has a plan to use restorative justice to bring kids who offend together with the townspeople they have offended against. I hope it works. But letís help these colleges out by making it legal to call mom and dad when sonny or honey is found passed out on a neighborís couch (or flunking out, or in a mental health crisis, or very physically ill). Justice and attention might be swifter and more memorable. 


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