Adolescence is a time in life that we would all just love to go back to, right? “No, no way!” is how most of us would respond! Adolescence is when we’re not “children” anymore; but we’re also not adults. Bodies, minds and emotions are developing. We’re more than children, almost adults. Adolescents begin questioning parents’ authority, seek more freedom, and believe they should be treated more like adults. …and they are. Parents expect them to be more responsible, make good decisions regarding behavior, school requirements, choice of friends, and how they spend their time.
Youth are becoming “young adults” with some of the freedom and responsibilities of their parents and other adults. But there are limits on what young adults are allowed to do on their own.
They drive themselves to school activities, a job, and relieve parents from “chauffeur-duties.” But they can’t buy a car, register it, or buy insurance on their own.
They can usually be trusted to be at home alone, even overnight when their parents may be gone. But they cannot leave home without their parents’ permission. Doing so risks police arrest for being a “runaway.”
Youth under 18 cannot buy alcohol or cigarettes. Most states and the federal government require parents’ or legal guardians’ signatures for persons under 18 to purchase firearms; to open bank and savings accounts, credit cards, loans, and similar financial transactions; to get health insurance; physician, medical, and hospital care; and to enter into marriage, or join the military.
We place many restrictions on young adults. Why all these restrictions? They seem to be physically capable of doing these “adult activities.” Being “adult” and “responsible” requires more, doesn’t it? Our laws, regulations, and requirements indicate that we believe young adults are not sufficiently emotionally and mentally mature to be given the same rights and responsibilities as adults over 18.
Inconsistent Laws & Justice Policies
Laws and policies of state and federal governments acted on the same beliefs about the differences between kids and adults—until the 1980s and 1990s. Did kids all of a sudden become more mature? No. No changes in adolescent maturity or development.
What did change was lawmakers’ attitudes and beliefs about youth crime and the proper responses to those crimes. Until the 1970s juvenile offenders were tried under laws and courts that took account of the differences between youth and adults. Today we have more than 10,000 juvenile offenders incarcerated in adult jails and prisons (according to the Equal Justice initiative).
So what’s the problem? What’s the point? Those kids must have done a serious crime to be in there, right? The problem is our inconsistency in how we treat youthful offenders compared with how we hold youth responsible for all other behavior and activities. This inconsistency bears further examination and discussion. Stay tuned!