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How Old Must We Be to Function in Society

October 19, 2010

After going over the recent reading on Locke, a question arose on when parental power ends, and we are given the right to function independently in society. Locke uses the age of 21 as his example age, but is this a fitting age? Should we consider something younger like 18? Or older perhaps say, 25? This is a question that will bring up nearly as much debate as that of a legal drinking age, but it must be considered.

I understand the fact that after our birth, we have no rhyme or reason of the world around us. We grow up believing what our parents tell us, and what little political issues are discussed in our presence we have an automatic attachment to our parent’s ideals. However as we grow older and our brains begin to think more diversely, we start to shape the way we as an individual think about the political world around us. The parental power is still there, but we begin to protest it in the back of our minds. Locke feels that when we reach this ago of readiness, we achieve this personal freedom, and are now bound to the likes of the commonwealth.

I disagree with the generic age of 21 that Locke gives. Why not 18? I understand in those days that there was no generic number as we have today for adulthood, but do our minds not develop at a much younger age. Personally, I feel that in the years of high school (ages 14-18) our minds go against the norm of society, and we begin to progress through society into adulthood. Readiness for personal freedom comes much before the age of 21. Many of us are ready at the ages of 16 to drive and accept the responsibility of transporting others, therefore how are we not ready to accept the laws and regulations of the commonwealth? Readiness is a growing theme throughout the centuries. For instance, when cell phones first came out, only our parent’s had them, now our 10 years old little brothers and sisters are texting their thumbs off. Maybe it is a generational issue, but I feel that even in the days of Locke, young philosophers as himself were ready for this personal freedom far before the age of 21.

I feel that parental power ends at the point we show a readiness to go against our parent’s beliefs and form our own political opinions. At this point we are ready for our own personal freedom, and ready to become part of the commonwealth in order to better the society.

5 Comments
  1. gustavusarborus permalink
    October 19, 2010 5:46 PM

    A difference in opinion may perhaps be to small of a criteria to define an emergence into adulthood. Locke speaks to something like this at the end of section 75 of Chapter 6 of his Second Treatise of Government. About children: “The government (their fathers’ authority) they had been under during it, continued still to be more their protection than restraint:” If the relationship between parent and child is that of a government, a differently-opinioned teenager could be seen as being a member of the loyal opposition. Though many college students move away from home and are considered legal adults and “independent” in their living, many still receive protection from their parents in the form of things like tuition or rent. And since college is the first extensive period away from home for many students, it could hardly be said that they are prepared for what they face if they have never seen its like before.

    Indeed, the post above could be perceived to address two wholly separate questions. One, perhaps the more tangential of the pair, is that of what constitutes true adulthood. The other is what adulthood means in terms of the state and commonwealth. While the latter may declare an 18-year-old a legal adult, able to make their own decisions and be held fully accountable to the laws, most 18-year-olds in this country are still under the practical governance of their parents. While they may have more responsibilities and greater freedoms, they are simply further along the spectrum and not freed entirely from obligation to their parents despite what the state might say. Parental protections, financial or otherwise, still create obligation for the child until such time as they may exist wholly without their parents.

    Indeed, the state itself acknowledges a graduated form of adulthood. At 16 most states acknowledge a teen’s capability to follow traffic laws and ordinances, but would still be tried as minors for other legal violations. The age of legal sexual consent varies hugely across the United States from 14 to 18. At 18, though a person may be legally an adult and subject to all the rights and responsibilities of our commonwealth, it is still perfectly legal to deny them the right to purchase alcohol, rent a car, or even get the same insurance rate as an older person. And while cell phone owners become younger and younger, their readiness to own such a device is still judged by their parents and paid for by their parents.

    In short, there is no rigid line to be crossed from minority into adulthood. While the majority of responsibilities may be assumed at 18, there are still many that those teens are unprepared for both mentally and financially. While an arbitrary age may suit the legal needs of the state, even graduated as it commonly is, true adulthood is less a question of throwing off parental authority than it is of relieving oneself of the burden of obligation to parental authority.

  2. Dani Weinberg permalink
    October 20, 2010 12:22 AM

    I think there is a difference between when we are ready to mentally and physically participate in the commonwealth and when we are ready to free ourselves of the attachments to our parents and enter true adulthood, and thus a different age should be assigned to each of these milestones. I can honestly say that I was ready to vote at 16 and participate and learn about political life. And I have always felt bound by the rules and regulations of our society. However, at 19, I am still not ready to take on all of my bills and all of the responsibilities that come with being truly independent in society.

    Also, the age of emerging adulthood has, I think, regressed with our generation. In past generations, our ancestors were married off at the ripe age of 16 and had to start life as an adult – while today, most sixteen-year-olds are still in high school. People had to start acting as “adults” and taking on the responsibilities of adulthood at younger ages in the past because that was what society dictated. But I believe that in today’s world, those of us in our late teens and early twenties are still being coddled by our parents and are thus not ready to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood until much later.

  3. mattwax permalink
    October 20, 2010 11:39 AM

    Although this happens to be a very engaging argument, I do find myself agreeing with “gustavusarborus.” The transformation from child/teenager to adult does not conform to any sort of standard. It is a very gradual process that starts from the earliest of ages. At the age of ten you have more independance and responsibility than a two year old. I would again agree with “gustavusarborus” in that eighteen provides us with a useful cutoff for legal purposes but it certainly does not relate to the individuals readiness to “be an adult.” That term is entirely subjective and furthermore each individual matures at different rates. For the most part students are dependant upon their parents well after college as they are still in the transition phase where guidance and financial support is still sought. So all in all I would have to say the question is very interesting in that it has sparked this debate, but there just remains no true answer due to the extreme variance in individuals and furthermore the lack of clarity as to what really constitutes adulthood.

  4. jbrasspolsci permalink
    October 22, 2010 10:13 AM

    Growing up is inevitable. In the beginning your whole world is no bigger than a sphere of few black and white feet around your crib with the sole influences of hunger and sleep. As the sphere expands new influences affect your behavior, with food you start to develop senses, your body strengthens, you learn to walk and acquire knowledge. Your brain and mind develops faster than it ever will again in your life. Very soon you are bringing the toys that influence you most into the enlarged world of your school for show and tell. Then you’re taking spelling tests, writing five page papers come right around the corner, and before you know it elementary school graduation comes and goes and you are an adolescent entering high school. At this point, you are still young and naïve, although the outside world looms larger everyday, as does it influences both good and bad. Some of us tend to follow in others footsteps during high school, influenced in the wrong ways, not yet ready to come to terms with maturity because of a lack of ability to stand up for oneself. These characteristics do not classify an individual as an adult. However, there are those that are thrown headfirst into adulthood during their high school life, ready or not, usually as a result of personal/family circumstances. Regardless of circumstance, during high school we are all given the chance to step up. At one rather mundane level we are allowed to see R rated movies at seventeen years old without our parents. Much more importantly, we have the legal right to hold a driving license and bear the substantial responsibility that comes with it. This does not define whether a seventeen year old is an adult in Locke’s meaning. However, these are times that test and, hopefully, teach young immature individuals the standards of what it takes to be an adult. Driving a car, and not only being responsible for your own life, but, taking the lives of others in your own hands should be a big step towards maturity. It should teach you what it means to be mature; you don’t blast music when driving as it can distract you, there is no shoving ten kids in your back seat, and especially no driving under any type of harmful influence after leaving a high school party. Even though these are all situations teenagers are confronted with, dealing with these situations and learning to make the correct decisions is what separates those that are on the right track to adulthood and those that are not. We are not yet adults, although we have some of their responsibilities: break the law we go to prison not juvenile detention; we can choose to die for our country without being allowed to have a beer. Our hormones create awful conflicts in our body, our dreams are lived in an adult world while our real life is stuck living under our parent(s) roof reluctantly obeying their rules, or not. We are ‘The Inbetweeners’.
    As an Inbetweener there are too many things to learn to be considered an adult. This is the time when kids make their meaningful mistakes. Many get in trouble with the law or at school, but, many are maturing rapidly enough for the implications of their misdeeds to resonate and to learn from what they did wrong. Learning from their mistakes is crucial; ensuring that this is not how one behaves when part of the commonwealth. In the commonwealth, there is no mom or dad to bail you out. This is why kids are considered kids during their teenage years so they can make these type of mistakes and learn from them. Even at the age of twenty-one, a very memorable age in one’s life, it is possible that a person may not be ready to be released into the commonwealth. If the person’s priorities are not straight, and they do not know what it takes to be an adult and balance their twenty-one year old life with responsibility, by no means should they be considered an adult.
    As you can read from my argument, I believe there is no specific age that by definition means one is automatically an adult. Therefore, I do disagree with Locke’s statement that twenty-one is the age at which one is considered an adult. However, I do agree with his idea of readiness being associated with adulthood. The way we think as an individual is shaped throughout the entire time up until we transform into an adult, and only our individual actions dictate that transformation. Different cultures and different countries create different influences upon their teenagers that can speed up or slow down this process. The key factor though of being an adult, irrespective of where you might come from, is not just being able to think as an individual, but to support yourself, draw upon your experiences, think wisely, know right from wrong, act with principals and morals and behave responsibly and with respect by treating those around us with equality and giving them the benefit of the doubt. As soon as we act in these ways we will have transitioned into an adult; whatever that age may be. It is irrelevant whether the law, or Locke for that matter, claims we are an adult at twenty-one, it is only when a person recognizes these types of characteristics in themselves that they are ready to become part of the commonwealth and, as it said in the article, “better society.”

  5. Will Butler permalink
    October 22, 2010 9:37 PM

    I saw this situation as well when reading Locke. My biggest concern is that in our modern government, we identify an age of consent (18), yet we give exceptions to this (i.e. the drinking age). I think for the most consistent and successful government, we should identify one age of consent in which all decisions apply.

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