Monday, September 03, 2018

Appropriate Ages

I have seen culture changes in what are considered appropriate ages. When I was young the voting age was 21 - as it should be - as was the drinking age. The driving age of 16 is left over from the era of farm vehicles and having to get to a job.  Rolling hotel rooms wasn't the original plan, and they still aren't good drivers. 18 would be better. People married younger.  I knew people who married right out of high school, but that is rarer now. Relatedly, among those not going to college there were two sharp divisions.  You either moved out of the house and struck on your own fairly soon after HS graduation, or you lived with your parents until you married. If the latter, you were expected to be contributing financially to the household.  This was not always seen as "paying rent," but as "being an adult in the household."  I had a few  friends who turned over their paychecks to their mothers every Thursday until about a year before they married, at which point they were allowed to save for that new life. Yet there were many who got their own room or apartment at 19 or so, expected by their families to be self-supporting.

There are now stories of parents being reported to the police or DCYF for letting their children go to the park unsupervised. I have seen more than one where the child in question was as old as 11.  Not only in my era, but into my children's era, 12-year-olds, especially girls, would be hired to babysit younger children. 11 and 12 are very close numbers. I walked through the city to the library or the Y when I was 6, and would take off on my bike with friends on a Saturday morning for hours when I was 9.  No one thought this unusual. I don't know that it was better. I doubt I learned much about good judgment from it. Some resourcefulness, perhaps. Yet also the downside of being young with a broken bicycle miles from home was also the message of how alone and unprotected one is in the world.  Get used to it.  Not sure that really is a positive. But point being, it was universally believed that a group of ten-year-olds was old enough to pack lunches and go exploring, so long as certain forbidden areas were avoided. Be back by dinner.

There was a case in some southern state in the 1980's that pro-choice activists used for fundraising, when there were attempts to mandate parental consent for abortion for girls under 18 (or 16?). While the law in that state made provision for a girl to go before a judge for permission if her parents were abusive or otherwise dangerous to her, in one particular case a 14-year-old with horrible parents had gone before a judge but was denied permission.  This was part of the true-believer, foxhole friend, Toxoplasma of Rage insistence that there would be no compromise, none, though there was enormous public support for the idea at the time. Okay, a lot happens in maturity between 11 and 14, but a lot of that is physical and more appearance than emotional.  14 isn't that far from 11, to be able to say "This one can't go to the park alone, but in three years she can consent to sexual relations in many European countries (and don't even ask about Africa), and should be able to independently consent to an abortion.

Related in a vague way.  Conservatives sometimes make the accusation that some women seek abortions because they don't want the "inconvenience" of a child because of their careers, or just don't want to be responsible for adult actions.  This may be so.  In fact, I am sure that it is so in some cases. But I think there is an additional reason that is seldom mentioned.  I confess this interpretation may be terribly dated at this point. When I was in dating ages, girls/women made efforts to hide the fact that they were sexually active - from their parents, even from their friends, and they were absolutely sure it was nobody's damn business in the general public. Being visibly pregnant made that part of her private life public.  I doubt that is a huge motivator among 28-year-olds these days. But I'll bet it's still an issue for those under 20. More importantly from a political POV, 60-year-old women remember when it was important to them at age 17 that it was nobody's business what they were up to, and how necessary it seemed, for their friends and themselves, to keep that last escape hatch open. The complaint that women are being forced to have children, while logically ridiculous despite Handmaid's Tale and just like rape rhetoric, is more likely to have its root in those early days of secrecy being all. Visible pregnancy is forcing a girl/woman to out herself as sexually active.

I don't discount the other motives.  I just add that one in.


Christopher B said...

Voting before you can drink alcohol does seem especially incongruous, and probably should be the reverse but would require a Constitutional amendment now.

The lower driving age makes sense in rural areas. Less traffic and more need for mobility. Also the licenses are now, for the most part, restricted based on time of day and number of non-family passengers for the first two years.

Looking at the area I live in now compared to the rural area I grew up in, and the small city where my son was young, I'm struck by the sheer lack of places to play that aren't somebody's backyard. A 600+ house development with no park/playground, and none in walking distance.

Donna B. said...

Oh AVI, it's sad when we start the "When I was young" stories, isn't it? I also had a lot of freedom to roam when I was a kid. My grandchildren, not so much. What freedom they do get is due to Gizmo watches. Parents can check their location and they can make or receive calls or texts to or from pre-approved individuals on these nifty devices. These came in quite handy the first week of school when the bus routes and the bus tracking devices were messed up.

I just learned that my 11 year old granddaughter won't be allowed to sit in the front seat until she is 13, even though she is already taller than many adult women. I don't think this is a law, but I decided many moons ago to not interfere (mostly...) with how my daughters raise their children, so I only asked how she was going to learn to drive and navigate if she couldn't sit up front. And then the darling granddaughter said, "Oh, I already know the right words to say."

Things change, but sarcasm is forever.

james said...

I think you may be onto something there about motives. Status is big. And so "privacy" was extended into one of the most unprivate aspects of human life.

HMS Defiant said...

I only write here infrequently so, I'll be long winded.
You just described the experience we both shared growing up 50 years ago. I grew up as an Army brat and we lived all over the US. We lived on and off post and there was an enormous difference between the two.
The life you described is the one middle class kids enjoyed back then. I'm pretty sure our experience had no relationship to how our peers in the lower class and urban ghettos were raised.

For Chris B: what you find incongruous I find ridiculous. Remember 3 things all were a man's when he turned 18. He was allowed to drink, to vote and to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. Then the government changed the rule and used highway funds to force all states to knuckle under and raise the drinking age to 21. 18 year old men could still be drafted or volunteer to fight for their country but not to drink in their country. Kind of silly when you think about it.

I was just commenting to the wife that we drove from far east of Cleveland, through Cleveland and as far Bay Village west of Cleveland today when the schools were closed due to heat and I didn't see a single kid out playing in any of the scores of parks we passed. I saw none riding bikes. In fact the only ones I saw were with family down on the lake shore with their family's. When I was young you could not pass through a neighborhood without seeing them everywhere. Now they're all on their devices or up to something else, out of sight. When my daughter was little it was only when we didn't see her and heard nothing that were attuned to danger. Somebody was probably using a crayon on the wall or fingerpainting the table cloth.

Donna B. said...

re: being sexually active and "outing" of such

My experiences just don't fit with what you describe. Cultural differences from eastern to western? Perhaps, and consider the part of the west where I was influenced quite a bit by Catholic and Mormon teachings. Cultural differences due to class? Perhaps. I'm female... most likely explanation. I was 20 when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973. Birth control pills became available in 1960. The issue wasn't so much whether access to abortion would keep sexual activity invisible, but whether access to birth control pills would. Neither were particularly "healthy" for teenaged girls. I think we can see a bit of this same controversy in the recommendation of the HIV vaccine. I just don't think it has anything at all to do with secrecy. It was then, and still is now, about morals... and "whose child is this"?

Then again, we may be talking about the same thing but using different words.

Knucklehead said...


It was the same for us growing up. It was a time of no (or at least unaffordable) A/C so screened windows and doors were open. We ran around on bikes or chasing balls all summer (and most of the rest of the year). Everyone knew one another in a way that is not possible in this day when all doors and windows are closed tight most of the time and few people sit outside on "the stoop".

In those olden times, it was the absence of noise that prickled mothers ears and led them to wonder what we were up to. A quick call to another mom "up the block" would normally tell them all was well, we just happened to be out of earshot. But once in a while moms would go scouting for us and when that happened we were often quiet because we were up to something we preferred the moms weren't aware of.

I suspect it was better then, when people at least had some idea who their neighbors were and what sort of people they were. Everyone knew which families fought and so on, because raised voices carried around the neighborhood.

Texan99 said...

What I remember from my youth was mostly a childish aversion to facing consequences. People were always trying to persuade me that being sexually active had consequences and that there were good reasons for the elaborate and arcane social restrictions on sex, but I distrusted them as I distrusted nearly everything adults told me. Most of these ideas, after all, barely held up to light scrutiny: there were like hearing that "nice girls wear corsets."

But pregnancy was a consequence that was awfully hard to ignore. Back then, I never really heard of anyone who managed to contract a venereal disease, so that wasn't particularly on the radar. The idea of one's peers knowing one to be sexually active didn't figure very heavily, except in the sense that responsible adults would be likely to embark on lecture mode. Peers gradually began to assume everyone was sexually active, and in fact you were somewhat exposed to ostracism otherwise, an uncool geek who probably just couldn't find a partner.

We were not even remotely adult enough to consider that sex leads to pregnancy and that an adult (male or female) responds to pregnancy by acknowledging the duty to take care of a young, defenseless human creature. That would have struck us all as tiresome hectoring by old fogies. We didn't have enough empathy to think of ourselves in the (recent and in some ways ongoing) role as defenseless creatures who needed a lot of inconvenient and expensive support. My social group were neither particularly calloused nor particularly "woke," as I recall, just young and heedless and selfish in the ordinary way.

Armed Texan said...

I am raising my children to be adults; not my dependents or my friends or to keep them forever immature and stunted in adult bodies but people who will have as much of the skills and knowledge as they can before their first crisis as an adult occurs.

Having said that, if there were some reliable test for adulthood, I would prefer we had that test and anyone regardless of age could be considered an adult for all legal purposes (voting, drinking, military, emancipation, &c) if they have proven to have the faculties of an adult.

Since we do not have such a test, I prefer that we set one age of majority for all legal purposes. We can negotiate on whether that is 16, 18, 21, or 26 (or whatever age the millennials have obtained plus one year), but at that age you have all the legal rights and responsibilities of an adult. It is asinine that someone can legally star in pornography but cannot legally drink away the shame. It is idiotic that we allow people to vote who are exempt from having financial responsibility for their health care.