May 27, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…? “A Modest Proposal”


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “A Modest Proposal” Chapter 95
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams






I’ve been thinking about the variety of rites and passages that we bestow upon our kids as they age out of school, and the rather arbitrariness of some of the stages we’ve settled on to grant them certain entitlements.  Currently, the following are when teenagers (and above) legally gain certain rights and privileges:

16–Driver’s license

16–Consent to sex


18–Buy pornography (do they still sell it?)

18–Join the military

18–Get married

18–Buy cigarettes 

18–Purchase firearms


21–Buy alcohol

21–Purchase marijuana (in legalized states)

25–Rent a car


I’ve always wondered about quite a few of these—for instance the fact that you can fight and die for your country before you’re allowed to even drink a beer; and since the two most recent mass shootings (Buffalo & Uvalde—stay with me here, gun enthusiasts) by 18-year olds with AR-15s who were so itchy to get their hands on high-powered rifles the minute their undeveloped cerebral cortexes told them to (scientists say this part of the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 25–hence the car rental stipulation). 

My proposal is that all of these rights should become yours on your 20th birthday—all at once.  Have a beer and sign up for the Marines.  Rent a car and drive to Vegas for a fun getaway.  Buy a gun and a pack of smokes and go target shooting.  Two decades, you’re 20, congratulations!—you’re an adult in every way now.  Think of all the traffic accidents that would be averted if all those teenagers in clunkers or those awful Tokyo Drift cars, wildly texting away and high on weed, are removed from the roads.  Why do you think their insurance rates are so astronomical?

Now my plan is not without its flaws.  Teens that live off-campus and need to get to college would be penalized.  The age of consent for sex is 16, so telling people they had to wait for that until they’re 20 seems Puritanical and wouldn’t fly (college freshman are notoriously libidinous).  Older siblings driving younger ones to baseball practice have always aided overwrought parents—yes, these are all drawbacks in my hypothesis and represent many of the kinks that would need ironing out.

The 18-year old requirement for the military dates back to the Civil War, when life expectancy was only 40.  61% of the soldiers killed in Vietnam weren’t old enough to drink.  Do you understand the issues well enough to vote at 18 or are you aware enough of your own human fallibility to begin a lifelong habit like smoking?  Some, maybe yes, but most, doubtful.

Would those two shootings I mentioned above just have been postponed for two years?  Possibly, but I’d like to take that gamble—speaking of which…you can go to a casino at 18 but you can’t drink while you’re there?  You can get married and divorced before you can rent a car?  Say you want to be a plumber or electrician after high school…most trade jobs take several years of training and apprenticeships before you’re flying solo, so in this case you could travel with your mentor and that would be fine.  We’re brainstorming here…you know, like the old days when we were all one country and we tried to reach across the aisle and find some common sense and common ground.

I have another proposal to raise the age in which you begin Social Security as the average lifespan is now nearing 80, and another for interest-free college loans (credit advances—not freebies) from the government, but I’ll save those for another day.  It might just be me getting older, but it seems like kids mature at a much slower rate than kids did when I came of age in the 1980’s—I was on my own, working and going to school when I left home at 18.  You couldn’t do that now (pay for the UW on near minimum wage), let alone buy your first house in your 20’s unless you were in the higher-earning brackets.  But late teens/early 20’s kids now seem somewhat indifferent to the lure of their own independence—maybe as a result of less overbearing/more coddling parents than those that existed back then.

There’s a lot to unwrap here and, as always, many angles to offend both young and old, but chew on my 20-Everything proposal and let me know your thoughts.  The piecemeal approach doesn’t seem to be working—for a variety of obvious and horribly tragic reasons.