WHEN ARE WE ADULTS? Worthy of Discussion - no?
Jezebel.com usually has articles that are kinda snarky editorals on other articles around the web. This one caught my eye and I clicked the links contained within. It raised my interest enough to make a Pages Post. How do we measure Adulthood? Legally, Scientifically, Culturally, by Religion? I usually stick to the Legal -voting age kinda definition. You?
And, how do we deal with this in our Brave New Global World? Do we need an International Standard for legal reasons regarding sex crimes, etc?
Are you a mature, fully developed being? Can you take the world’s punches, or at least block? Are you a “grownup”? If you’re not sure, welcome to today’s world, where figuring this out is a mishmash of mixed messages and blurry lines best stumbled over on your way to that Meeting of Grown People With Adult-Like Responsibility Who Aren’t Sure How They Feel About It.
As we’ve all been told since forever, being an adult used to be a breezy, clear-cut pit stop on the path of How to Be. You graduated high school, got a job, got married, had a kid, embraced the straitjacket and shut the fuck up about it. But then the 1950s burst into flames and released the hounds of shifting attitudes about gender roles, technological advancement and higher education, and our concept of the working world and the path toward the responsibilities therein changed forever.
A debate over at the New York Times from earlier this year asks when kids become adults, and proves, if nothing else, that adulthood is a multi-faceted concept that could designate anything from military eligibility, voting or driving to reproductive age, employment or even just plain old brain maturity.
The U.S. is particularly unfocused about it: whereas other countries shove you out of the nest all in one go with the granting of all your adulty rights at once, America prefers to stagger them willy-nilly: you can drive before you can watch an R-rated film, and die in a war before you can purchase a beer. Also: Your brain is still dumb until you’re like, 25. Truth.
But at least the NYT debate frontloaded adulthood as something that still occurs somewhere in those first 25 years of life. What ever would they do with these dudes over at Atlantic Monthly, who remind us that adulthood to thirtysomething men can be like feminism to Katy Perry: It’s apparently never too late to doubt if you qualify.
In a debate that asks “What are the milestones in modern male life?”, three clearly adult-aged men spend the time wondering if they feel like adults or not.
Seems the New York Times has a whole series of articles on the subject. An excerpt of one:
First, different brain regions and systems mature along different timetables. There is no single age at which the adolescent brain becomes an adult brain. Systems responsible for logical reasoning mature by the time people are 16, but those involved in self-regulation are still developing in young adulthood. This is why 16-year-olds are just as competent as adults when it comes to granting informed medical consent, but still immature in ways that diminish their criminal responsibility, as the Supreme Court has noted in several recent cases. Using different ages for different legal boundaries seems odd, but it would make neuroscientific sense if we did it rationally.
Second, science has never had much of an influence on these sorts of decisions. If it did, we wouldn’t have ended up with a society that permits teenagers to drive before they can see R-rated movies on their own, or go to war before they can buy beer. Surely the maturity required to operate a car or face combat exceeds that required to handle sexy movies or drinking. Age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones. It’s unlikely that brain science will have much of an impact on these thresholds, no matter what the science says.
But many times, the law backfires. Distinguishing between sexual maturity and vestal youth should be measured by more than birthdays. If a state sets a strict age of consent at 16, it would be a crime for a high school junior to have sex with a sophomore. Ask Genarlow Wilson, who was sentenced to 10 years for receiving oral sex from an underage girl. He was 17; she was 15. Under Georgia state law, it didn’t matter if Wilson were 17 or 57: the court found him guilty of child molestation. (After serving two years in prison, he was released.)
Many states have close-in-age-exceptions that would prevent unjust cases like Wilson’s. They differ by jurisdiction. Some states may allow a two-year window of consent, others may permit a five-year spread. Again, there is no uniformity. It doesn’t make sense that a trip around the Beltway can make a girl into a woman, or that a drive across the George Washington Bridge turns a man back into a boy.
Yes, we have a federal system, but there is no federal common law for the age of consent. At the same time, there has to be some system to protect children and punish adults, and age is the easiest referent for maturity. But it still doesn’t solve the problem of widespread disagreement between the states about adulthood when it comes to sex. Perhaps there is no other way than age to measure consent, but when the system categorically turns teen peers into teen predators, no one wins.
Over at Atlantic they ask: When Do Men Become Grown-Ups?
…My own children, for example, will never see me as anything but a grown-up, and as they age, the kids of her generation will see me that way, too. One day, my daughters may look at me as I looked at my own father, and think: How am I ever going to become that?
The secret (which is only a secret to those still too young to have experienced it) is that adulthood is not something we consciously embrace, a set of rules we one day agree to follow. It’s a set of perceptions and assumptions that everyone has about us, though we may still feel like children inside. How the hell did I become an adult? It’s because the young people at my office decided I was. And one day, 10 or 15 years from now, it’ll happen to them, too. We all grow up, whether we want to or not.
What does any of this have to be with being an adult? Well, that night after dinner I entered into a lengthy discussion with one of Tomoko’s friends about his efforts to purchase a couch. He was a finance guy of some sort, successful enough, with money to waste on a couple of sports cars and an apartment in Manhattan. It turned out that he’d been at this for months. He just couldn’t decide—what style, what fabric, which size, never mind color—the whole thing, he said, was bedeviling him no end. This commitment, this furniture, represented a stark and binary choice (sectional or no?) that would irrevocably alter the course of his life. He could not, in good conscience, take it lightly.
The conversation spun me from the room. I nodded with sympathy, but my mind was with my son who was spending yet another night without me. As Tomoko’s friend wrestled with the vexatious dilemma of a two-pillow or three-pillow existence, I obsessed over babysitters and pediatricians and the punitive costs of daycare. I wanted to grab him by throat and shout, Grow up! It’s just a couch!