Protecting Children and Young Adults

Both common law and societal tradition give parents very wide latitude in raising their children. Parents can raise their children in whatever religion they wish, or than can raise them as atheists or agnostics; they can inculcate whatever social and political views they wish; and they can determine their education (public, private, parochial or home-school).

Historically, parents have also been able to raise children in their own ethnic tradition. Italians have been able teach their children to enjoy Italian cuisine and savor it with a little wine. Jewish parents have been able to teach Jewish cultural and religious tradition by serving alcohol to their children as part of this tradition. And Catholic parents have been able to let their children celebrate communion with alcohol served by a priest.

But in their zeal to protect children from their parents, some states are now passing radical laws prohibiting parents from serving their children alcohol beverages for any reason or under any circumstance. For example, in North Carolina, parents can be fined $250 and assigned 25 hours of community service. In Maryland, parents can receive a $1,000 fine for a first offense.

In these and many other states, penalties also apply to priests who serve communion wine to anyone under the age of 21 or to physicians who prescribe medications containing alcohol for an "underage" person.

It may comfort temperance activists to think that they are protecting our children from their parents, priests and physicians. However, the policies that comfort temperance activists are actually counterproductive.

In some groups, including Jews, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards, and many others, most people drink but there are few problems. There are three keys to their success.

  1. The substance of alcohol is seen as rather neutral, being inherently neither a magic elixir nor a passport to maturity, success and prosperity. It's how alcohol is used that is all-important.
  2. There are two equally acceptable choices for those legally able to drink: One choice is to drink in moderation, while the other choice is to abstain. What is never acceptable for anyone of any age under any circumstance is to abuse alcohol.
  3. Young people learn about alcohol from an early age within the home by good example. These groups would all agree that it's better to learn about alcohol in the parents' house than in the fraternity house.

The actions of many temperance activists are doing much harm and little, if any, good. As such, they are part of the problem rather than the solution.