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Grant Bosse: The Unified Theory of Adulthood

March 12. 2018 6:47PM

WHEN DO WE stop being children, and start being adults?

The most common age of majority is 18, but we draw the line at different ages for different purposes.

You can get a driver’s license at 16, if you take Driver’s Ed.

The Legislature is working on a bill to raise the age at which a child can get married, with parental and court permission, from 13 for girls and 14 for boys up to 16.

You can vote, join the Marines, and buy a rifle at age 18. But you can’t buy a beer until you turn 21.

There was a push earlier this year to raise the age at which you can use tobacco from 18 to 21. The New Hampshire Senate tabled that bill.

Florida recently barred adults younger than 21 from purchasing firearms, and several retailers have announced they will stop selling guns to people under age 21. Licensed firearms dealers are already barred from selling handguns to people age 18-20.

One of the most popular provisions of Obamacare allows parents to keep their “children” on their insurance policies up to age 26.

There’s also a movement to lower the voting age to 16.

Columnist Jonah Goldberg last week wrote in USA Today about the folly of delegating our political will to children. He offered the rather obvious fact “that young people are not, as a group, better informed, wiser, smarter or even more enlightened than older people.”

I would argue that we are in fact taking longer to grow up than previous generations. We are stretching adolescence to the brink of 30, while simultaneously pretending that teenagers hold some special wisdom that grown-ups have forgotten.

Perhaps it is time to erase all of these arbitrary age lines, and set a single standard for adulthood. 18. 21. Pick a number. That’s when all of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood would kick in.

If you can drink and smoke, you can vote. If you’re old enough to enlist, you’re old enough to handle a firearm. And if you want to be treated as an adult, you can get a job and buy your own health insurance.

Maybe we should abandon this one-size-fits-all concept of adulthood. There are 14-year-olds mature enough to make informed political decisions, and 40-year-olds who can’t be trusted with car keys and a bottle of whiskey. Age is just a number. Let’s get rid of this outdated calendar-based definition of adulthood and move to a competency-based system.

In “Starship Troopers,” author Robert Heinlein envisioned a society in which citizenship was a reward for military service. Sure, Heinlein was warning of the dangers of militarism, but we have to take new ideas where we can get them.

Some gun controllers want to require gun safety training before your Second Amendment rights kick in, like Driver’s Ed, but for self-defense. Why not extend this simple concept to other aspects of adulthood?

After you take your driving test and qualify as a marksman for rifle and pistol, you would go through a battery of tests to see if you have earned adulthood. Think of it as collecting merit badges, but for basic civil rights.

I’m sure there would be a robust debate over what skills one should master before moving from childhood to adulthood. I’d suggest a few:

Change a flat tire. And a lightbulb. And the batteries in a smoke detector.

Grill a steak to medium-rare.

Cook an omelette. (I’d settle for scrambling eggs without overcooking them.)

Name 70 percent of the state capitals correctly.

Name 67 percent of the branches of the U.S government correctly.

Name 50 percent of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation correctly.

Take the tests as often as you need to. Once you pass them all: Congratulations! You’re an adult. You can smoke and drink and vote to your heart’s content.

If you don’t want to go through all of that hassle, you can stay a child as long as you’d like. We’ll make all of your decisions for you.

Hopefully, the New Hampshire Legislature can put “Peter Pan’s Amendment” on the ballot this fall.


Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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