By the time this article will be published, my 18th birthday will have come and gone. I am proportionately excited since this event marks a significant milestone in my life as I graduate from adolescence to adulthood.
Or at least, that is what my 18th birthday is supposed to be. However, I am having a difficult time wrapping my head around the concept that in just a few days, I will be able to do things I was unable to only a day prior.
Turning 18 comes with many new opportunities. As a legal adult, any 18-year-old can move away from home, apply for loans, vote in elections, buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, and get tattoos. All these privileges come to us simply because, on a date 18 years prior, we were born. But of course! That’s how aging works.
How old someone is seems so very important to our society. Sixteen to drive. Eighteen to vote. Twenty-one to drink. Twenty-five to rent a car. Thirty-five to become president.
Age is a defining feature of every individual, which to me seems odd. I will not become a different person on the date of my 18th birthday. I will gain no sudden wisdom with which I can make all the adult choices being thrust upon me as college looms ever closer. I will be the same person on my birthday that I am today. So why am I suddenly able to do so many things I was previously barred from?
I may not be an adult just yet, but I believe I have learned a fair bit about the world in my brief respite upon it. Wisdom is not proportional to age, wisdom is proportional to experience; though many people confuse the two.
While it is true that experience often comes with time, this is not always the case. For example, I am currently taking a class centered around preparing high school students to attend college. In this class, my teacher loves to refer to “the real world” as though we are not currently living in it. According to her, no one does your laundry, no one cooks you dinner, no one wakes you up in the morning, no one tells you to do your homework, no one pays your bills and no one cleans your room for you in “the real world.”
While all this is true, no one does that in my world, either. Many students in my class comment that they don’t know how to do laundry or how to pay their bills themselves, but I have been doing all of those things for a long time. And this is where the difference between age and experience is most clear.
There are many students in that class who are older than me, and it may seem that I have more experience than those individuals because of my independence, but that is not the case. Everyone in the class grew up in a different environment to each other. Not a single person has had identical experiences, meaning each person possesses varying levels of knowledge and wisdom pertaining to different aspects of life.
So how, if true maturity comes from experience rather than time, can we justify age as a common denominator for legal independence?
I can’t know for sure, but I assume it is for the sake of convenience. There is no feasible way to efficiently measure how mature or wise a person is. Someone’s age is easy to classify and easy to determine, so it becomes the deciding factor of legal maturity.
Not every 18-year-old is prepared for the burden of adulthood, but then, neither are some 20-year-olds, or even 30-year-olds. On the opposite spectrum, some young people are incredibly capable individuals who, if given the opportunity, could function in adult life long before they reach the elusive 18 required years.
In short, a person’s age does not necessarily dictate their level of capability, wisdom and maturity; only personal experience can.
I can rest assured that when I wake on my 18th birthday, I will be the same person I am today.
SARAH CAMP is a senior at La Salle-Peru High School. To contact her, email Assistant Editor Julie Barichello at firstname.lastname@example.org.