Underage drinking

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 15, 2011

While at dinner recently, the discussion of alcohol at graduation parties came up. Imagine my surprise when a mother of three — whose youngest son graduated high school this year — said, “Well, having alcohol at graduation parties depends on the circumstances.” Her own mother agreed.

My response was an astonished: “But the legal age is 21.”

That was met with a shrug and conversation change.

Taking into account that neither of these women drinks much alcohol and both are active members of their churches — evangelical in nature — I was even more surprised.

Now alcohol itself is not a bad thing. The author of Ecclesiastes advised, “Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart” (9:7). The Lord Jesus turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) and promised to drink new wine with us in the Kingdom (for example, Mk 14:25).

However, while wine can bring joy, alcohol is also a drug and can be abused and that is not something that anyone should take lightly. And children — including high school students — lack the capacity to know their limits. And that is where their parents, and all adults, need to take responsibility.

Yes, according to current state law, persons under 21 can drink alcohol if they are with their parents, guardians or spouses who are of legal drinking age. Does that extend to other children — as in high school students or college students under 21 at a party in a private home?

Various studies on the teen brain and its development have revealed that the frontal lobe is not fully mature until the mid- to late-20s. The frontal lobe of the brain is the thinking part: it is where we determine good and bad actions; where we distinguish how current actions might have future results; and where other “cognitive processing” takes place. Scientific data are mounting that show the vulnerability of the frontal lobe to alcohol. It seems to be the first part of the brain affected by alcohol and various studies have shown that chronic alcoholics can even suffer shrinkage of the frontal lobe.

My mother graduated in the late 1950s. There was a drinking party after the ceremony. She did not attend, but she’d wanted to and many of her friends did. And one ended up dead in an alcohol- related crash. Mom never passed the site of that accident without remembering that student with regret for a life cut short.

That’s not a graduation memory — or summer party memory — that anyone would want to give to their children. Or to the children who attend parties at their homes.

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