When parents question their kids “why you did such a thing,” the response they receive is usually “because I’m old enough.”
But how old is old enough? Is age, a representation of how many years one has spent on Earth, really a credible source when assessing the capability of doing something and being held accountable for it? While legally set age limits are a helpful guideline, the real factor always lies within teenagers themselves. Capability comes with experience and maturity, not age.
Indeed, there is a reason for existing age limits and their discrepancies. In the U.S., drinking alcohol is allowed after 21 years old, obtaining a driver’s license is 16 (for most states), serving in the military is 18 (for most states). It makes sense because different areas of the brain develop at various times – regions in charge of logic and reasoning mature by the age of 16 while those responsible for self-regulation are still developing. However, taking a deeper look into neuroscience raises more complications.
Scientists found that human brains develop and mature later than the time previously believed. The prefrontal region, which is essential for anticipating and assessing risks and consequences of actions and controlling impulse, still change during young adulthood. Some regions do not fully mature until one’s mid-20s. Moreover, individuals’ bodies and brains develop differently in distinct environments. Researchers have also noticed that while kids are gaining higher I.Q. compared to those at the same age of previous generations, their maturity is decreasing due to their parents’ over-protection and too much exposure to T.V. and cell phones. Teenagers nowadays are more unprepared for real life and less comfortable with building relationships by themselves in new social groups.
The ambiguity on the proper “age” for doing something illuminates the inadequacy of relying on it as a benchmark. But even if the age limits are more accurate than most people believe, age itself should still not be an indicator of one’s capability. Although age shows the number of years one has been gaining experience and body growth, each individual goes through different events, responds differently, and reflects on it differently afterward. A number cannot measure such discrepancies. It is normal to see an 18-year-old doing something a 15-year-old would not do. Some students in China earn a Bachelor degree at the age of 18 – but does that mean they have just become an adult? Is it safe to say that they are definitely more mature than their peers who just started college? The answer depends on what these students did during that three or four years of education. “Old enough” is never a convincing evidence – the things one did and learned during those “ages” speak for themselves.
The emphasis on age as a number nowadays overshadows its real meaning. The 18-year-old celebration is meant not for finally being “legal,” but for all the experience and maturity one should have gained before then. Birthdays are for honoring the amount of growth one has achieved over the span of a year. The real significance of “old enough” lies in one’s ability to make educated decisions without personal bias, control impulses calmly, and take responsibilities and consequences frankly.
And when someone achieves these abilities, “how old” will no longer matter as much.