Alister Cameron // Blogologist

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The unfair, unbearable burden of turning 18 in Australia

P PlateComing 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.

That’s huge!

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:

  1. The right to purchase and drink alcohol.
  2. The right to enter an adult bookshop, brothel, pub, or other “previously forbidden” establishment.
  3. The right to purchase and smoke cigarettes.
  4. The right of full independent legal standing: to sue or be sued, to engage in commerce under their own name, etc.
  5. The right to apply for credit in their own name.
  6. The right to vote and stand for a political seat.
  7. The right to enter into a legal union with another (i.e. marriage or de-facto).
  8. The right to do anything without parental consent. Anything.
  9. The right to drive a car and experience the new freedoms that mobility offers.
  10. The conclusion (for most) of high school and the likely attendant grief of that “closure” (for most!).
  11. 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!

That’s… cruel.

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:

  1. 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?!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!).
  4. 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.

Thanks Lindy.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a champion 🙂



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  1. Posted 9 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    This topic is so very close to my heart too, and so much more as a recent immigrant to this country from a far more traditional society. Legally, the burdens are the same on teens in most countries these days.. I myself remember the voting age being lowered from 21 to 18, and some States in India lowering the alcohol-permitted age the same way. School-end, driving, credit – it seems all the same. But what is starkly different is the conservativeness of the society in general. We were taught to look down upon alcohol related violence and not think of it as heroic. Parental consent should be at least sounded out whether you are 8 or 28. Full time jobs at 18 are pretty much unheard of, everyone has to go to uni. Ultimately it spaces out all these momentous life experiences over a period of time and makes each of them great memories and milestones on its own instead of having it all in one fell swoop. Breaking the nexus between schoolies, driving and alcohol is a great start to changing our collective culture to lower the pressure and burden put on teens growing up in this country

  2. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, great subject… we are all too quick to “beat up” on our youth without examining societies contributions to the circumstances they are in, and in many cases our failures to prepare them for the challenges of the real life skills that they face away from school.

    Great thought provoker.

  3. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    Quite Funny , most of thm things you list are illegal statutes by illegal entities,. did you know its illegal to have one of anything under the constitution, rta,ATO,docs,etcetc ,. Please Young Educated Australians,. Research why our Constitution was taken from our schools,. roughly the same time gough whitlam was sacked for treason,. how to use your rights as a free man/woman of Australia! ,. Know ur True Rights & Please,. Learn Our Constitution , Right Wrongs tht have bn destroying our selves,families & fellow australians .. for we are young & Free!$FILE/ConstitutionAct.pdf – THE AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION!!!

  4. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    This is a very nice post. I can see you have put hard work on your blog. I’m sure I’d be back here more often. You can come by and visit my site if you have time. See yah!

  5. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    I’ve never realized it before, but you’re right. 18 is a huge milestone. I have a softspot for kids.

  6. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    Great post, being a bit older than this I hadn’t really thought recently about how much goes on at 18. Most of your suggestions are great but I think the one about passengers in a car is off the mark. Encouraging people to be designated drivers is a big responsiblity, but much better than the alternative of temptations towards drink driving. Your suggestion of “public transport” as the solution here is a little out of touch with reality, and i’m guessing you live in a capital city or don’t go out after dark much – in country areas and even larger regional areas public transport is either limited to daylight hours or non existant at all, and isn’t really a viable option. But overall, loved most of the rest of your points and well done.

  7. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    I visit your Blog today and I have found your Blog to be most informative, precise, as well as to-the-point, containing great content. I have two teenagers at home and I think that this article should be read by everyone who has teenage kids. Thank you for the info.

  8. Robyn
    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Over here in the UK, we drive at 17. It works perfectly fine, because there is a year before the legal age of drinking that way. We used to be able to purchase cigarettes at 16 (I waited so long for my 16th birthday, then they pushed it up to 18 and I found I was still begging friends parents to buy me fags) and kids here are often introduced to alcohol quite young. Not all learn to drink sensibly, but the first time I got wasted was 15, so by the time I was driving, I knew about the risks and consequences. I think this is sensible.

  9. Posted 8 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Wow, I never thought of all those things. I live in British Columbia, where 19 is the legal age. I imagine that’s helpful, because it means most people are well out of school before they are presented with a lot of these same decisions/burdens.

  10. Posted 8 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    You raise a few interesting points and while even though I didn’t have any issues with all these ‘burdens’ when I turned 18 last November, I can understand the prospect and can sympathize for those less fortunate.

    As for moving up the legal drinking age, I don’t really believe this would change the age anyone would start drinking at. But while we’re talking about this topic, I strongly believe parents need to be taught to bring their children up to understand the responsibility necessary. Otherwise, once they get their hands on alcohol, they’ll abuse it because they don’t understand it.

    Anyway, my initial reason for commenting on this post was to remind you that the legal driving age in most Australian states is 17 😉 – 16 to apply for a Learners Permit and 17 to apply for a Provisional license (providing they actually manage to log 100 hours of driving in one year). The rest varies quite a bit throughout the states.

  11. Posted 8 years, 3 months ago // Permalink

    Great post! I have a daughter who’s about to turn 18 and would definitely share this post with her.

    Thanks a lot!

  12. Michael
    Posted 7 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    Sorry but this article is pretty retarded, sounds like it was written by a 50 year old with no clue what’s going on. Sure when you turn 18 you can do all the things you mentioned (except drive, I got my p plates shortly after turning 17), but what you’re implying is all these burdens fall on your head at the same time, which is ridiculous! It’s not like I’m going to get married and be sued as soon as i turn 18 is it? And your age has nothing to do with finishing high school or starting uni, I finished grade 12 at age 16, some people do at 17 and some are even there till they are almost 19!

    All in all, you should get your facts straight before writing puff pieces to try and persuade people the drinking age should be changed.

    Ps, I turn 18 in about 10 days 😉

  13. Lucy
    Posted 7 years, 3 months ago // Permalink

    Personally, I think this article is incredibly accurate. Being placed in the grade above at school means I am the youngest of all, not some, but all, of my friends, by about 10 months. While turning 18 would otherwise mean no difference to me (I don’t smoke, only drink occasionally, have no particular determination to vote, and already have my driver’s licence), the pressure from my peers is astounding. It seems like just another birthday, where the only real difference is the ability to go clubbing, is a huge milestone, with the capacity to completely distort the way my friends view me, as though the moment I turn 18 is the moment I become ‘one of them’.

  14. Alister Cameron
    Posted 7 years, 3 months ago // Permalink

    Thanks for sharing that, Lucy. The best of luck to you!

  15. Nicholas
    Posted 7 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    This is blog is very inaccurate. In Queensland legally you become an adult when you are 17 , a full year before you can drink or smoke. And you finish high school when you are 17 and get your p licence when you are 17. Obviously you dont know what you are talking about.

  16. hahaha
    Posted 6 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    You’re so out of touch. Do you really think the “legal drinking age” has any real bearing on when kids start drinking anymore? And that any of those things actually apply to more than .1 percent of the population? You sound like an old conservative fool.

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