18: Age of Understanding

The truth behind the start of adulthood

Katina Patterson, Lead Designer

The age 18 is synonymous with adulthood: after all, it is when teenagers legally become adults. For many growing up, the age 18 feels like a milestone moment that is equal parts far away and therefore incomprehensible, as well as electrifying in its largeness. As a child, I could never quite picture or understand what turning 18 would be like; it was a moment that felt so far away. I could only think of it as a vague and blurry moment where I would somehow, in some way, feel like an adult. Like a jolt of lightning striking the ground and lighting the midnight sky with a white flash of light, adulthood would suddenly strike me, everything would click, and I’d step into my new self with all the suredness of an adult. Now, as I stand on the edge of my 18th birthday, with the fated day just weeks away, the mystical nature of the age 18 has ebbed and been replaced with a more pragmatic outlook. Quite frankly, is turning 18 all that it’s cracked up to be?

“It ¨signifies” somehow knowing how to be a productive member of society by the time you’re hardly an adult,” shared Alaina Mueller (‘22) when asked what the age 18 really means. “There is a lot of pressure among teens in late adolescence to somehow have everything worked out by then” explained Mueller (‘22). Alisha Saeed (‘22) agrees: “There’s a lot of hype in our society when it comes to turning 18.” However, despite the unrealistic expectations about turning 18, it is also undeniable that the age does arrive with some new and meritable changes. “To me the age 18 is synonymous with freedom – not necessarily in regards to everything, as I am under my parent’s care, but more so acknowledging the possible freedom and choice given to us under the law”, shares Saeed (‘22). Malena Weber (‘22) also points out that turning 18 does come with one specific legal right: “I think being able to vote is an important part [of turning 18].” 

Childhood expectations for turning 18 tend to be lofty and thrilling. Saeed (‘22) reveals that, “As a child, I always thought of 18 as a lifetime away, symbolizing when I would be allowed to make my own choices – and would be smart enough to do so!” However, the viewpoint of high school seniors who are approaching 18 or have recently turned 18 seem to be far more down to earth. Mueller (‘22), who has not yet turned 18, revealed her perspective on the matter: “I haven’t turned 18 yet but I don’t feel very different about it. It’s a part of life.” Saeed (‘22) agrees: “I don’t feel so old even as the number of 18 looms near – and I definitely still do as my parents say as I’m still pretty inexperienced regarding the real world.” Weber (‘22), who has already turned 18, echoed similar sentiments: “It feels the same. It was exciting, but nothing changed in what I was able to do.” She points out, however, that, “it would have been different if it were an election year, because my birthday would have come in time for the November elections”. 

The age 18 is emblematic of adulthood, but when approaching the landmark age, adulthood does not seem much closer. Is 18 really the age of becoming an adult? After all, the brain does not stop fully developing until age 25. Weber and Saeed shared their thoughts on the topic. “I don’t know if there’s a set age [for becoming an adult],” Weber (‘22) mused. Saeed (‘22) believes that “it depends on the person. As a 17 year old, I don’t feel like an adult, [and] I don’t feel that another six months (until I turn 18) will really change how I feel”. Although 18 is the age of becoming a legal adult, the age for becoming a true adult, in mind and spirit, is less concrete and ever shifting. 

Despite the seemingly misleading grand illusions enshrouding the landmark year, Weber (‘22), Saeed (‘22), and Mueller (‘22) all agree that turning 18 is still a milestone moment. “I would say it is a milestone birthday simply because it is the day a minor is now considered an adult,” explained Saeed (‘22). Mueller (‘22) and Weber (‘22) emphasized how 18 year olds do have more legal rights, such as the right to vote. However, Mueller (‘22) and Saeed (‘22) also pointed out that life is full of other milestone birthdays: Saeed (‘22) listed her 16th birthday as particularly influential, as she was finally able to drive. 

If nothing else, one’s 18th birthday is a special day to spend with friends and family and celebrate an important day in your life. Weber (‘22) revealed a heartwarming moment of her 18th birthday: “I thought about hosting a party, but ended up too busy to do so. But some of my friends surprised me with a party!! I was super touched and had a great time”. Mueller (‘22) described her ideal birthday as one where she will “celebrate with a nice home cooked meal”. Saeed (‘22) shared that she wishes to spend the day celebrating with family and friends. 

So, ultimately, what advice do those who have just turned 18 or are on the brink of turning 18 have for a younger audience about getting older and turning 18? Mueller (‘22) puts it frankly: “Turning 18 isn’t that big of a deal, really.” She further advises her younger peers to “Focus on yourself and your studies and try to find out what makes you the happiest. Having good morals [and] study habits will help you later in life”, with Saeed (‘22) and Weber (‘22) agreeing with her advice. 

Ultimately, turning 18 isn’t as cosmic and grand of a moment as is commonly perceived. Turning 18 doesn’t automatically mean that you’re an adult who has got life all figured out. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a special milestone moment. While it may not feel very different, turning 18 still means that you are legally an adult: this may not feel quite as thrilling as one would imagine, but is still something inherently exciting in nature. Your 18th birthday also occurs during a milestone year of your life, where you are ending the formative years of your education and starting a new chapter. But turning 18 comes with more than just that. For many, turning 18 comes with the understanding that truly becoming an adult and growing as a person is an ever constant process unattached to one specific day or age. The day you turn 18 is a unique passage of time where you pause to stand still in the strange sandbar between the lagoon that is childhood and adolescence, and you take in the glittering and mystifying sea that is (perceived) adulthood. You take a snapshot and savor the moment: you recognize all the moments that are behind you and all that are before you. You give yourself the grace to recognize that growth as a person is an ever constant process throughout life. 18 is the age of understanding.