One Mom's Worry: Drinking in College

Go ahead and call me naive.

I didn’t realize how serious and pervasive the college drinking problem was until my own daughter headed off to school.

In high school, my husband and I considered ourselves very lucky because Caitlin and most of her friends didn’t drink at all. But I’d be surprised, however, if any of them still shy away from alcohol.

Any freshmen teetotalers get acquainted with the drinking culture at colleges shortly after they move into their dorm rooms. My daughter is a residential assistant at her school now and she said the first week there is no problem with the freshmen drinking, but that quickly changes once they see how common place it is.

When my daughter spent the past summer in southern Mexico on an college internship, she was amazed at the drinking habits of the young people there. She told me that young Mexicans mostly drink for enjoyment; they don’t drink to get drunk. If only American kids did the same thing.

My daughter, by the way, has come a long way from her initial disdain for over drinking. She turned down a scholarship offer from a college because on a visit when she was a high school senior she was disgusted by the binge drinking of athletes she spent time with. While she was there, one boy from New Jersey, who was a lacrosse recruit, passed out drunk. When he woke up, he announced, “I love this school. This is where I’m going!” (I bet his parents would have been proud.)

My daughter went from indignation about binge college drinking to drinking herself– though hopefully not to excess — on the weekends at her own campus.

Colleges and universities have viewed college drinking as an intractable problem and one group of more than 100 college presidents is trying to address the problem. I don’t know if they are backing the right approach, but at least they aren’t ignoring it.

Presidents who have signed something called the Amethyst Initiative are calling for the country to lower the drinking age. They believe that this would allow them to counsel kids to drink responsibly. Currently, their hands are tied because these kids aren’t supposed to be drinking at all!

Here is a link to an overview of this issue that was published on Inside Higher Ed.

One positive trend, teenagers — at least the ones I know — today seem far more cognizant of the importance of having a designated driver if others are drinking. I sure don’t remember that happening when I was in college.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.com.

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