The University of Michigan announced a new initiative last week that it intends to test next year that states that parents of any freshman in the Class of 2019 caught drinking underage on two occasions or hospitalized on one occasion will be notified of their child’s actions. This policy claims it is a health measure as opposed to a punitive measure, and I do not doubt its intentions at all, but I think that it is both practically ineffectual and morally misguided.
Modern definitions of adulthood place it at around the time period when a person becomes financially independent from his or her parents; however, it’s very difficult to cut the cord immediately. Between the two extremes there is “young adulthood,” which represents the transitioning phase that goes on from around the ages of 18 to 24 — essentially the years that most college students spend in higher education. Therefore, college becomes the place where we make sure we have the qualities and tools necessary for adulthood.
One of the key characteristics of an adult is responsibility for one’s actions. When you’re younger, you can get passes on bad behavior because you simply might not know any better, but by the age of 18 or so, you should be at a level where you know your limits and know how to control yourself. So when a school like Michigan says that two instances of underage drinking being caught lead to a notification of parents, it takes some of the responsibility off of the student. Post-college, if you get arrested, the police aren’t simply going to call your parents and tell them to bail you out; you get your one phone call, and that might not even be to your parents.
Even though this system at Michigan will only apply to freshmen — who are for the most part just beginning to live alone and without their parents for the first time — it still emphasizes the dependence between child and parent in an unhealthy way. In order to become adults we have to be able to wean ourselves slowly off the financial and social leash that we have with our parents, and this policy only tightens that leash.
But this system isn’t flawed solely from an ethical outlook. Michigan’s policy is far from revolutionary, and initiatives just like this one have already been implemented at schools like the University of Georgia and Virginia Tech, and as can be seen from those schools, drinking hasn’t really gone down. While there aren’t concrete statistics yet, students on campus claim that the binge drinking that would normally happen on campus has simply shifted to more dangerous venues off campus. As Camilla Grayson, a sophomore at UGA, told USA Today, “Most college students drinking are going to drink no matter what. A strict policy forces them to drink in more high-risk situations like a bar.” The sad reality is that drinking is so ingrained in college culture that simply saying “we’ll tell your parents if you drink!” just might not cut it.
However, there are certainly many valid counter-arguments here. For one, if parents are paying upwards of $50,000 per year to have their child go to college, they should, reasonably, have the right to know what is going on with their child. Especially in the case of a medical emergency related to alcohol, it’s vital that parents are some of the first people contacted. But this still doesn’t take the responsibility component away, and for students who want to prove that they can get along fine without their parents knowing every mistake they make, this policy still inhibits their desires for adulthood.
At its core, though, this policy is aimed at preventing alcoholism and substance abuse before it has time to develop. Studies from the National Institutes of Health have shown that almost half of all alcoholics had already developed alcohol dependence by age 21. Instead of Michigan’s plan, though, I would propose that students faced with several violations of underage drinking receive counseling from school services to assess whether or not the individual has signs of alcoholism. This makes the announcement to parents optional and keeps the responsibility in the hands of the students, something all colleges should emphasize.
ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK is a College sophomore from New York, studying economics. His email address is email@example.com. "Small Talk" appears every other Saturday.Comments powered by Disqus
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