On Monday morning, NYRA’s executive director, Alex Koroknay-Palicz, appeared on Fox News’s Mike and Juliet Show. Joining him in a panel discussion of the drinking age was Candice Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Since most of the panel was unreceptive to the idea of a lower drinking age, Alex broached discussion of the fact that members of the military who are under 21 cannot drink. Ms. Lightner responded by saying:

It [the brain of 18-year-olds] isn’t developed, and that’s exactly why the draft age is 18, because these kids are malleable. They will follow the leader, they don’t think for themselves and they are the last ones I want to say ‘here’s a gun, and here’s a beer.’  They are not adults; that’s why they’re in the military. They are not adults.” 

Not only is this comment insensitive to the members of the military who are mature enough for the discipline and responsibility they must take on, and insensitive to the many 18- to 21-year-olds who could be forced to go overseas and potentially die if the draft were to be reinstated, but it is also self-contradictory. MADD, and Lightner herself, have been making us think for years that teenagers are deliberately irresponsible with alcohol and that, if given the freedom to drink, would disregard the sensibilities imparted upon them and use the freedom recklessly. Now we are to believe that people under 21 will, in fact, do whatever they are told? In typical fashion, NYRA’s opponents are having us believe that teenagers are at once rebellious and malleable, at once recklessly independent and firmly under the thumbs of their parents and elders. 

Whether or not one agrees with the draft or with the military enlistment age of 18, America considers 18-year-olds mature enough to die for their country, voluntarily or involuntarily, and they do so while suffering criticisms of their adulthood and their maturity like Ms. Lightner’s. In addition, whether or not one agrees with the current conflicts engaging the US military, everyone should realize it is both detrimental and inaccurate to make such insinuations about those involved in these conflicts who are willing to make so many sacrificies. However, Ms. Lightner’s comments are hardly the first such insult to these members of the military and others their age who take on enormous responsibility but are not granted the respect and privileges they deserve in return, including the privilege to responsibly enjoy an alcoholic beverage when finished with their work. Those who serve in the military provide just one set of evidence that people under 21 are capable of full adult maturity and responsibility. Many others are available by looking at the vast responsibilities taken on by this age group in homes, institutions of higher learning and the work force. What leads young people of any specific age to be irresponsible with alcohol is the social construct around alcohol that makes it a forbidden fruit until age 21 and a reasonable indulgence after that age, a social construct MADD seeks to perpetuate at all costs. This mentality makes it nearly impossible to teach young people to drink responsibly, and makes it likely that one’s first drink will be in a social and somewhat reckless setting at best and an underground and secretive one at worst. For more information, of course, see our website at http://www.youthrights.org/drinkingage.php. 

If MADD, as its name suggests, truly wants to prevent drunk driving, which is undoubtedly a noble goal, they are barking up the wrong tree in seeking to simply prevent access to alcohol by those under 21. This doesn’t prevent binge drinking or drunk driving by those over 21, which is still shockingly rampant in America, and is often ineffective in preventing these ills in those under 21, who can and do find ways around the law. Instead, MADD should turn to one of its original goals which still graces its logo, education. Alcohol responsibility, and not alcohol abstinence, should be taught to those younger than 21, and the drinking age should be lowered to an age considered reasonable by the rest of the civilized world. The message coming out of MADD should be that drunk driving at any age is absolutely unacceptable. As soon as this becomes MADD’s sole message and mission, I will support them wholeheartedly and unashamedly. However, the witch hunt against those supporting a lower drinking age simply perpetuates age discrimination and hurts the much-needed goal of eliminating drunk driving both by distracting MADD from its original mission and by preventing real alcohol responsibility. 



  1. I totally agree. When I saw this debate on the Mike and Juliet Show, I almost fell out of my chair. I was absolutely appalled at Ms. Lightner’s behavior. Mr. Koroknay-Palicz made some rather valid points, however he was cut off abruptly and boorishly by Lightner and her unimpressive arguments every time he opened his mouth. Getting drunk drivers off of the road is a notable cause and would probably be more effective if the interest groups involved, such as MADD, opened their ears to other suggestions and ideas. The last time I checked, fatal drunk driving accidents still occur at a high rate. In my opinion, this evidence points to the conclusion that arguing the same worn out solutions is not working. One gentleman on the panel continuously argued that the solution lies in enforcing the laws we already have because we “really haven’t been doing that.” Well what the hell have we been doing? When laws are enacted, they are enforced, that is just the way it goes. There will always be people who just do not care. In my opinion education is much more beneficial to young drinkers. The idea of lowering the drinking age and training more responsible drinkers makes sense and I wish that Mr. Koroknay-Palicz could have clarified his point a little more without being interrupted by a woman who’s been arguing the same points since 1984. And her comment or shouting fit rather, about the young men and women defending our country made me sick and was inconsiderate and ridiculous So, it is not okay for eighteen to twenty year olds to drink because their brains are not fully developed? If brain development is really that significant of a factor in the legal drinking age, then our country seriously needs to reconsider the drafting age. I would think that fighting in a war zone would be much more damaging to the human mind than drinking a few beers. Men and women in the military are subjected to things that impair them emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically for the rest of their lives. I think that this is a much more substantial issue than young adults making poor decisions when it comes to driving. If a nineteen year old wants to come home from Iraq, after seeing his buddy killed in an explosion, and drink a beer, I do not think the argument against that should be that his brain is not yet cognitively developed. I think that people who serve in the military and die for the United States of America should have every single right and privilege offered in this country regardless of their age.

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