07/29/2007 10:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Learning How to Drink Before Learning How to Drive

I have four children, 3 were born in the States the youngest in Spain. We live in Spain but we are presently vacationing at our farm in Southampton, Long Island. My older kids are now 17, 14 and 13 the youngest is a baby. Today the older ones ended their vacations in the Hamptons. Unfortunately they could not wait to go back to Europe. There are many things they like about NYC and the Hamptons but overall they prefer Europe for one reason. They feel freer there. Freer to party which is what they like to do. Especially my 17 year old girl. She made me realize that in the States people her age are treated like potential criminals. In Spain, when school is over, my eldest daughter parties a lot with her friends, they go clubbing until 5am in the morning, they are all great students and in my view, once they excel at school they earned their freedom to party. In theory Spanish clubs should check that they are 18 but at 17 they do not. And yes there are many teenagers who drink hard in Spain. But with alcohol freely available in supermarkets they learn over time to drink in moderation. I have yet to meet a single adult in Spain with a serious alcohol problem (they clearly exist but I have not met them instead 3 of my American friends are recovering alcoholics). In Spain kids start drinking at 15 and driving at 18. By then most have learned something about getting drunk and the effects of alcohol and have less accidents on the average than in the States. In the States the opposite is true, they can legally drive at 16 and drink at 21. This leaves kids with a lack of a drinking education, an education that is only acquired after they drive at a huge cost (in America teens make 7% of the drivers but 20% of the fatalities, USA is now one of the most dangerous of the OECD countries in which to drive). Why is that? My theory is that something akin to "alcohol immunization" takes place in Europe. When alcohol is freely available to teenagers they experiment, they drink, they get drunk a few times, they get immunized. But in the States, with alcohol, so hard to get to the point that a person may be considered fit to die in Iraq but not to drink a beer, people don´t get properly exposed to alcohol at the right time. In Spain instead my kids go out, experiment drinking before they drive. And in the meantime they have a lot of fun, and don´t feel excluded from the adult world and come a bus.