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Teen rights: the adult perspective


This article is not intended to present the one and only solution or viewpoint about teen rights, or the only adult perspective on the topic. It is intended to act as a catalyst for open discussion and communication between adults and their teens. It is food for thought for the community at-large.

Few adults can forget that they too had their forms of rebellion during their teens years and that their parents were many times frustrated and critical of the ways they acted and thought. Most felt as teens do today, they knew everything they needed to know in order to make good choices and even knew more than their parents because they were "with it" and up to date on current events.Most of these adults also look back across the years and admit they were naive and foolish. Yet there remains a paradox when it comes to teen rights and responsibilities. Our expectations for youth do not always match our actions toward them or our interactions with them. We often treat teens like children but ask them to act like adults. There is a similar paradox for teens, too. They want the security of childhood with the autonomy of adulthood, which means they want adults to take care of them, but they also want to explore. Therein lies the problem, many teens don't want to be told what to do but if it goes badly they want help making it right, but adults want it right in the first place to avoid their teens being injured, hurt or killed. 

Time Magazine, May 10, 2004 "Secrets of the Teen Brain" explored scientific research showing this to be true; the teen brain is not fully developed and therefore not fully capable of rational, stable decision making. The brain itself is not stable.,16641,20040510,00.html 

Researcher Dr. Jay Geidd looked not only at the hormonal changes that take place during the teen years, but postulated that the brain underwent actual structural changes at this time as well. He questioned how the brain developed from childhood into adulthood. Prior to this significant research most believed that the brain was fully developed by age twelve, the average age of puberty. Historically, puberty was the age at which many youth went to work, learned a trade, and in some cases married and started families. At puberty the body becomes ready for reproduction, but this research showed that the mind is not mature. This is significant when discussing teen driving, drinking, and other initiations into adulthood that teens look forward to experiencing. The teen is swimming in a broiling sea of change with hormones affecting their emotions, the cortex affecting decisions and judgment, and melatonin affecting their sleep habits. It's a cocktail for trouble. 


The question remains, should there be stricter laws for teen driving? Adults want their children to be safe, and realizing that judgment is impaired because of changes in the brain and body chemicals most adults agree that supervision is necessary and teen driving should have strict limitations. Add to these internal changes, more vehicles on the road, texting, cellphone use, alcohol, drugs, and distraction from passengers, no wonder parents are concerned. Yet, we allow teens with immature brains to vote and join the military. Perhaps the difference is that voting is physically safe for our youth, and when they join the military they undergo rigorous training and most decisions are made for them in the form of orders. When teens drive alone, they are loose on the roads while handling a three thousand pound moving projectile called the automobile.

All of these things are serious issues for consideration and should be openly talked about in families with teens. Perhaps we rely too much on the legal system to make decisions we should be making in our own homes. Regardless, they need discussion. While brain science may show that brain functions develop over time, it is likewise true that learning responsibility happens over time, through experience and teaching within in the family beginning at an early age. Dialog is key to solving these problems.

For more info: To learn some of the laws regarding teens check out this new website


  • Simon 5 years ago

    I am British and my wife is American. We have often disagreed about the drinking age. I used to think, let them drink when younger and learn to drink responsibly so they don't learn to drink at 21 (in theory) and away from home!

    When I grew up I began drinking at home around 13 or 14 with the odd small glass of wine on special occasions. When I was 15 I was allowed to drink wine or beer mixed with English lemonade (think Seven Up) called shandy with meals in a pub and was drinking at meals at home for special occasions. Alcohol was never drunk unless with a meal. When I was sixteen I could order soft drinks at the bar and I think at 17 I could get alcohol for adults if they were visible and gave the permission. I was buying and drinking at 18, but drinking by then was something that was a responsible activity. I had learned to drink in a society that teaches (usually) responsible drinking. And there lies the difference between Europe and America.