Birthday Cake / Omer Wazir / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
I’ve always looked forward to my birthdays as a kid. I viewed 13 as the start of being a teenager, and a sweet sixteen was something that always fascinated me in the movies.
However, 18 was different for me. I thought I was excited to be an adult, but then reality hit.
I was no longer a kid.
I’m recognized as an adult in the eyes of the federal government. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 22.4% of the American population is under the age of 18.
Even though I’m technically no longer a member of that 22.4%, I still feel like I shouldn’t be part of the adult world. Being 18 means growing up and becoming a mature adult, and honestly, I’m not sure if I can miraculously mature in the span of one day.
How can I be an adult when I have no clue how?
We’ve been taught a lot of things in school that will “help us in the future,” but none of it directly applies to what we have to know in order to succeed in adult life. I’ve been in school since I was five, and the harsh truth is that I’ll have no idea what to do with my life the second I move out.
Finding the derivative of a function won’t magically help me understand how to file my tax returns and I can’t use my new eligibility to sign a lease if I don’t know how to. Going into adulthood with barely any knowledge of how my parents handle their responsibilities and obligations to the rest of society is truly concerning.
I had two times growing up where I truly felt I was independent for the first time. One was when I was allowed to stay home alone for the first time. My parents trusted that I wouldn’t burn the house down and that I could take care of myself. However, I got a horrible feeling in my gut as soon as they left the house; was I really ready for it?
But everything turned out okay. My parents trusted me more than I trusted myself and maybe that’s something that applies to me today; I may not think that I’m ready to be an adult, but others may view it differently.
The peak of my independence as a child was when I got my driver’s license and a paying job at 16. All parents are different, but as soon as I passed my drivers’ test, my parents had almost no control over what I did. I could leave my house whenever I wanted to as long as I was home by 11 p.m. and I felt like I was an adult for the first time. With my job, I was able to go out for dinner and buy new clothes without asking my parents for money.
I was granted the freedom that I always dreamed about as a kid, and I was more than ready to take it.
I wish it was that easy when I turned 18. I didn’t experience the thrill of driving alone for the first time like I did when I was 16, and I didn’t get that horrible feeling in my gut like I did when I spent my first night alone in my house.
I felt completely normal like nothing had changed, but in reality, I unwrapped a whole new list of responsibilities that I don’t know how to handle. I’m expected to know how to approach these new responsibilities with the mentality of an adult while being stuck in an environment where freshmen boys throw grapes at each other, which doesn’t help when trying to be more mature.
But we do get a bunch of new privileges thrown at us when we turn 18 that we didn’t have before. We can fulfill our dream of skydiving in Kenya after watching it on “The Amazing Race,” get those cute tattoos that we’ve had pinned on our Pinterest boards since sixth grade, and the extra piercing that our parents always forbade us to get.
We also have the legal right to give consent, which gives us more control over our bodies and make us more accountable for our own decisions.
I always wondered why older generations had the right to vote and make decisions that would affect the younger generations at a greater extent than it would affect them. As I watched the political landscape of the U.S. drastically change over the span of my childhood, I knew that we would be left in a completely different political climate than our parents did when we they were our age.
According to Pew Research Center, 52% of Americans say that they’ve paid more attention to politics since the 2016 election. We are entering an era where our voices are more valuable than ever, and at 18, we have access to the most powerful form of political participation: we can vote!
Although we have the right to vote, we still end up as the age group with the lowest voter turnout. According to the Census Bureau, only 46.1% of registered voters from ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 election, whereas citizens 65 and older had a turnout of 70.9%. We hold rallies, advocate for policy, and get outraged at our government in every way possible, yet we fail to use our basic right to vote.
The most effective way to initiate change is to vote for what you believe in. Being 18 means that you have to start preparing yourself to go into adulthood, and one major responsibility that we have to society is to use our voices to make our country one that we want to be proud of.
I always had this fantasy as a kid on how life would be like when I turned 18: everything was put together perfectly. I’m not anywhere close to where I envisioned myself to be; I lack motivation, spend half of my time stressing out about things I have to get done, reduce time playing the sport I love because of schoolwork and college applications, and look like a raccoon most of the time.
How in the world am I supposed to call myself an adult if I can’t handle the stresses of having a job, being a student-athlete, and being a senior in high school? But maybe that’s what’s needed to prepare myself for adulthood: I just have to learn how to deal with it.
Being merely called an adult on paper doesn’t make us adults in real life. We have the perception that all adults are super mature and know what they’re doing, but in reality, I don’t think it’s like that. Life is a learning experience, and the adults that I look up to are people that have decades of more life experience than I do.
Adults seem like they know what they’re doing because they’ve been doing it for a long time, and I have no doubt that I’ll be like that one day too, even if it takes a while to get there.
This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on November 3, 2019.