Zero tolerance for zero tolerance

Sent to the Boston Globe, July 29, 1999

I read with no surprise about the disturbing upward trend in teen drunk driving. No doubt a chorus of voices will be heard recommending even stricter prohibitions against drinking under the age of, say, Medicare eligibility. The chorus is dead wrong.

The "zero tolerance" attitude in vogue as the solution to such problems is in fact part of the problem. These days, a kid having that nearly inevitable drink becomes an outlaw. Once across that line, perspective changes. Teachers, parents, and police--people we want as role models and mentors for our children--become the enemy. Is it worth the loss of this priceless connection to keep our kids away from a few drinks? Furthermore, once across the line, it becomes easier to disobey other laws. Laws or no, most kids will drink. When they do, we want to be on their side.

Let's all lighten up and show our kids we have a clue. Let's draw a distinction between responsible drinking and problem drinking. Let's try to make sure they don't drink and drive, or get so drunk that they do things they regret. Let's show them a little respect, and maybe we'll get some back.

Jon Dreyer