In his Aug. 9 op-ed piece, "Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense," Radley Balko did not draw the obvious parallel between teenage sex and teenage drinking. These two behaviors raise remarkably sim- ilar issues, yet they are addressed by radically different public policies. In both cases most knowledgeable adults agree that teenagers are "going to do it anyway." The debate boils down to a question of "abstinence" vs. "harm reduction."

In sex education the push seems to strongly favor an approach aimed at harm reduction. Hence, sex education classes in public high schools, condom distribution, abortion without parental consent, etc. If teenage drinking were treated in a similar fashion, we would have mixology classes in public schools, shot glass distribution and detox without parental consent.

I don't know what this disparity says about our society, beyond noticing that we seem to have a lot of ambivalence about life's frivolous -- or is it perilous? -- pleasures.

MICHAEL SWEENEY

Phoenix

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Finally, a note of reason amidst the zero-tolerance attitude of too many lawmakers and parents. To be sure, too many teenagers drink too much and cause horrific accidents as a result. However, if young people learn to drink responsibly at home, they will be less prone to drink just to get drunk.

After my high school prom, in the good old days of 1967, my parents invited my friends over for a midnight breakfast with champagne and orange juice. Each guest had one mimosa. No one got drunk, and it was considered quite a treat.

I spent my early childhood in France, where children were given a glass of wine mixed with water at dinner.

After age 15, a glass of wine was a part of my son's dinner too. Because it was no big deal, my son never felt the need to go out and drink to excess.

Zero tolerance doesn't work. A more reasoned approach makes sense to keep all of us safe.

JENNIFER ADDINGTON

Burke

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I read with displeasure about the prosecution of the family that allowed alcohol to be consumed by minors while strict controls were imposed so that the minors would not drive while intoxicated.

I've always thought that it would make sense to reverse the driving and drinking ages so that by the time young people learn to drive, they already know how to control their consumption of alcohol.

One would think that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an organization devoted to preventing drinking and driving, would see that it is more important to use all methods, however unorthodox, to accomplish that goal.

COULTER

RICHARDSON

Tinton Falls, N.J.

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Taking away a teenager's car keys and replacing them with a beer may prevent death and injury on the road, but it sends a dangerous message to teenagers that it's okay to break the law. It also leaves teenagers vulnerable to serious outcomes that can take place even when they drink at home.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alcohol use among teens is linked to two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes. Alcohol poisoning, increased violence, blackouts and potential brain damage are also risks.

Research also shows that the earlier young people begin to drink, the more likely they are to become dependent on alcohol and to drive drunk later in life. Underage drinking kills more young people than all other illicit drugs combined.

Being a parent doesn't always mean being a teenager's best friend, but, in the long run, by advocating healthy and safe choices, parents stand a better chance at being their child's lifelong friend.

GLYNN R. BIRCH

National President

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Washington