Thursday, August 20, 2009

Please drink (with your kids) responsibly

One of our most time honored traditions in Wisconsin is the ongoing debate over the consumption of alcohol: drunk driving, binge drinking, underage drinking, etc. It's important for us to have this debate, of course, since we really do have a problem (Hello, my name is Wisconsin, and I'm an alcoholic).

The most recent legislative response to said discussion comes from Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit) in the form of a bill that would alter the current law that allows persons under 21 years of age to drink in a bar so long as they're with their parents, guardians or spouse. "Bartenders are given the discretion to determine whether the child should be served."

The new bill would still allow those people between 18 and 20 years of age to drink if accompanied. Under 18, though? No more booze for boozy.

I'm of the opinion that the general legal drinking age should be brought back to 18 anyway. If you're allowed to vote, go off to war, and legally be considered an adult in general, why not be able to decide if you'd like a few nips or not?

But I also believe that the new bill makes a certain degree of sense. I'm not entirely convinced that a blanket restriction on under-18 drinking is the way to go, though, because there are exceptions to every rule - but overall, and call me a cynic, I don't think legal guardians are always the best judges of when and how much alcohol a minor should consume. Frankly, I think a lot of people make piss poor decisions - for themselves, and for their kids. This may well put me at odds with a lot of people, including The Sconz, who argues that "Parents who take their teens to wine tastings should not be decried for encouraging alcoholism, but lauded for encouraging moderation."

Problem is, there are far too many parents who don't know what moderation is, and who pass their bad habits on to their kids. That's liable to happen regardless of if it's at home or in public, but making it legal for them to do so out at the bars just makes the state an enabler.

Teaching moderation and responsible drinking habits, coupled with rigorous enforcement and punishment (you know, actually holding drunk drivers responsible sooner rather than 8 tickets later), are the best tools for curbing bad alcohol-related trends in this state. I don't think the former is accomplished by allowing children to belly up to the bar and throw a few back with their folks.


Dustin Christopher said...

I would have to disagree with you just based on personal experience here. I learned a lot about drinking from my folks and grandfolks, and they were good lessons. I'd posit there's little to no harm being done with the state of things what they are right now. Robson and her colleagues could focus their efforts a whole lot more productively on curbing drunk driving than tinkering with a harmless old law that traces back to the state's strong German heritage.

Emily said...

Burning the midnight oil again, eh Dusty? ;)

I wouldn't argue that no one had ever had good drinking examples set for them by their parents, etc. and I'm happy to hear that your family apparently did right by you. Thing is, we all know folks who aren't so hot about teaching good habits to their kids, and being able to take them to the bar (a pretty adult setting) tends only to make things worse.

If you want to show your children how to moderate consumption and be responsible, you should be able to do that in safe, familiar surroundings - not the corner pub. But I can see both sides of this, I know it's a complicated issue - especially here in Wisconsin. And you're right that we should be doing a lot more to curb drunk driving and alcohol abuse in general. I just don't think we have to ignore this issue while we're at it. It's worth discussion, at the very least.

Skip said...

So, other than your nebulous concept of legal guardians not always making the best decisions, do you have any statistics showing how many underagers drink at taverns with legal guardians and what becomes of them?

Any other decisions that you'd like to see taken away from parents by the government? Or is this the only one?

Emily said...

My my, aren't we feeling snarky today!

As for statistics, none that I know of, but then, do you? Those same numbers would be important in deciding either way on this issue.

I'm willing to hear arguments from all sides on this one, honestly. But I'm not across the board anti-government regulation, either. Sometimes, unfortunately, we do need to be told not to do certain things if they're detrimental to people other than ourselves. Your liberty ends where mine begins, and all that.

Skip said...

No, I don't have any statistics, but I'm not the one advocating a change in the law to abrogate the behavior of parents and businesses (also remember, taverns don't have to serve those under 21 regardless of parental consent) because of a vague concept of what some parents do. You're saying there is a problem and that the change in law could be part of the solution. OK, why do you think that? Do we have proof of 16 year-olds having a beer with parents being detrimental or, as in Dustin's case, is it perhaps more often part of teaching someone to drink responsibly?

I apologize for the snark but, from my POV, this is another case where you identify a problem and immediately advocate that the government outlaw something. I'm not anti-government regulation either but that doesn't mean that it should be the choice of first resort.

I believe you're referring to the statement “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. It is attributed to John Stuart Mill. That's fine, but your freedom isn't being impinged upon when parents by their kid a drink at a tavern. If my girlfriend and I take the kids to a tavern and we let the oldest have a beer, nothing detrimental to others has happened. On the other hand, the proposed change in law which you support does just that.

Mill also said: "But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it."

Have yourself a good weekend.

The Lost Albatross