Coming home tonight, I listened to the ABC radio host chatting with a guest who, almost as a throw-away remark, said something that hit me really hard.
I was “exercised in my spirit” to send the following to Lindy Burns, the host of the show. Having taken as long on the email as I did, I thought I might share it with you, my dear blog reader, as well.
As always, despite its off-topic nature, I open this up for discussion in the comments.
In your last 30 mins today you touched on a topic — or rather Andrew did — which is very dear to my heart.
I tried to get on air, but it could not have done the matter justice in that tiny window of time, either way.
Andrew explained that the proposal to push the legal drinking age to 19 was an “attempt to break the nexus” of the various change events that an 18 year-old is presented with, all at once.
Speaking as someone who has spent most of his adult life in young adult leadership in various church contexts, I have long been waiting for a public discussion about the terrible burden we place on kids turning 18.
If, say, you were to tell your friends that you had scheduled major surgery for the same month as a divorce finalisation, along with your last Uni exam, along with some other “watershed” event, they would gently and hastily sit you down and check your temperature… for good reason.
But… here’s what our society introduces into, or takes away from the life of a teen, at or around their 18th birthday:
- The right to purchase and drink alcohol.
- The right to enter an adult bookshop, brothel, pub, or other “previously forbidden” establishment.
- The right to purchase and smoke cigarettes.
- The right of full independent legal standing: to sue or be sued, to engage in commerce under their own name, etc.
- The right to apply for credit in their own name.
- The right to vote and stand for a political seat.
- The right to enter into a legal union with another (i.e. marriage or de-facto).
- The right to do anything without parental consent. Anything.
- The right to drive a car and experience the new freedoms that mobility offers.
- The conclusion (for most) of high school and the likely attendant grief of that “closure” (for most!).
- The beginning of uni, or a first full-time job, or the “unsupervised freedom” of a London gap-year (good grief!).
These are off the top of my head, as I write this. There must be more.
Now, contrast this with the entirely different approach of many traditional societies — and ours if you go back far enough — where the transitions of an adolescent into adulthood were very carefully entered into as “rites of passage”; where these were arranged and sequenced according to longstanding traditions, honouring achievement and faithfulness on the part of the youth, and making their advance into full adulthood an accountable, manageable and enjoyable affair.
In this modern day we have entirely lost this notion of a “rite of passage”, with its attendant sobriety and emphasis on the young person’s place within a community structure of accountability and honour.
I might be accused of idealism except I’m not describing an ideal, but actual history, and that which still exists elsewhere today.
But the one clear point I want to make is this:
We’re UNFAIR to our kids approaching their 18th birthday. We’ve introduced a huge number of dramatic and consequential changes — one on top of the other — and not even admitting what we’ve done, or the risks and burdens thus introduced.
And then we’re coming down heavily on — especially — the young men, when they can’t deal with it and their testosterone gets the better of them in some predicable display of immaturity!
So I wish there were some ways we could indeed “break the nexus” and I certainly DO endorse the idea of relocating the legal drinking age at least a year AFTER the legal driving age. But I only wish we could give the kids a little more of a break!
Here are some quick thoughts, other than the one just mentioned:
- Since the VCE programme is really about readying (most) kids for university, why not consider the various ways that we could “bridge the gap” between school and uni in those two years… especially year 12. The goal here would be to smooth out the transition from high school to uni as much as possible and to secure a higher “retention rate” among school leavers choosing to continue on to uni. Were this done well, I could see some smart Year 12 kids starting one or two first-year uni classes, say… why not?!
- How about permitting youth to drive at 18, but insisting that vehicles cannot be insured to a probationary driver, thus forcing the insured to be a parent/guardian or other full license holder to whom the youth is now answerable. The premium will be increased for the guardian, of course, but the youth can pay the difference… which will be less than a policy for him/herself alone, I’d guess.
- In this post-GFC world, why not legislate that a person with equity below a given level cannot secure credit. Full stop! This would stop youth accessing credit from predatorial or just plain stupid institutions. If someone in that situation wants credit, they will need a guarantor (which could be Centerlink in some cases, which usually knows more about you than you do, anyway!).
- Why not forbid a P-plate driver from carrying ANY passengers between 12pm and 5am. This would completely eliminate the very concept of the “designated driver”, which is an appalling over-burdening of responsibility on anyone, let alone a young adult. Instead, it will force P-plate party animals out of cars completely and onto public transport, unless there is someone with a full license at their disposal. Statistically, that 21+ person has wisened up a lot already!
I don’t offer these ideas as even “good” ideas, but rather as fuel for good public discourse, which is desperately needed.
We have ended up in this sorry state because we have lost the VALUE of protecting youth and young adults from what they cannot handle. We have also failed to acknowledge that an 18 year old of a few generations back was in many ways further advanced through adolescence than the same 18 year old today. So, the “marker” of the 18th birthday is flawed, because it assumes that emotional maturation has not shifted relative to physical maturation.
Don’t even get me started on the effect of the television, computer and portable electronic device on the emotional and social maturation processes of children and teens. But I would put to you that while kids are as smart as they’ve ever been, there is evidence to suggest a good many are not as mature.
Can I at least suggest to you that there is a radio segment in all of that?! And I, for one, think it is an urgent matter to discuss… for the sake of young people who are mostly doing the very best they can in a society that has SET THEM UP for a fall.
If you’ve read this far, you’re a champion