There are conversations - as well as blood curdling screaming matches - over rules,
consequences, responsibility and growing up, happening daily between parents and their teens, that inevitably end with the same statement:
“Well, when you turn 18, you’ll be an adult and you can do whatever the h*ll you want!”
Now, maybe the cursing part only happens in my house...and I’m cool with that, but regardless, some version of this belief has become standard argument ammo in a majority of American households. And it’s probably one of the biggest causes of teenaged rebellion ever!
I was struck by the destructive potential of this statement recently while in a discussion with my own teen son. The words came out of my mouth and then - as if in a parallel universe - I envisioned my child in 2 short years, on his 18th birthday, “doing whatever he wanted”...and then I threw up a little.
Why? you may ask.
Well it’s because I realized two things in that moment; 1) That the myth of the 18th birthday is just that, a MYTH! Our children no more turn into adults on that day, then they turn into butterflies! which leads to #2) If left to his own devices in only 2 years, my home would be a Call of Duty playing, frozen pizza eatin’, dirty clothes wearing, late night party hosting wasteland.
In reality, there is no way I am going to tolerate my child breaking my rules, let alone going out on his own, just because he turns one year older. So why in the world do we even say these things to our kids when we know damn well they’re totally untrue?
I believe it’s because, telling our kids that they will be able to make their own decisions once their 18 is basically a bribe to get them to cooperate with us through the most rebellious years of their life - without us killing them.
But what we are really doing is showing them a light at the end of a tunnel which, we as parents, know full well they will not be able to handle. It’s like we’re flipping our kids the bird while thinking “OK! You think you’re so smart? Just wait until I can legally toss your but out...then you’ll appreciate how awesome I am! “
And then, in most cases, we’re disappointed in them when they fail...
The truth is, we know darn well that our kids don’t suddenly inherit all the wisdom, responsibility and maturity of the ages when they blow out those 18 candles. They don’t experience some kind of Vulcan mind meld where we download into them all they will ever need to know to survive and thrive on their own in the cold, cruel world (which we have been sheltering them from for the first and only years of their life) In fact, on our child’s 18th birthday, the only thing they “become” is, well, 18! They are still a teenager.
All the science, research and studies, tell us that they, neurologically, will not possess the thought processes, logic and reasoning skills of an adult for another 5-7 years! Yet we set in their head, that once they cross over that magical numerical barrier...they will be our equals, able to conquer the world and be allowed to live life on their terms, no restrictions, no holds barred.
But I’m betting the majority of us will not accept our children “throwing reality to the wind” and abandoning all that we stand for and have taught them up to this age. We aren't going to allow them to treat us as peers any more than we are going to accept them as ours. We are NOT ok with our children dismissing our rules at 18 any more than when they did it at 14, or 16 or 17 3/4.
Because deep down, we all know that an 18 year old child is just that, a child. NOT an adult, just a more experienced teenager.
So here’s my suggestion Parent Nation; Stop using the “18th birthday ammo” in your arguments. If you really want your child to follow your rules while they are in your house, don’t give them an unrealistic deadline as to when they will be allowed to abandon them.
If you know your child is not ready to make it on their own - either by their own immaturity or a result of years of over protection - then stop telling them the story that on the night of their 18th birthday, some kind of “Maturity Fairy” is going to come and bestow upon them everything they need to fly from your nest and live independently ever after...especially if they haven’t even grown feathers yet.