By: Elizabeth Klein
How great a difference do two days make? More often than not, it’s insignificant. However, for two days in the eighteenth year of a person’s lifetime, the difference means everything. Within these two days, a line is drawn, separating two completely unique worlds; each with their own accepted behaviors, responsibilities, life roles, and understandings.
Those two days are the day before your eighteenth birthday and the day of your eighteenth birthday.
For some reason, everything changes when a person turns eighteen. It’s reasonable to have a distinction between the transition from a minor to an adult, but this transition only legally occurs on a person’s eighteenth birthday. Becoming an adult is a process that takes time; it doesn’t just happen overnight. There are plenty of high school freshman who are years beyond their age, and there are even more college students who are years below. A person does not become mature when they turn eighteen, just as a person is not only mature after they turn eighteen. The only literal thing that changes on a person’s eighteenth birthday is their age. They’re one year older.
However, as a society, we are selective with the way we treat our teenagers. We act like they’re kids all the way up until eighteen, then suddenly they’re legal adults. But nobody completely makes the change. We assert that teens are supposed to be both mature and childlike at the same time, and this situation doesn’t just apply to the ones who can vote. Teenagers everywhere are simultaneously told to grow up and enjoy their youth. They’re told to prepare for their future and to hold onto their childhood. They’re told to act their age, but what does that mean if society has conflicting understandings of the definition of “teen”?
At eighteen, you can be a part of the military and still have to ask for a bathroom pass in school. You can sue and be sued but still get yelled at by your teacher for talking during class. You can buy a shotgun but still get punished for coming home too late.
The problem is that we pick and choose the responsibilities we project on teens. Using eighteen as a point of reference for their teenage years, we decide how their behaviors should either model or contrast an adult’s. Obviously, everyone has a lot to learn before they’re ready to set off on their own, and everyone matures at a different rate. But treating teenagers as children and adults at the same time can only confuse them as to what will be expected of them in college and their future careers. We don’t need to make growing up any harder than it already is by complicating their life roles.
We’ve all either been or are teens. We know the struggles they endure as they try to navigate the stresses of high school while also finding out who they are. We can’t stretch them into two personalities until they’re eighteen only to then send them off into the world expecting them to succeed. If we care about our teenagers as much as we say we do, we need to start treating them like who they are. They’re daughters. They’re sons. They’re students, athletes, test-takers, college applicants, workers, volunteers, role models—frankly, they’re stressed. They’re just people trying their best to transition between childhood and adulthood.