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Can 16 be the new adult?

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POSTED: March 1, 2007 5:08 a.m.
When Alexander the Great was 20, he started his campaign to conquer the known world. Joan of Arc was 17 when she led a victorious French army at Orléans. Cleopatra became queen of Egypt when she was 18. Tutankhamun was 18 when he died as pharaoh of Egypt. By this age, he sired two children and ruled for 9 years. Hong Tiangui was the last king of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping (China) at the age of 16. History is full of young important leaders.
Today, one can join the military and die for his or her country at age 17, but can’t vote until age 18. In some locales, a couple can get married with their parents consent at 16, but they can’t make the decision on their own until they turn 18.
We can even try a 16 year old as an adult in criminal court. Exactly when does a child become an adult? Nature transitions a child at the point when he or she can reproduce.  
When I was a young adult, the legal age was 21. Now it is 18. I believe it is time to make another reduction to age 16. We are holding our children back by limiting their ability to take control of their life.
When I was in school “too many years” ago, I was involved in an experiment. The high school program, in which I participated, had an accelerated curriculum. When I graduated from high school, I had two years of college that could be credited to a university.
I don’t think we are challenging our children enough in school. The computer games, which they are playing out of school, are much more stimulating. Our schools need to bring their curriculum up to the quality that we see in these games.
We actually use an arbitrary age to separate “adults” from “minors.” This age is used to determine who can legally sign binding contracts, marry without parental consent, make a will, sue in your own name, give medical consent, and be completely independent of their parents’ control.  
I believe that a lot of today's crime, which is committed by 16 to 18 year olds, is because of frustration on their part. They feel they are no longer children, yet we adults treat them as children. This is one of the reasons we have so much juvenile crime.
Juveniles believe they should be in charge of their lives, but society holds them back. To exert their entitlement, they join gangs to show they do indeed have sway over their lives and should be treated with respect. Of course, gangs are the wrong approach, but in some cases, they think they possess no other alternatives.
There are some people who do not think that a 16 year old is psychologically able to make sound judgments. This was the same argument that was used when the legal age was changed from 21 to 18. In fact, the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology (1991, Vol. 20) suggested that people age 14 are generally as competent as those 18 and older in making decisions.
Some people mature early and others never mature. Of course, all of us mature at different rates. Chronological age has nothing to do with it.   
We should allow 16 year olds new responsibilities and hold them accountable for their actions as an adult. Setting an “age of majority” inevitably finds some people mature enough to be considered adults while others will struggle. This also happened 30 years ago. We got over it.
We need to move forward in transitioning our children to adulthood. We are over-protective, and we are under-utilizing our youth. As the baby-boomers start their migration into retirement, society needs to add more workers to take their place. I think that our young people are ready for the challenge of the future.
Let’s ramp up our education timetable and place more trust in the abilities of our future generations.
Calderone can be contacted at lenc@coastalnow.net
 

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