The trouble with underage drinking is that the imbibing youths don't know what they don't know.
They generally haven't experienced enough of life -- or of tragedy -- to understand how they are playing with their lives when they secretly get together to impress each other by drinking.
They're also carelessly playing with other people's lives -- and not only when they drink and drive. Large drinking parties among young people can require a correspondingly large response by police, reducing the ability of officers to respond to other calls as quickly as they otherwise might.
That is part of the motivation for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office's sensible declaration that it no longer simply will be issuing citations to youthful drinkers but instead will be hauling the irresponsible teens to jail or to the juvenile detention center.
Citations, as noted in a Times Free Press article, do not involve an arrest and mug shot, reducing the impact they may have on young people who are caught drinking. A full-blown visit to the jail or the detention center may drive home the point that laws about underage drinking mean something and bear real consequences.
Part of the impetus behind the revised policy was a big recent drinking bust on Signal Mountain. Seventeen underage youths and four adults were arrested after someone in the area reported being shot at -- a report that was not confirmed. Whether or not weapons were involved, though, it's not a good thing for public safety when well over a dozen youths gather for the apparent purpose of consuming alcohol. It's also not a good thing for the individuals themselves.
Local law enforcement officials are both justified and reasonable in making it plain that youth, inexperience and alcohol do not mix -- and that mixing them anyway will not be tolerated.