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The generation that doesn't want to grow up

PUBLISHED: 09:26 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 09 February 2018

Old to enough to drink, old enough to fight, old enough to vote - so is it time for our adolescents to really grow up?

Old to enough to drink, old enough to fight, old enough to vote - so is it time for our adolescents to really grow up?

Archant

Do adolescents want to be adults - or children, asks Sharon Griffiths.

Peter Pan lives - and is probably still waiting for Wendy to sew a button on for him.

Adolescence, said a report last week, now lasts until about 24, maybe later. We all know plenty of 20- somethings who are hardly safe to be let out on their own. (And in fairness, plenty of 30, 40- and 60-somethings too.) Meanwhile, there’s a campaign for 16 year olds to have the vote, as they already do in Scotland.

Confused? We all are.

For more than 40 years now, people have been considered adults at 18 – old enough to vote, marry, get drunk, fight in a war and max out a credit card on things they don’t need.

For many earlier generations the age of reason was meant to be 21. Has human nature changed so much? Probably not.

Yet at the same time, we seem to be keeping youngsters younger for longer. The school leaving age has gone up from 15 to 18, fewer teenagers are in work, more adult children still live at home and the average age for marriage has gone up from 24 to 31 – an age when previous generations were almost grandparents.

When we’re all living longer and the pension age is galloping upwards this s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out life makes some sort of sense. If we have much longer lives then growing up can easily take a bigger chunk of those extra years. But not if we’re trying to keep our teenagers safe and protected and at the same time giving them adult responsibilities.

By the time they were 16, most of our grandparents had been working for a couple of years. They’d learned how to cope with the adult world and had plenty of experience – many of parenthood and providing for a family. But they didn’t get into debt or a mess with money because the law simply didn’t allow it. Potential problem solved.

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson lived alone in a council flat with his sister when he was 14 and she was 17. He started work at 15 and was married and a father at 18 – and still had to wait until he was 21 before he could vote or borrow money. And he’s turned out all right.

Nelson went to sea at twelve and was commanding his own ship at 20 – an age when these days many parents don’t even trust their sons to do their own washing.

University students are legally adults, forced by the government to borrow vast sums of money for their education. Yet many parents still want to be told by the university when their adult children aren’t working hard or are ill. We can’t have it both ways.

We have to make our minds up. If children really are adults at 16 or 18, then they must be ready, with a bit of support, of course, to be responsible for their own lives. We mustn’t fuss over our adult children but just let them get on with it and learn from their mistakes.

And if they’re not ready for that responsibility maybe we should put the voting age back up again to 21, or 25, or maybe even thirty.

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