Friday, August 10, 2012

The Importance of Arbitrary Age Restrictions

Have you ever looked at a bottle of alcohol and thought to yourself "does it really matter that I'm a few days belong the legal drinking limit?" Many people do. After all, it's just a few days. You won't be any more developed to handle that alcohol in a few more days, you won't be any more responsible, you won't have changed at all. There is virtually no difference between you at age 17 years and 362 days and 18 years (or 20 years and 362 days and 21 if you live in America or any other place with a high drinking age).

So why not just break the law? Well... if you start thinking of it as "I'm only a few days younger... what's the difference?" then what's the difference between those few days and an extra few days? 360 is barely different from 362! But well 360 isn't so bad, so why not just 358? 354? 350? A week or two won't make any difference. Like a morbidly obese people who gives in to temptation to take that one cupcake out of a dozen, you're quickly on a slippery slope to having eaten all of them.

The truth is that this cut off of 18 (or 21) for drinking is arbitrary. What makes an 18 year old the best age for becoming an adult and doing things? I was 18 once. There was a party and then I got up the next day and did the same thing I did every day. I certainly feel like an adult and that seems to be a common thing for people. I'm 20 and still telling myself "you're an adult now, be responsible." But we all look at the age 18 for being an adult (let's move away from drinking because I don't want to keep saying (and 21), besides, this applies to other activities like sex or voting) and go "yeah, that's a good age. That age makes sense." Why though? 18 is still a teenager and teenagers are irresponsible idiots. Even the smart ones. If you don't think this is true, you're still a teenager. Just wait until you grow up and you'll look at teenagers and go "...surely I wasn't like that." No. No you were and you have to live with that.

We like the age 18 become we grew up as a culture with that number. Other cultures have different numbers and to us that seems strange, but the situation is the same from their side We're conditioned to believe that this is what adulthood is. Adulthood can be something completely different. It doesn't even need to be a number, it could be a thing earned after a specific task to prove you can be more than just a child.

Though the number itself is arbitrary it is not pointless. Alcohol is poison that damages the body and if you give it to someone young it can have a negative effect on their development. Of course being 18 doesn't mean alcohol is fine for you and you won't have any bad side effects, but your liver will be better developed for dealing with that alcohol. But surely a 21 year old would be better at handling alcohol? Surely a 22 year old... surely a 23 year old...

The same problem in reverse. But every body is different so what applies to one person at age 18 won't be the same for someone else.

Now we have this arbitrary number. Can we change it? No. Unlikely. Imagine being the age group that the age gets changed on... You're approaching your 18th, you're excited, you're finally going to be an adult with all the cool things adulthood brings (this individual is pretty naive) and then... Adulthood is now 19. Your friend, who is one year older than you, is now an adult for 2 years before you get to be one. People would get mad. People wouldn't understand why it changed because 18 was a fine number for them. It's always been 18! Even though the line is arbitrary and if you were to change it slightly it wouldn't matter... so why not do that?

You see, the line doesn't need to be perfectly justified and the best possible option, because that's ridiculous to try and get, varies, and is subject to debate. The line just needs to exist. We need a cut off age and stick to it otherwise you're just stretching at it further and further thinking "well it's not that much different..." until it's just ridiculous.

So just deal with it really. Waiting a few days won't kill you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well I can't really say that i understand the point of your post beyond "its a few days...just deal"
I do think however that you hit on something when you mentioned that other countries have different measures of adulthood, and I would argue that there are far better measures of adulthood than an arbitrary number. For most things that come with an age restriction there is a reason, that reason is an expectation that sufficient maturity will have been reached by that age to handle the action in question, be it drinking, smoking, driving or voting. But that is a flawed mode of thinking. As anyone can tell you maturity is extremely variable between people, and therefore assigning an age, rather than a level of maturity leads you to failing on both fronts. Those who are mature enough to vote at 16 cannot and those who are not yet mature enough at 24 to drink are free to. It is senseless and results in very few benefits and a fair amount of harm. It would be far better to place maturity restrictions on adult-only activities. If someone under 18 wants to get married they must prove that they have full understanding of the implication of marriage and be assessed by an objective person (generally a judge) and be granted permission by their parent or guardian. Why can we not employ the same methodology to other adult-only activities? A highly responsible and mature 20 year old should be allowed to have a glass of wine while out to dinner with family, whereas the 24 year old 3 time DUI offender should have his access to alcohol restricted until he matures. We should have many adult activities governed by a licensing system where you go through a process of education, assessment and certification before being allowed access to that activity. Imagine if young people had to get get a liquor license the way that they get driver's licenses! Mandatory alcohol education class, followed by assessment of knowledge and responsible decision making ability, and then a liquor license could be granted to those who demonstrate that they are informed and mature enough to handle drinking. Those who are not must continue to wait and retest until they pass. Your could also pair this with far harsher sentences for those who commit crimes involving alcohol. Much the same could be done for young voting and other age restricted activities (although everyone must be allowed to vote after 18 weather of not they are mature enough to understand the issues and consequences of their vote). Anyway that's my two cents.