The Universal Notebook: 'You gotta fight for your right to party'

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When news of alleged drinking at a high school party in Falmouth broke a few weeks ago, I wondered whether the Portland newspaper would drag me out of the weeds again to comment.

Back in 1999, when my oldest daughter graduated from high school, I was front-page news for a week because I was present at a post-prom party in Yarmouth where many of the 200 to 300 kids attending allegedly drank. To make matters worse, I was a member of the School Committee.

For several years, whenever prom time and graduation rolled around, the press would call me up for a dissenting view on underage drinking. Blessedly, it had been years since I was called upon to be the designated spokesman for underage drinking. Then not one, but two reporters called.

Reporter No. 1 started by asking whether I had hosted a party at which teenagers were drinking? No, I explained, another father and I went to a party at a home where the parents were away in an effort to keep kids safe. We told the police about the party beforehand. We did not supply alcohol. On the other hand, we did not stop anyone from drinking. We just stopped them from driving.

Since the Falmouth situation allegedly involved a couple providing a place for minors to drink and maybe providing the alcohol, Reporter No. 1 apparently decided there were no parallels and left me out of the article.

Reporter No. 2 called a few days later while I was sitting in the parking garage of the Ikea in Stoughton, Mass., watching my grandson Jackson sleep while my daughter Hannah, the 1999 graduate, was in the store buying him a tent for his second birthday. Some editor really wanted me quoted in the article.

I told Reporter No. 2 what I told Reporter No. 1, perhaps with a little more emphasis on what I thought was important to say:

First, I think your newspaper editorial rushed to judgment, condemning the Falmouth couple before any facts had been established. If you just convict people on police allegation, you live in a police state. Second, I have never advocated that anyone do what we did back in 1999. We were lucky things didn’t get out of hand.

That’s not what got reported. I guess the paper just wanted someone to say the obvious – kids are going to drink and you can’t “Just Say No.” I was also quoted correctly as saying I wouldn’t want a daughter or son to go off to college without having had a drink. Students who don’t know how alcohol might effect them are the ones who end up in the college infirmary with alcohol poisoning. And, no, I do not feel the same way about illegal drugs.

As a society, we are greatly conflicted and inconsistent about age and responsibility. The way I see it, if you can get married, have a baby, drive a car, and serve in the military, you are old enough to drink responsibly. I’m not going to tell a 19-year-old Iraq War vet he can’t have a beer.

While I am not in favor of furnishing alcohol to minors, I do think the drinking age should be lowered to 18. I guess I’m just a lot more concerned about drinking and driving than I am about a young adult having a beer.

In my experience, those holier-than-thou, my-kid-knows-I’d-kill-him parents are often the ones who have no idea where their kids are or what they’re really doing. Young people do not confide in parents who try to rule by fear.

You treat teenagers like adults and they will behave like adults. You try to control their personal lives and, to paraphrase the Beastie Boys, they’re going to fight for their right to party.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.