Thursday, January 28, 2010

Teens Can't Buy A Drink, but Can Drown Themselves in Debt

During the Viet Nam era, it was observed, as a great irony, that young men could be drafted and fight in the military, but couldn't buy a drink. This led to the temporary reduction in the drinking age to 18. That era ended, another era began, and the drinking age was raised back to 21.

My ironic observation for this era would be that we don't let teens drink, but we do let them drown themselves in debt. No, I'm not talking about teens being preyed on by credit-card pitch-men, though that does happen. I am talking about the crushing burden of college debt that many graduating high school students take on, often without a lot of thought and guidance.

It's crazy to rack up $100,000 or more in debt, in pursuit of a generic undergraduate degree. I would submit that it is not reasonable to expect a 17 or 18-year old, who has lived at home, not supported themselves, and has no experience of debt, to make good decisions in that regard.We are talking about a debt burden that will have consequences a decade or more into the future.  In the short-term, going to the right college or one's dream college, or just a fun college, may seem totally worthwhile. But in the medium-term, that fateful, ill-advised decision, taken in one's late teens, can have life-long consequences. It's the kind of decision that can cause people to pursue the wrong career, just because it pays well, or to put off child-bearing, until it's too late.

But not only is it legally permissible for teens to make this choice--it is often socially encouraged!

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