|My husband and kids at The Plough, our local pub in Wolvercote, Oxford|
When my family was on sabbatical in England, I researched a young adult novel about an American girl who spends her junior year at a British boarding school. One of the reasons my protagonist is 16 is that's the legal age for beer and wine in the UK, as long as someone 18 or older buys, and it's consumed with a meal. This law makes pubs a popular place for families and teens, giving them a very different vibe from American bars, where the drinking age is 21.
|lower Manhattan: my teen playground|
While I was in college, the legal drinking age was raised to 21 in the USA. I went from being of age to underage, and this varied by state. Drinking went underground at dorm keg parties, which was not my scene. The change in law brought new danger as underage binge drinkers were afraid to call for medical help.
|The Rose and Crown in Oxford|
|The Dartmouth Arms, North London|
My biggest concern with underage drinking is drunk driving. In the UK the driving age is 17 and there are stiff fines for driving intoxicated and ubiquitous speed cameras. Most people live within walking distances of a pub, and there is an extensive network of nationally subsidized public transportation. In most of the USA, kids can drive at age 16 so underage drinking is a bigger problem. Teens are actually safer in a big city where no one has a car, let alone a license in high school. Perhaps the push should be for better public transportation to keep drunk drivers of all ages off the roads.
Update: be sure to check out the comments for info about drinking laws in other countries. Fascinating discussion! Do share more.