In more primitive societies, the age of consent was lower of necessity because people didn’t live very long and had to have lots of children within a short life-span in order to ensure society’s survival (given that most of them would die before reaching adulthood). Such societies accordingly defined adulthood by the age at which it became possible to procreate. Today’s America is not such a society. We live in a complex society that requires a high level of education and provides a lengthy lifespan for most. We accordingly opt to define adulthood by levels of brain development instead of by one’s ability to procreate. The old definitions of adulthood are comparatively barbaric and oppressive. Currently, 18 is considered the legal age of adulthood in this country. By that point, one is free to legally live on their own, to vote, to join the military, to drive, to smoke, and so on. But does this still make sense in view of recent studies revealing that brain development in reality isn’t concluded until around age 25.
The linked story indicates that neuroscience has discovered that 18-year-olds are actually only in the latter stages of puberty, and that, until their brains reach full maturity, they tend to be distinctly more impulsive than those of us on the other side of 25 because their brains haven’t yet fully developed the ability to control their responses to stimuli. In other words, 18-year-olds tend to be, of nature, less self-controlled and more subject to peer pressure than 25-year-olds. 25 is the age at which the the typical brain has fully developed these functions. This explains a lot of things, like why younger “adults” are statistically more likely than any other age group to wind up in car accidents or criminal activity for example: because they’re still in puberty, yet given the leeway of fully matured adults to to act on their own.
Child psychologists in the UK are indeed now already officially considering people children until age 25. They argue that adolescence comprises three stages rather than the previously understood two, including an early period of 12-14 years of age, a middle period of 15-17 years of age, and what they call late adolescence from 18 years of age to 25. The latter period was previously considered part of adulthood.
In view of this, my new thinking is actually that we should probably extend the legal definition of childhood to cover those under 25 or so. I believe this means it would be appropriate for us to move the legal age at which one may apply for a driver’s license, for example, to a higher age. It also means that we should probably standardize college education, making it free and compulsory for the entire population, as an extension of the growing-up experience. The latter part is important not only for the protection of the youth, but also is in the economic best interests of society as a whole today, I’m convinced. Let’s get real: increasingly, everyone needs a college education today. One can’t realistically get a decent career right out of high school anymore. One needs a degree more and more. That’s why today 85% of the youth go to college. It wasn’t anywhere near that overwhelming a majority just a decade or two ago. As far as leaving home and becoming independent goes, that too seems to be spontaneously on its way out for the college-age crowd. Today we see that the average American remains at home living with parents until age 23 and rising anyway…or, in other words, until they’re done with college or have dropped out. Those are some of the implications in my mind as to what we should do as a society going forward concerning the official definition of childhood, but there are also many other sweeping implications. If we recognize that one is still ultimately a child previous to age 25, then this implies that, for example, the overwhelming majority of pornography is child pornography because the sex industry is dependent on the exploitation of children for its existence and that militaries are intrinsically exploitative because they depend on the use of children as their cannon fodder given that actual adults rarely apply. It also explains why drug companies and drug dealers, statistically speaking, have to hook you before you graduate college or they never will. The implications are quite significant, in other words. Anyway, this is where things are already headed spontaneously. I think it’s time for our laws to better reflect both our developmental and economic realities.