The hypocrisy of becoming an adult in America

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At what age are we really adulthood? Milestones like puberty and financial independence seem to have little-to-no meaning on what it means to be an adult

Tala Trad and Natalia Mora

The coming-of-age process is a grossly romanticized misconception. Children glorify this number in their golden years, often dreaming of the freedoms they’ll have in their adulthood. Many of America’s youth face insecurities of being facetious, incapable and cooped up from the realities of the outside world, so the transition certainly packs a punch of adrenaline in their minds.

The full-fledged adult, however, may not view their transition as much of a change at all. As the ‘20s gain traction and new policies are reinforced on legal age requirements, the line — separating the age from being a simple uptick instead of a milestone — is blurred.

“I feel like turning 18 seems like a bigger deal than it is,” senior Mary Green said. “21 is when one is truly considered an adult in every scenario, and 18 is a precursor to that.”

Is the age of 18 truly the rite of passage for adulthood, or has it become a husk of its former promise?

 

LEGAL/LOGISTICAL

Naturally, many assume the age of adulthood is 18, but this is only the “age of majority”- the threshold at which one is recognized as an adult under the law.

“Up until 18, there’s not as much worry on you, and when you turn 18, you can go to jail and get in a lot more trouble than you could,” senior Kenneth Hatchel said. “There are a lot more responsibilities to live up to.”

At this age, people become legally responsible for their own actions and decisions; however, this age has nothing to do with the mental or physical maturity such as the age of sexual consent, marriage age, ability to leave school, drinking age, driving age, voting age, smoking age or gambling age. 

 

BIOLOGICAL

The opportunity to indulge in vices such as drinking, smoking and gambling are long awaited by teens as their Christening into adulthood at the age of 18, but as time progresses and new federal laws pass, these chances moves further away.

“I think seniors especially look forward to finally being an adult right after high school, but what’s the point if we really won’t be adults until after college,” Baustert said.

In the ‘80s, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was signed, raising the drinking age to 21. Most recently, towards the end of 2019, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act were amended to raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 as well. Despite the fact that these laws are implemented for the greater good, saving lives and improving health, one cannot help but wonder what exactly constitutes the age of 18, 21 or any age for that matter, as the “age of adulthood.”

When the federal drinking age was changed, the consensus among lawmakers was that it was to prevent damage to a developing brain and body, as neurologically, 21 is a more suitable age at which the brain is fully developed as opposed to 18.

However, the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that controls reasoning and motor skills — isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, or even one’s 30s, since brain development varies on an individual basis and a broad menagerie of factors. In fact, apart from the brain, different parts of your body naturally grow at different paces.

Drinking before 25 could slow down or harm the brain’s growth progress, meaning that in theory, the national minimum drinking age should match the age of 25, if the government was truly worried about health.

Many men and women become sexually mature in their teens. Yet, associated healthcare for underaged individuals is generally unavailable unless one is accompanied by a parent or guardian. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects youth when it comes to their own medical information, yet access to medical institutions is largely inaccessible without large sums of money to pay off medical bills or health insurance not covered under a legal adult’s name and account. 

“We make little-to-no income and are legally claimed as dependents under our parents making us unable to apply for Medicaid,” Bauster said. “Our own health is out of our control.”

In all its intricacy, biometric data is detached from the controversy of when one is mentally mature, which is even more nuanced since there is no measurement to prove it. If experience makes someone mature, they may not be considered an adult until retirement. If education and intelligence are what maturity comprises of, they wouldn’t be an adult until after they have pursued their degree.

The only instance where the age of 18 makes sense as the age of being a legal adult is when biologically one has reached their sexual maturity. The average human life expectancy has nearly doubled in the last two centuries, yet the notion of when one becomes an adult hasn’t properly extended across history. Humans can live beyond their thirties due to the vast advancements of medical technology meaning that the teenage years are no longer “middle-aged” or the age where people are expected to act like adults, so the laws regarding the age of being a legal adult should change accordingly. Besides that, the line where one goes from childhood to adulthood is blurred, but is considered scientifically to be much older than what was once believed.

 

FINANCIAL

Fiscal responsibility is a dawning reality of the romanticized coming-of-age process. Often, teens that never conceived the thought of influencing their own financial future are thrown into the deep end at the stroke of their 18th birthday, expected not only to open a checking and savings account but to maintain a level of financial literacy that would keep them afloat in the workforce and beyond.

Often, 18 is a milestone when parents allow their children freedom to spend their money how they prefer. This incites the ability to go out for lunch with friends, buy personal goods and splurge on material desires.

Newly-budded adults without sufficient knowledge of concepts like building credit, rainy day savings and fiscal budgeting are predisposed towards a larger marginal propensity to consume, dipping one’s personal finances in a deep spot — before one even gains a taste of the responsibilities in taxes.

Senior Terri Jacobs works at Starbucks for 30 to 40 hours a week. This qualifies her as a full-time employee — and a full-time student. Despite the drudgery, she has personal experience in paying for her own phone bills, car insurance and other daily expenditures to support herself and her younger brother. After learning about inventory, investments and personal finances through her work, she has dedicated herself to micromanaging her budget and cautiously siphoning her money into her necessities over her desires.

“I have to prioritize everything that I have to do, and my money can’t just go straight to me,” Jacobs said. “I want to get my hair and nails done, but I can’t do that since I have to worry about whether my brother and I have lunch money.”

Jacobs is one of many new adults to find financial independence. Other than the Affordable Care Act (ACA) implemented during the Obama administration, she is entirely self-sufficient with her paycheck.

“I have many new responsibilities, such as making my own car payments, insurance, getting myself to and from school, Francis Tuttle, work, keeping gas in the car and helping my brother with football and basketball,” Jacobs said.

The stroke of one’s 18th birthday is the first moment that many feel the need to become financially responsible. Aside from opening a checking and savings account, some might buy stocks, make investments, organize their budgets and make daily expenditures under their name. This development is necessary for a young adult to secure their independence and future.

 

 

As people turn 18, they take on many fiscal and biological changes, but it’s time to evaluate if this is really the appropriate age to become an “adult.” Science beckons that the real age of maturity is years beyond the teen years, yet society hands over everything from financial to legal responsibilities to them. This proposes the idea: what is the real age of adulthood?