I was fifteen when I got my driver’s permit. At the time, I was so terribly excited, a freshman in high school and ready to prove I was an adult and responsible enough to drive a 5500 lb Ford Expedition unsupervised. In just over a year, that’s what I was doing — a sixteen year old wielding enough force to tow a boat…or crush a pedestrian, or break some other driver’s neck in an accident. The idea is frightening, especially as I look to my younger sister who intends to get her learner’s permit in just a few months. I still help her with her math homework on factoring, and she is almost ready to drive a car? It makes me anxious just thinking about it, what if she hurts someone or someone hurts her? I fear for her safety but know that it’s a necessary step towards her becoming an adult and will do my best to guide her along the way.
Not only do Americans drive at an early age though, many of us are making serious decisions about intimacy in relationships as well. Teens can consent to sex in the United States as early as sixteen. Whether or not we horny teenagers fully realized it, this means taking on the responsibility of dealing with a potential life altering STD, or the repercussions of an unintended pregnancy.
If a teen gets pregnant as a minor, in 21 of our 50 states, that teen cannot have an abortion without parental approval. Devoid of either this or a judicial bypass, the law can effectively force the teen to carry their child to full term. Even if teen decides to have a baby, it’s crazy to think that someone at the age of 16 or even 19 can willingly make the decision alter their life forever by having a child of their own. They would, while still barely more than a child themselves, have the responsibility of feeding a child, providing healthcare for a child, giving emotional support and stability to a child, etc. Yet this is a relatively commonplace affair; I personally knew five people who were pregnant and intending on keeping their baby. Many of these girls were marrying their high school sweethearts and already starting their lives as adults.
My issue is not specifically that we allow our teenagers to drive too soon or that Americans teens have too much sexual freedom, but rather the baffling polarity of when we give our young adults responsibility when it comes to these issues versus alcohol or even marijuana. For some reason, the U.S. has a higher drinking age than almost any other first world countries. While we are considered legal adults at 18 in most states, somehow we are still unqualified to make the choice to have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer with friends until 21. American teens can be legally coerced into giving birth to children, make the decision to get married, and drive a potentially lethal weapon of a vehicle, all by the age of 18. Somehow though, we are not allowed to purchase a beer on a Friday evening. The reality of the situation is humorous in its absurdity.