Caldwell: Defining adulthood might help younger generations

Published 9:37 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

We all know someone who has been on this earth several decades and still needs to grow up, maybe in part because American culture remains somewhat wishy washy as to what exactly constitutes adulthood.

You can drive a car at 16, in most cases. You can vote, buy a gun, get married and join the military at 18. Things like renting a car, playing in the NBA and running for some elected offices have their own age limits. You cannot legally purchase or drink alcohol until you turn 21 and a new initiative by the American Lung Association is urging lawmakers to make that the restriction for buying cigarettes, too.

So when are we truly adults, responsible for our own decisions and able to accept the consequences?

Email newsletter signup

We need some consistency because this ambiguity sends the wrong message and creates a lack of accountability.

Operating a motor vehicle is one of the most dangerous things we can do, for both the driver and our communities. Yet, we essentially let children do so.

If 18 is the adulthood threshold, then it should encompass all rights and responsibilities. If you can make the ultimate sacrifice for your country then you should be able to have a beer or smoke a cigarette, although I am not condoning either.

Maybe that is too young and we should use 21 as the universal age. Or 25. Or whatever age we feel gives us time to understand what it means.

There will always be those who refuse to grow up, but it is time to adopt one age that will classify us as adults. Then the next step will be educate our youth as to exactly what this means and what responsibilities come with the territory.

Regardless of the age we choose to signify “adulthood,” people will make mistakes and struggle with always making smart decisions. Thinking about this reminded me of the Billy Joel song “You’re Only Human (Second Wind).”

“You better believe there will be times in your life when you’ll be feeling like a stumbling fool. So take it from me you’ll learn more from you accidents than anything you could ever learn at school,” Joel sang.

“… You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes but they’re the only things that you can truly call your own.”

That will be the case, regardless of if we make the threshold 18, 21 or 41.

We are only human, but it wouldn’t hurt to clearly define when we are supposed to become an adult version.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at