Over the summer I spent two months in British Columbia, Canada. In B.C. the legal drinking age is 19, which presented me with the unique situation of being legally allowed to drink in Canada but not in my own country.
At first that prospect sort of scared me. I was so used to the idea that drinking is this horrible corrosive habit that can destroy one’s life that has been drilled into my head since entering high school. It was not until my friend took me out to a bar in the resort town of Whistler that this idea changed. I felt a sense of maturity that I never had before. I showed my driver’s license and the guy at the door looked at it and let me walk in. I almost felt like I was doing something wrong, but every part of it was completely legal.
During my two months in Canada, I went out to bars on several occasions. Each time I did, I felt a little more mature. It was nice being treated like an adult. It was refreshing to be able to have a drink or two with friends without the negative stigma.
It was at that point that I started to realize how wrong it seemed to have the drinking age at 21 in the United States. Nineteen, although only two years earlier makes a lot more sense. At age 19, most university students in Canada, with the exception of most freshmen, are legal to drink. At age 21, not even half of American university students are of age. How can we be adults at age 18 but not be allowed to drink? It is not as if in those three years we gain some massive amount of maturity. I know plenty of people who are over 21 and still act like children. I also know a lot of people who are 19 or 20 and are capable of being treated like adults.
I have a cousin my age who is from Holland. A few years ago he stayed with my family for a few weeks. One question he asked me was ‘why is drinking such a big deal here?’ It really is a good question, I believe the answer is because it is made into a big deal. As a European, he had been drinking wine with dinner since he was a child. He is my age, but he has a totally different attitude about alcohol than most people my age, because, in Europe, drinking is viewed differently than it is here.
Teenagers tend to be rebellious. If your parents say you can’t do something as a teenager you are much more likely to do that thing than if they let you. European and Canadian teenagers are not less rebellious or more naturally mature than Americans, but they are given responsibilities that we are not and that causes them to become more mature.
One’s level of personal responsibility will not change across international borders. I am not less responsible in the United States than I am in Canada or Europe, yet I am allowed to drink there and not here. Perhaps if alcohol was not viewed as being “wrong” in this country, it would not be so heavily abused. Not allowing 18-20 year olds to legally drink equates to treating us like children. How can you be allowed to serve in the military, smoke, work as a legal adult, be kicked out of your parents’ house, but not consume alcohol? It is amazing how much mature I felt when I was actually treated like a responsible adult this summer, and I think others would probably feel the same way.