Every day that I have the presence of mind to remember it, I am so grateful and so excited and so relieved to be a legal adult. I can associate with whoever I like, with no fear that I will bond with them only to be barred from seeing them later. I can read any book I like. I have access to the whole internet, the glorious internet—I don’t stay up at night agonizing over personal worries or ideologically important empirical questions that could be resolved with a simple google search. I can keep in touch with long-distance friends without anyone reading my messages (besides zuck), so a friend moving away is no longer a devastating loss of intimacy. My medical information is now confidential, and if I need to see a doctor, no non-medical personnel will be present without my consent. If I have a concern, the doctor typically responds by giving me information related to that concern rather than empty reassurances. In many different situations I am now presumed to be at least somewhat rational and interested in information rather than empty comfort.
I don’t struggle to make people see my ideas as serious. Some people think my ideas are bad, some good, but they typically engage with the content of what I say. When people listen to me talk about serious topics, I am not called cute, and people don’t say “we’ve got a future president on our hands!” or otherwise explicitly condescend to me while ignoring the content of what I’m saying. When I disagree with someone on an important and interesting topic, what I say is never dismissed out of hand as rebelliousness, and they cannot forcibly confine me to my bedroom or physically attack me in retribution.
I cannot be legally confined to my house or school without cause—if I don’t want to be somewhere, I can leave. No one can prevent me from using the toilet when I need to.
If a piece of clothing is intolerably uncomfortable or hurts me, I can throw it away and get a replacement within a day or two, if that’s important to me. If I know that an unnecessary-seeming thing is actually crucial to my comfort, I can get it.
I have no relationships where “obedience” is considered a virtue. I have no relationships that I did not choose and that I am not allowed to break off.
I can have sex if I want to. I can’t be prevented from ever being alone with people I might want to have sex with.
If I want a job, I can apply to one, opening up a whole world of purpose and fulfillment. I am not unilaterally prevented from doing anything that allows me to build up wealth or contribute value to society in an official way. If my potential is being wasted, it’s not because there’s a rock-solid legal barrier which explicitly singles out people like me and shuts off every avenue available to them all at once—there are lots of ways I can try to remedy the situation.
I can vote. No one has access to my bank account but me. I have private possessions. If someone steals something valuable of mine, the courts will probably treat it as a theft.
If someone hits me, God forbid, I am now legally permitted to attempt to leave them.
This wasn’t the case for most of my life. It wasn’t even the case for most of the span of my lifetime during which I was more or less the same person I am now.
Not all of these items will be relatable to everyone, but some of them do apply to everyone who was raised in the US, whether you were fortunate enough not to have noticed, or otherwise.
Not all of these items are in the same category. Some of them are legal injustices, some are cultural, some maybe are just sort of circumstantial. This post shouldn’t be interpreted as implying four-year-olds should be treated like adults. This isn’t a policy proposal but an exercise in gratefulness and righteous anger and not forgetting the people who don’t have the things you take for granted.
With that said, many of these items point to things which are considered basic human rights, crucial for living a full life in a democracy. I cherish these rights. I’ve lived most of my life without them, and it was terrible, and I’m still baffled as to why that isn’t a major political problem. If you see these rights as crucial now, why don’t you see them as crucial for fourteen-year-olds?
Like women once were, many children and young adults are conditioned into accepting their lack of basic rights. Many of them are also unable to speak up and demand their rights for fear of punishment. Don’t think that makes their rights any less important.
Tommy Crow is a UW Madison economics graduate, philosophy club founder and speaker, and proud former teenage runaway. She writes about religion, youth rights, and academic philosophy at medium.com/@tommycrow.
This essay was originally posted on Tommy’s Facebook feed.