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Monday, October 8, 2007

Why Not Mention This?

There's a truly disturbing story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today about underage drinking in Haddonfield, New Jersey. They've had two teenage deaths directly related to alcohol in the past seven months, teens taken to the hospital for heavy drinking in the past two weeks, and a serious problem with underaged house parties when parents go away, including one disgusting incident in which...well, a lot of really nasty stuff happened. I'm not going to sensationalize this post with it, just say that this "party" did $18,000 of damage to the house. That one's been an ongoing story as a small number of kids wiggled off the hook with the help of their parents and lawyers, disgusting the readers of Monica Yant Kinney's column in the Inky. It's turning into a nasty class thing, with everyone talking about "those rich white kids in Haddonfield."

Two things to note. First, I'm appalled. Not only is this out of hand, but this is almost all about kids who are well under 18. The girl who invited students to the piss-piano-poo party was 14. I'm appalled by the age, I'm appalled by the lack of effective punishment. This is one of the main reasons I'm pushing an 18 LDA: so we can focus enforcement efforts on students under 18. The New Drys say an 18 LDA will put more booze in the hands of under 18 students. Reading this story, I don't hardly see how. I say, an 18 LDA will let us stop wasting time and money trying to get college students to stop drinking, and let us help parents keep an eye on their at-home kids.

But the real thing that got me writing this in the first that no one has mentioned that Haddonfield is a dry town. Since 1873. Dry town. Another great policy that is just working so swell. Do you need one more piece of evidence that prohibition doesn't work?

New Jersey towns...they've got a 'grass-roots' movement going now to spread the keg registration stupidity one town at a time. I've seen this in other states, most recently in Iowa. They get town after to town to swallow this policy placebo, and then start telling them that the reason it's not working -- which it won't -- is because "the kids" are just buying kegs in the town next door (plenty of those in NJ, too), so what we really need is a state-wide law.

Right. And that worked so well with the dry movement that spawned Haddonfield's Noble Experiment.


Stonch said...

In Britain I think most kids start drinking at 13 or 14 in house parties, and by the time they're 16 many are frequenting pubs.

Myself and my friends started going out every Friday night in Newcastle when I was 15. I remember that places that didn't want underage drinkers simply imposed a ban on under-21s.

If you lower the drinking age in line with most of the rest of the world, I think you probably will find that more kids under 18 get their hands on alcohol.

Lew Bryson said...

Before we go off on anything big a deal is getting a drink at a pub when you're a year underage in the UK? It's plainly illegal here, and most bars will at least ask for an ID.

Dave said...

Speaking as someone with no kids, and therefore a very biased viewpoint, this seems to be much more about bad parenting and much less about alcohol laws. It seems to me that a drinking age of 18 or 35 would have no practical effect on this situation. Out of 13 kids charged, only 2 plus 1 parent apologized? Parents leave their 14 year old home alone while they're off in Illinois? By allowing this sort of thing to happen and enabling that implicit sense of acceptance, it seems like the kids begin to feel that it's expected of them.

Lew Bryson said...

Ah, well, Dave, I think you put your finger almost exactly on the point here. Obviously the alcohol laws -- both NJ's 21 LDA and Haddonfield's dry law -- have next to no effect, and the parental excuse culture is a large part of the problem. If you read the pathetic attempts to defend the kids in question, you'll hear a lot about academic stress and parental expectations. My heart bleeds. My son's an academic scholarship student at a Philadelphia-area prep school, he's on their nationally-ranked forensics team, he fences competitively, and does volunteer work. He knows we have high expectations of him. He also knows that if he screws up and gets involved in underage drinking, he's on his own. Both my kids know my position on the 18 LDA; both of them also know my position on underage drinking: right now, where we live, it's against the law, and the penalties can be severe. Parents need to show their kids accountability and responsibility, and to expect it from their kids. It looks like some parents are falling down on the job in Haddonfield (as I'm sure they do elsewhere; Haddonfield's just the latest place in the news).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, kids on or expecting scholarships are a different case in point. I remember my folks warning me that there was a different set of rules for me because I was on scholarship. They told me that if I ever screwed up I would lose the whole show, no prep school, or college. That certainly put me off attending the inane keggers with kiddies that were frequently busted.

Alan said...

Why not leverage the parental responsibility angle a bit more? Here in Ontario and in a number of US states the drinking age does not apply with parents and/or in the home. I presume my family will make the decision as to when my kids will drink, not the state. In fact my mother (the minister's wife) seems to have decided the first wine will be at her dinner table.

Lew Bryson said...

It's a cliche, but them what ain't got, appreciate what they do get a lot more. Haddonfield's a fairly wealthy 'burb.

That would make a LOT more sense. It's not the law in PA, sadly, but if they want to come into my house and bust me for it, I'll pay for the lawyer and bust them. "Lew Bryson, the Gandhi of Booze."

Rich said...

Boy, Dave hit the nail squarely on the head. I totally agree it has more to do with bad parenting and less to do with how the current laws are regulating things.

You know, when I was in the same shoes as those kids (not all that long ago), we did a lot of dumb stuff, but we never wrecked houses or wound up at the hospital for over drinking. Sure, we partied, but not nearly that hard, and we certainly had a head about it and didn't drive anywhere. Are kids these days just dumber, or does this thing just get more publicity than in the past?

Anonymous said...

Sounds kind of like where I grew up (Palo Alto, CA). Except those damage-strewn lewd parties tended to happen amongst 16-year-olds and up, and this was also ~20 years ago.

Somewhat wealthy town (WAY moreso now), lots of parents taking off randomly with kids at home, etc.

The trick was that if you weren't in that party clique, it was damn near impossible to get booze ... and I was very very far from that crowd (nerd). Weirdly, it would have been easier by far for me to obtain cocaine, pot, LSD, and virtually any other illegal drug than it would have been to get a six-pack of beer.

As to today's culture of parental acceptance, Google up "Hanover High School" and "cheating" for some juicy reads from my neck of the woods. Breaking and entering to steal exams? Hey, kids will be kids!

Lew Bryson said...

I'm not sure which confuses me more: you growing up in Palo Alto, or you as a nerd.

There were a couple kids back home about 10 years ago who broke into the local high school on a Saturday night after the basketball game was over, and proceeded to bust up every TV and computer in the school. They weren't luddites, they were just after the most damage. They did a little over a million bucks worth...just to have some fun. They weren't even pissed off, just bored. And the one kid got nailed, and the other's parents cut a deal. Good life lessons, folks.

Stonch said...

Lew, in answer to your question, there are lots of pubs and bars in Britain that are very lax about serving underage kids. Equally, there are places that are good at asking for ID. The last time I got asked for ID was when I was 16, but then I always looked old for my age (still do).

Anonymous said...

My dad, who worked in a brewery, always told me "When they take you to jail, you get one phone call. Don't waste the call on me."

StephenL said...

Lew, you are a very sage man my friend, but I have to disagree with any connection between teen drinking in Haddonfield, and Haddonfield being a dry town.

I'd be shocked if the motivation for Haddonfield being a dry-town was to prevent or curb teenage drinking. It's been dry forever, for all intents&purposes. I'm sure the motivation was to keep out BARS, and any of the potential problems that they bring.

You'll find teenage drinking in ALL towns. You can't legislate maturity or wisdom, neither of which teens have in abundance. And try as they like, you can't legislate GOOD PARENTING either (which I think is the core issue here).

Lowering the age to 18 I personally fear would open up MORE possibilities for teen drinking, because now instead of teens struggling to pass as 21 with fake IDs or find an "adult" to purchase for them, could simply do it for themselves.

What brought Haddonfield in particular into the spotlight was the insane actions at that particular party. That broke the camel's back. The other incidents... the 2 teens who died in alcohol-related circumstances were actually ELSEWHERE (one was at a rock concert, the other in Philly) when they were drinking.

I applaud Mayor Tish Columbi of Haddonfield for boldly bringing these issues into the spotlight and keeping them there... I hope it makes a difference.

-Stephen Lyford
(aka JerseyDevil @

p.s. If you want to read more of my soap-box ranting & raving, read my post in response to this topic on BA here:

Anonymous said...

The only way the "dry town" concept could ever work is if they stopped you at the town line and confiscated anything you might be trying to bring into town. Obviously never going to happen in America.

Lew Bryson said...

No argument whatsoever here: I don't think there's a connection either. I'm just pointing out that this is one more piece of anti-booze legislation that doesn't work worth a damn. As far as keying on Haddonfield -- it's more the parental actions that I find disturbing, although as most older folks I've talked to say: we drank when we were underage, but we didn't drink like THAT.
I don't necessarily agree that dropping the age to 18 would increase younger teen drinking...but then, I have NEVER been in favor of simply changing the number in the law. It's got to be a comprehensive package that effects the culture as well as the law.

bird-dog said...

Well said, Alan.

Seems to me our 21 LDA is more to protect against poor parenting than underage "kids." Wouldn't it seem to make more sense to teach our kids about responsible alcohol consumption while they are at home. The 21 LDA forces us to wait until they have left home and then have to figure it out on their own.

Jeff Linkous said...


On the keg registration, which I think is foolish, last spring I called a liquor store in Belmar, a busy shore town in Monmouth County that was pondering a registration ordinance.

The owners supported the measure. I was kinda dumbstruck by that, and asked if they couldn't imagine their customers going to another outlet in another town where registration wasn't required.

Then their support became something like "well, what are you going to do, it's a sign of the times ..."

(And, I haven't even brought up that recent CDC study that called beer suited for binging but liquor the alcohol of choice for the underage set. Reconcile that one, kegistration advocates.)

I don't smoke, but it strikes me that if you require keg registration to keep beer outta the glasses of the under-21 crowd, then don't you have to do something similar for cigarettes, like register who buys a carton of smokes? That's another vice the protection-minded establishment seeks to keep away from minors with varying levels of legislation.

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but I wonder where the line gets drawn.

And now, there's word that a clutch of towns in Mercer County, NJ wants to ban underage drinking on private property. Seems NJ law only prohibits consumption of beer, spirits etc. on public property. Imagine that, a government entity deciding what goes on inside your house, in your backyard.

Underage drinking has been in the news too much lately to ignore it. Some of it is the media pounding on it because of an industry paradigm shift (read: Internet) that has the bigger news organizations going after local stuff they didn't care about 10 years ago. It's topic du jour; it plays on A1 anytime because the PTA is worried about it.

But there's something else going on here that I don't think throwing these misdirected laws at is going to fix.

And speaking of the media, it's in times like these that news organizations begin to accept stats and comments about trends as fact, no vetting, just repeating. (Want the worlds biggest example of that news behavior, just look at WMD and Iraq and the NY Times.)

My fear is all of this becomes the underpinning of the new temperance movement

Lew Bryson said...

It is truly a concern that most of the media rarely check up on the "statistics" they're fed. One time they did was when CASA put out a ridiculous claim that underage drinking accounted for 25% of booze sold in the U.S.; even newspaper journalists caught that whopper. If I could suggest some reading: this article on the STATS website (a group of statisticians at George Mason University who have taken to writing various exposes of the mis-use of statistics in the media) really does a good job on covering both sides of the LDA issue:

John said...

Haha this article made me chuckle because I'm 16 and I actually live in Haddonfield, so I guess I'm one of those statistics. But hey, if at age 18 you can smoke and go to the army (risking your life) and you can vote for the president and all that stuff, then surely 18 year olds should be allowed to drink. However, I've never really had much respect for the law and I think it is perfectly normal and acceptable for underage kids to drink - it's part of our modern culture, so get used to it! Research has shown that apes like to eat certain tree leaves that get them intoxicated and high. Scientists believe that apes, other animals, and also humans have a natural desire to get intoxicated - due to the mind altering state that substances can induce. In our current and modern society, we are preconditioned to behave and adhere to certain rules and social norms, such as not drinking under age 21. But, all of these laws and regulations have put a damper on reality. My reality can't be controlled by my government or the meaningless laws that it imposes. My reality is my consciousness, and it is the same for everyone else. I believe that the government prohibits many drugs, such as marijuana, DMT, and LSD because they don't want its citizens to experience their own reality. Instead, the government wants to control people because they are one-track-minded and sadistic. People who take various psychedelic substances actually report leading happier lives than non-psychedelic users. This is because their altered sates of minds open portals to parallel universes, and these people gain the knowledge of the actual meaning of the world and understand their place in the world - equivalent to nothing very grand in the scheme of things. So let the kids have a few drinks, get a bit tipsy (or drunk depending on the situation) and allow human beings to experience life as life was meant to be experienced - through the psyche and not through the material, exterior world.

Lew Bryson said...


If you haven't already read it, get hold of a copy of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception. Right on the beam of what you're talking about. You seem like a pretty bright guy, you should get something out of it.