When is someone an adult?

I’m 46 years old, and I still feel like a child inside. Mostly, I don’t feel any different inside than I did when I was 16. I’m even going through hormonal things again … Most of the time I make pretty rational and smart decisions, but not always … Sometimes I make rash decisions, impulsive ones (especially at art auctions or in the presence of chocolate), I even make dangerous ones (like not always wearing my seatbelt). But, by most all measures, I am an adult and need to pay the consequences for my decisions … good and bad. I have the right to make those stupid, rash, and impulsive decisions, because of my birthdate. The Chinese, I was told, consider a person a “youth” until they are 40 years old. So even in China … I’m old enough.

But when does one become “of age” in America? In some traditions it’s sweet sixteen or the quinceanera, the bar mitzvah or marriage.

My daughter is 17 and living 431 miles away. For most of her decisions … she’s on her own. Dwayne and I prepared her for this all of her life … beginning with making decisions over which clothes to wear or which cereal to eat. For us, the right of passage, was high school graduation and the decision to go away to college. We, her parents, decided (with her, of course) that she was ready … ready to make day to day decisions on her own. And, in a few more months, she’ll be able to make decisions that effect our politics and government … she’ll have the right and privilege to vote in this year’s election.

OK .. so college years are often a “half-way house” into adulthood. She makes all of her day to day decisions, but we are still paying tuition/room and board, and she seeks our advice on the big decisions (like whether or not to live off campus next semester). It’s supposed to be a fairly safe place to put the finishing touches on “growing up.” Of course, we all know … we have no safe places, we cannot guarantee anyone’s security or safety … life is risky. .. but I’m getting off track …

Here’s where I’m going … the Texas State Senate passed a bill today which would ban smoking until the age of 19.

So, when does one become “of age” and able to make responsible or rash decisions for oneself? 17 to appear in traffic court without a parent; 14-16 to be tried as an adult in court; 18 to sign legal documents, serve in the armed forces, and vote; 17 to decide to join the armed forces; 18 to marry (without parental permission) and make medical decisions for yourself; 21 to drink alcohol and gamble (and even to check into some hotels); 25 to rent a car, but 16 to drive one. 35 to run for president. Oh, and how old does one have to be to be a parent?

I understand trying to save young people from harmful decisions … smoking, let’s face it, is a bad habit. But, if it’s bad for 19 year olds, isn’t it also bad for 29 year olds? It makes much more sense to me to put a ban on how old one has to be to parent a child, than to smoke a cigarette or cigar.

We need to educate and prepare men and women to make informed choices about drinking, smoking, having sex, being a parent, getting married, signing contracts, investing money, using credit cards, driving a car, buying a handgun, playing the lottery, joining the army and/or voting in the next election. If we can’t agree on an age … how about an event like high school graduation or entering the job market? And if something is a “bad choice” for all 18 or 19 year olds … maybe we need to ban it completely?

Ugh … all of this, because is some ways, I just feel like a child today.