Dionysus in the Greek culture was the god of wine, illusion, craziness, theatre and social events. That’s what drinking has always been the symbol of.
Alcohol is something new and exciting for every teenager; being able to order a Margarita has almost become the definition of “adult,” and one of the first cliches that pops in our mind if we think of the word “fun.”
In every country this “adult” phase starts at a different age, depending on the historical background, the costumes and the laws.
Growing up in Italy, I started drinking at the age of 15, when I began going to clubs.
The first ones I went too weren’t “real” clubs, just special events organized for younger teens, between 14 and 18, with music and DJs, never more than once a month.
They wouldn’t allow you to buy alcohol if they could tell you were very young, even if breaking the rules wasn’t too hard. During high-school, I started going to the clubs almost every Saturday night, like the majority of Italian adolescents, where the range of age goes from 17 to 30. If you are a minor, you can only consume one drink, and bodyguards are checking on the crowd constantly.
Most of the time, there is a safe atmosphere and it’s rare to find drunk people dragged out of the door or in bad condition. It was way worse where people were younger and unable to handle alcohol. In fact, after a few years of experience, drinking is not a new and cool thing anymore, but just a simply a way to enjoy time together, a part of our daily life, and the symbol of family and friends time.
Like almost everyone else in Italy, I grew up with wine on the table since the first meal I can remember. My parents allowed me to taste it in small quantities since I was about 10, and I never felt the necessity to over drink or hide myself from adults, because they have always been open to talk about it and give me advice.
When in Europe you start getting tired of clubs, around your 20’s, people here reach their drinking age. As a senior in the US, I’ve notice so many differences in the social life of teens, influenced by this factor. First of all, there are so many less options of activities for us. I cannot go to any public place after 6 p.m., if it’s not a diner or a restaurant. I’m talking about bars or pubs, to get just some snacks and drinks, or just eating without drinking if you are too young; an occasion to have an excuse to dress nice and meeting new people.
I’ve been surprised here to see that I’m not even allowed to be in a drinking area, even if I’m not personally consuming. I felt very frustrated and restricted on my free-time choices. Since it’s forbidden in any way, alcohol becomes in your mind the chocolate cake during a super restrictive diet. You crave it, you think about it all the time. Then one night you wake up, open the cupboard, and that cake is there. Nobody is watching you, so instead of taking a little piece, slowly tasting it, you swallow a giant slice without even chewing it. You cannot stop and you eat until you feel sick, because you don’t know when the next time will be you will have the chance to taste it.
Young people are considered adult enough to drive and live on their own, but not enough old to have a drink with their friends on a Friday night. And that creates anger and frustration in them.
Plus, the way teens drink is different. Drinking to get drunk vs drinking to enjoy the time together is the difference that I’ve noticed between US and Europe’s youth. Teenagers are new adults who have to experience many new things, and the safest way to do it is making sure that there is the supervision of an adult. Allowing young people to drink in public places makes it easier to check on them, maintaining the situation under control and making sure that nobody is in danger.
I’ve never missed drinking so much like this year, and I’m not even a big drinker. Here, the fact that I don’t feel free to taste my mom’s wine in a restaurant makes me crave it 10 times more.
And that’s why young people organize secret parties, or bonfires, where they drink straight from the bottle and any kind of drug could be in it. Nobody is checking what’s going in your mouth, and for the fear of being caught; many kids are left on their own, in really bad conditions, while the others run away. This is not a safe way to have fun, a right way to experience alcohol and to understand how to not abuse it.
Teenagers should be trusted more and given more freedom, not just responsibilities on the economical and political side. The journey of adolescence should include education about alcohol, because when you grow up with something, you have the chance to know every aspect of it, to share thoughts and have advice from people more experienced than you, and to build the foundation of a mature adult. Social life and having fun should be danger-free activities, available at any age.
• Giulia Ciarlantini is an exchange student at Mount Shasta High School from a little town called Porto Recanati on the coast, in the center of Italy. She wrote the piece above as part of her senior project.