Special Reports

Don't put stock in European myth

Most of us have heard our mothers tell us that we can't swim for 30 minutes after we eat. The idea is that the blood needed to digest food would interfere with the blood going to our arms and legs to swim.

This myth is simply not true. But in reality this myth does nobody harm if you did wait.

On the other hand, there is a more damaging myth that is widely accepted. It is the “European myth.” It states that because the Europeans have younger drinking ages, they are more responsible drinkers. This destructive misconception leads parents to allow their children to drink early so that they can learn how to be responsible.

The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs shows us a different picture of the European myth.

It states that “a great majority of the European countries have higher prevalence rates for self-reported intoxication than the United States; less than a quarter had lower rates. For a majority of these European countries, a greater percentage of young people report having five or more drinks in a row compared with U.S. 10th-graders. Only for Turkey did a lower percentage of young people report this behavior.”

This is a blow to the argument that starting to drink at a younger age equals responsible behavior. In fact, the Prevention and Research Center has found the exact opposite. The longer a person goes without having a drink in life, the less likely they are to develop a drinking problem.

So the parent who says they will take the car keys and have a party at their house for minors are engaging in very dangerous consequences.

What is found to be effective in preventing the abuse of alcohol is very basic: Deter the use of alcohol with parent/child communication.

The Prevention and Research Center found that communication not only reduced dangerous drinking, but even when the son/daughter engaged in heavy drinking they had less occurrence of negative consequences. Parents who directly discuss alcohol with their teens will in turn ultimately reduce drinking behaviors and alcohol-related negative consequences.

Research suggests that two factors are especially relevant when parents communicate with their teens: the perceived expertise of the source (e.g., gives good advice) and the perceived trustworthiness of the source (e.g., looking out for the teen’s best interest).

It’s time for parents to begin the conversation about alcohol.

Find out who your child’s friends are, get their parents’ names and phone numbers. The idea is to trust and verify.

Talk to teens about the effects. Dr. John Nelson, of the American Medical Association, says, “Scientific evidence suggests that even modest alcohol consumption in late childhood and adolescence can result in permanent brain damage.”

The Third National Health and Nutrition Survey, 2000, states that “Teenage girls 12 to 16 years old who currently drink alcohol are four times more likely than their nondrinking peers to suffer from depression.” The American Medical Association in 2003 stated, “Research shows teen drinkers score worse than their nondrinking peers on vocabulary, visual-spatial, and memory tests and are more likely to perform poorly in school as a whole.”

If your son/daughter is 16 or older, it is critical that you talk to them about drinking and driving. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 20. The rate of fatal crashes among alcohol-involved drivers between 16 and 20 years old is more than twice the rate for alcohol-involved drivers 21 and older.

Living in Centre County we often hear about how those Penn State students get out of control while drinking. We often ask why the the university doesn’t do something about it.

The reality is that there is only so much that programs, punishment and education can do to deter the abuses of alcohol on and off campus.

The only way society will curb this behavior will be when, as a society, we begin to deter our children’s drinking until they are 21 and communicate with them about responsible behaviors.

I challenge the parents this graduation and prom season to communicate with their children and show them by refraining from having alcohol at these parties.

If you are interested, there are many resources available online that speak of the importance of this, but here are some to get you started:





Jon Cabot Lodge teaches world history at State College Area High School.