There are lots of things we trust 16 year olds to do. Drive cars. Be lifeguards. Work the late shift at McDonald’s. Fly airplanes. Use public transit. Make their own medical decisions. Have sex. Get married. 16 year olds are perfectly capable of handling this responsibility, and often more. They are on the brink of adulthood, intelligent, capable and sensible, when required. We do not allow them to drink alcohol, vote or enlist in the military. We don’t allow them many of the privileges that come with official adulthood, which transpires the day they turn 18, and not before.
What is magical about 18? In Canada, 18 year olds can drink alcohol, legally, at least in Quebec. In the other provinces, the legal drinking age is 19, although all children can drink alcohol under the supervision of their own parents. In the US, the legal drinking age is 21.
Here’s the rationale for that limit, from the Center for Disease Control Factsheet:
Drinking by those below the age of 21 is strongly linked with:
• Death from alcohol poisoning.
• Unintentional injuries, such as car crashes, falls, burns, and drowning.
• Suicide and violence, such as fighting and sexual assault.
• Changes in brain development.
• School performance problems, such as higher absenteeism and poor or failing grades.
• Alcohol dependence later in life.
• Other risk behaviors such as smoking, abuse of other drugs, and risky sexual behaviors.
When young adults are faced with a substance that can create life-altering conditions that require some sober, mature judgement, collectively, they tend to make crappy choices, so the choice is simply denied to them until they are more mature and capable. Collectively, we all agree that people under the age of 21 can’t handle alcohol without killing themselves and lots of other people, too.
Except for the first one, all those things are true for smartphones and social media, too. Kids text and drive and kill themselves and other people, often at astonishing rates! We don’t call for smartphones to be banned or even restricted until such an age that young adults can handle the implications. What’s more dangerous behind the wheel? Doing shots of Jack Daniels, or updating Instagram?
Clearly, we are a bit schizophrenic when it comes to teenagers and the responsibility we are comfortable with meting out to them. I currently have a sixteen year old child, so I know this debate, and the struggle, intimately. We are talking about this at the moment, because the media has decided 16 year olds are brilliant analysts of constitutional amendments and no one is more qualified to parse the intentions of the Founding Fathers of the world’s most successful nation better than kids who also eat Tide Pods and think $300 Supreme Hoodies are a wise choice.
Yeah, okay. Great idea, on one condition: if 16 year olds can vote, then 16 year olds can be drafted.
Old enough to vote? Then you are old enough to die. Voting has consequences, and only the people paying those consequences have a right to choose them. I think we should listen to the voices of young people. We should consider what they think and feel, but thoughts and feelings do not put on boots and march to their deaths.
16 year olds should not vote, unless we are going to draft them., That means only boys should vote, because we can’t draft women at all. Pregnancy will always exempt women from the draft. Repealing an amendment to the constitution is a great way to deal with the issue, I agree.
But it’s not the second you should repeal.
It’s the 19th.
Lots of love,