OPINION: Legally Speaking, Age (and Maturity) Is More Than Just a Number
So…what’s “legal” in New Hampshire? That depends.
Now I freely admit that I grew up in a time when many issues were a lot more cut and dry. Some of that was due to the laws that were in place, some of it was based on the prevailing social mores of the day and some was just on accepted common sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a poster child for testing parental and educational boundaries. But, I’d always run back across that “line” before serious consequences occurred or, I got caught. Using my life experiences as a benchmark, I’ve been surprised to see the disparity in age restrictions that have been assigned to certain activities in New Hampshire.
You have to be:
- 21 to drink;
- 18 to buy a lottery scratch ticket;
- 13 to marry (soon to be changed to 16);
- 18 to get tattoos;
- 15½ to drive (accompanied by a licensed adult);
- 18 to buy tobacco products;
- 17 to enlist in the military (with parental permission), 18 without;
- 18 to go to a tanning salon.
And now, HB 1532, which “prohibits gender reassignment surgery on persons under the age of 18 years” was defeated by a vote of 164-162. That means that irreversible transgender surgery can be performed on minors, barring a defeat in the New Hampshire Senate.
So, at what age can mature decisions be made?
An article in Mental Health Daily addresses the question.
“The fact that our brains aren’t developed until the mid-20s means that 'legal adults' (those age 18+) are allowed to make adult decisions without fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-20s in part due to lack of experience but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain. All behaviors and experiences you endure until the age of 25 have potential to impact your developing brain.
"Although brain development is subject to significant individual variation, most experts suggest that the brain is fully developed by age 25. For some people, brain development may be complete prior to age 25, while for others it may end after age 25. The mid-20s or '25' is just an average age given as checkpoint for when the brain has likely become mature."
The article goes on to state that despite a "logical" decision that peole ages 18-25 are mature the brain still continues to develop.
"When you’re 18, you’re roughly halfway through the entire stage of development. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at 25."
Because of this growth, some people continue to struggle with impulsive decision making and setting plans to reach goals.
I fully support and encourage parental rights and involvement with decision-making and cringe at the thought of a nanny-state mentality, micro-managing our children. And I understand that due to the advent in technology and information, our children may be maturing at a faster rate than we did in some ways.
However, I submit that there is a place for developing more consistent age limits for activities. Of course there will be exceptions, and there are people who live to point out those exceptions in the hopes that it will invalidate the overall observations because “their children are different." Those are the same people who consider a stop sign merely a suggestion while the rest of us consider it a common-sense law of safety.
If I’ve offended you with these questions and observations, I apologize. If I made you think, then your prefrontal cortex is developed and functioning well. I just want our kids to live long enough, without regrettable choices to be able to say the same thing.