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Lane: The age of adulthood

BY JOE LANE | MARCH 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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I’ll never forget the day after I got my driver’s permit. I started to pull out of the parking lot after baseball practice and, as I did, I lightly bumped the curb of the median between the entrance and the exit; panicked, I slammed on (what I thought was) the brake and shot over the median. Scared and embarrassed, I shifted into reverse and flew back off the median — afraid to accidentally hit the gas again — I shifted into park rather than hitting the breaks. I was 15 and in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, I was adult enough to drive an automobile.

While I eventually did learn how to drive, at least well enough to get my license, that is, I’ll never forget the lingering thought from that day: Am I ready for this?

Nearly four years later, I find myself asking a similar question. When do I really become an adult?

In the eyes of the Jewish community in which I was raised, I became an adult at the tender age of 13; in the eyes of the Motor Vehicle Department of Minnesota, I was pretty much an adult at age 15 and completely an adult by 16; in the eyes of the film industry, I became an adult at 17; whereas in the eyes of the tobacco industry and the voting laws of the United States, I became an adult at age 18; according to alcohol laws, Vegas, and car-rental companies, however, I’ve got a few years yet to go.

It seems to me that the United States is having an age-of-adulthood crisis.

Some of the age restrictions applied to young adults around the country are reasonable, based on my own experience. For example, as the year following my 15th birthday progressed, I became more comfortable driving, and by the time my 16th birthday came around I felt road-ready.

However, there are plenty of national age restrictions that feel far too arbitrary. For example, the dozens of R-rated movies I had seen by my 17th birthday, with very few adverse effects, speak for themselves in terms of my adulthood when it comes to viewing mature content in a theater.

What is it about turning 21 that prepares me to gamble and to handle alcohol? Most of the people I have met who are 21 are basically as mature as their 20-year-old counterparts, except for the fact that they have an added sense of entitlement that comes with the ability to purchase and consume alcohol, legally.

According to NPR, 80 percent of college students admit to drinking. The same article also claims that a recent paper published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs says about the debate over lowering the drinking age: “case closed.” Its study argues that the national minimum drinking age of 21 saves lives. Period.

The paper also addresses the common argument in regards to lowering the drinking age of how well European countries with drinking ages of 18 or lower handle alcohol consumption, stating that this model is simply a working part of European culture and that this wouldn’t be the case in the United States.

So perhaps the drinking age debate really is over, which is just fine — I’ve got no problem waiting until I’m 21 to purchase alcohol. I’m asking for one thing: I just need someone to tell me when I’m an adult.


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