Last weekend I installed my son, Austin, at college. I’m under no illusions: The “orientation week” before his first year of classes starts will be richly lubricated with alcohol. That’s not just an outcome of exuberant 18- and 19-year-olds being suddenly freed of parental supervision. According to researchers at Colgate University (see Health & Science), excessive collegiate drinking is a perverse social imperative. They found that college kids binge drink mostly to fit in, and that the happiest ones are those who drink the most. The study suggests that if you want your kid to be happy at college these days, you have to be willing to accept that he or she will be regularly slamming down at least four to five drinks in a single session. Is this what I signed off on?
Most of us have done something stupid to fit in, and we’re never more prone to that urge than at the cusp of adulthood. Imperfect as we are, most of us do stupid things as part of the slow process of figuring out how to be smarter. The problem, of course, is that stupid actions can lead to tragic results. But what can you do? Child-rearing is ultimately an act of keeping faith and letting go. I trust Austin’s judgment, and take heart in his healthy disdain for the privileged frat boys that inhabit the hard-drinking pinnacle of the social hierarchy at many colleges, though not at his. But I still can’t help hoping that his own way of fitting in will include quiet evenings in the library, a few acts of altruism, and spirited debates about love, literature, and politics. And he should remember that embarrassing story I told him about my first intensive encounter with sangria, many years ago.