Michelle Teheux: It’s time for teenagers to grow up

Michelle Teheux

My 16-year-old son made a good point this week.

He was protesting that having to pay taxes when he is too young to vote is taxation without representation.

And you know what? The kid is right.

Maybe we should give the vote to 16-year-olds. Get them started fulfilling their civic duties early, while they’re still in high school, and ideally they’ll be lifelong voters. After all, many teens work and pay taxes, and some of them might want to have a say on how their taxes are spent.

We stretch out adolescence and keep the onset of adulthood such a vague gray area, demanding adult responsibilities from young people in some areas of life, while treating them as babies in others.

We have no definite demarcation between childhood and adulthood.

Traditional societies usually have some kind of defining event. It might be a boy’s first successful hunt or a girl’s menarche. Usually there’s a ceremony of some kind so it’s clear to everyone whether someone is a child or an adult.

Until a couple of generations ago, marriage used to be a pretty good signal that someone had entered adulthood. They left their parents’ house and moved in with their new spouse because they were adults and probably not far from starting families of their own.

But most people today delay marriage, and some don’t marry at all, regardless of whether they’re having children. Depending on what you’re talking about ­— drinking, driving, sexual consent, marriage, voting, working, curfew — we have completely different ages of adulthood. For several years, you are simultaneously a child in some areas and an adult in others.

A 16-year-old can drive, but cannot stay out past curfew. A 17-year-old is treated as an adult by the criminal justice system, but cannot sign most contracts.

As we all know, you can marry at 18 but not drink champagne at your wedding, and you can join the military at the same age and not be able to have a beer with your buddies on leave.

Maybe that’s why so many young people who ought to be old enough to know better are still acting like idiots — it’s because we’re still treating them like children in some ways, and they have trouble keeping straight their adulthood parts of life from their childhood parts of life.

Not many 18-year-olds are living independently from their parents anymore. They need help to attend college or just to get started in life.

All in all, most people cannot claim to be totally independent adults until sometime well into their 20s, which is an awfully long time to linger in quasi-adolescence.

That might have been OK until recently. But can we afford indefinite childhood in tougher times?

No, we don’t want to go back to the days of 12-year-olds working in coal mines.

But teens today are pretty sophisticated. We might want to consider treating them more like the young adults they are.

Michelle Teheux can be reached at (309) 346-1111 or at mteheux@pekintimes.com.