Nondrinking Teens as Models

American teenagers who drink don't necessarily think they should be freer to do so. More than 80 percent of teens support keeping the drinking age at 21, or raising it. That mirrors the attitudes of most adults.

Those findings from a recent poll commissioned by The Associated Press raise the question: So why does teen drinking remain such a persistent problem?

The answer lies deep in the social and cultural habits of Americans. Many children are exposed to alcohol at home; by their teen years, they're often in peer environments where drinking is expected. Mass entertainment, media, and advertising portray alcohol as part of a good time.

The obvious dangers of alcohol - most notably, the more than 2,200 drinking-related traffic fatalities yearly among teenagers - counter those influences to a degree. Concerns about drinking and driving helped hike the drinking age to 21 in all states by the late 1980s.

That step lowered the drinking rate among high school seniors by an average of 13.3 percent.

The most effective steps against teen drinking don't come from lawmakers or the police, but from families and from teens themselves. Children whose parents closely monitor their behavior and set clear standards are much less likely to drink.

And teens who resist peer pressure and don't take up drinking at a young age are much less likely to have later problems with alcohol.

Teens who don't drink - about half of all US teenagers - are the best bulwark against this problem. They're living evidence that happiness and an active social life don't need chemical additives.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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