Raise the Age of Majority to 25

In the United States, you cannot be tried as an adult under the age of 18, unless, of course, you commit an especially egregious crime, in which case they will put aside their qualms about how they treat children and try (and punish) you as an adult. In the U.S., you can generally drive at 16, see an R-rated movie at 17, go off to war at 18, and drink alcoholic beverages at 21. Our society contains a myriad of benchmarks in the transition to adulthood. These include traditions from a hodgepodge of cultures. You might be participate in Manjal Neerattu Vizha after your first menstruation, or in Dvija at about age 12, receive a Believer’s Baptism at age 12 or 13, be expected to observe Sharia at puberty, be confirmed or bar/batmitzvahed at 13, come of age in the Baha’i faith at 15, then enjoy your sweet 16 birthday. I don’t know what happens to you at 14; apparently, that’s your year off.

One thing that all of these practices and laws have in common is that they have no basis in a scientific understanding of the human brain. We now know that the last part of the brain to develop, the prefrontal cortex, does not reach maturity until age 25. The prefrontal cortex is involved in higher-order thinking, such as ethical and moral decision-making. If this part of the brain is not fully there until age 25, how can we hold an 18-year-old completely accountable for her or his actions?

Accountability should gradually increase as children gain the skills associated with the executive functions of their developing brains. Many of the rites of passage that we have inherited are based on sexual maturation. Children can begin to look like adults, and even act superficially like adults before they have completely formed adult brains. I propose that all laws regarding the age of majority be adjusted to reflect our current understanding of the human brain. Especially important are activities involving decisions that directly affect life and death, such as driving a car and participation in war.

“When I was a child, I reasoned as a child… when I reached the age of 25, I became an adult, and put childish ways behind me.”

18 Responses to Raise the Age of Majority to 25

  1. ilene says:

    i do agree this is a worthwhile consideration. it made me think of recent research i have read about the psychology of bystanders, influence of peers, and groupthink. it is clear that even after the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, peers and groups have a huge influence on our choices and actions (one form of this behavior is diffusion of responsibility). considering the fact that 16-25 yr olds spend the majority of time in groups of peers of the same age, who are all operating with brains that are not fully mature, and you get a double whammy. i have tremendous respect for young people, and see them making compassionate and wise decisions often. moving the age of consent to 25 is not to say they are not capable, it is to say their brains are still maturing. if we need to have laws that involve the separation “adult” rights and responsibilities from “juvenile” rights and responsibilities, basing this on science makes sense.


  2. ericesad says:

    It’s easy to forget that children don’t think the way adults do. Parents and teachers can get frustrated when they see a child engaging in some undesirable behavior after they’ve told them not to & explained why. But I don’t see how we can punish people as adults if the part of the brain that’s responsible for decisions of right and wrong isn’t fully developed yet.


  3. ericesad says:

    and you bring up the psychology of bystanders – I’ve been thinking about that since you posted the article on Facebook about the rape that so many people witnessed and apparently a lot of people engaged in. It reminds me of how homeless people can be seen as opportunities to beat someone up – another reason you wouldn’t want to send someone off to war who doesn’t have yet a fully developed sense of morality. Of course, if they had a fully developed sense of morality I would think they would refuse to fight.


  4. wow says:

    Age of majority in QC is 18. I believe people are more responsible there than in USA.
    Wouldn’t mind 2 of what you’re on…!


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  8. Tyler says:

    There are plenty of 18 year olds who know right from wrong, common sense.. and higher order thinking. A large majority are uneducated and can’t think cognitively. Think about this. It won’t make a difference whether they’re 18 or 25 unless they knew what to do to begin with


  9. Dolores says:

    Teens have very little control over their lives. They can’t make healthcare decisions, even when they have the mental ability to decide for themselves. They can’t get a job without their parents’ permission and permission from the state based on a medical exam, if they leave home without their parents’ permission they can be reported as a runaway, returned home against their will and placed in the juvenile system and anything they buy, even with their own money can be taken from them by their parents at any time for any reason. They are forced in to a school system where their significance is diminished and they are forced to become dependent on their parents, who are only required to provide basic needs but make everything else a “privilege.”

    The school system was designed to direct people into 3 different paths: farm; factory; or college. Now that we no longer have the farm and the factory, school prepares us for college. Various features of school were incorporated from the factory including responding to a bell, separate facilities, separate specialized subjects, listening and doing as you are told without question and age segregation that resembles batches of the factory. Why do we learn with people the same age rather than the same interests or abilities? Why is the date of manufacture of the product important? This is why we learn with people the same age. And why should we assume that education should only take place at one stage of a person’s life? Education can take place at any stage of a person’s life, not just the early years.

    Our brains develop throughout life. Even at 70 your brain is still developing because the synopses in your brain reconnect constantly based on your experience, when your 40, your brain will be different at 70, but it doesn’t necessarily make you wiser. Someone who is always angry is different than someone who is always happy.

    So why do teens have immature brains? It’s because we treat them immaturely. Their bodies tell them they are adults so they want to act like adults they want to significantly contribute to society, they want to have sex, have families and leave home but we tell them “you are a child” and we give all the control to the parents. Before the industrial revolution, people got married and had full adult rights at puberty.

    Why not compare the brains of western teens with the brains of teens in pre-industrialized countries such as countries where child labor is prevalent, where people get married young, where teens are living on their own, and you will most likely see a tremendous difference. Let’s say the age of majority was raised to 25, there will be a new brain study saying the brain isn’t fully developed till 30.


  10. John says:

    Also take into account that teens live in a very stimulating period with TV, internet they have a lot of time in front of screens. Yes there is a correlation between age and prefrontal cortex but correlation doesn’t mean causation.


    • EricIndiana says:

      Well, with every other part of physical development I think we would all agree that age does indeed = growth & development. I mean, 3 year olds are generally shorter than 15 year olds, regardless of what they are doing or their environment. The brain is a physical part of the body. I didn’t say that the “mind” or the “personality” is totally age-dependent, but I don’t find any reason to question neuroscientists who observe brain development as a function of age.

      So in a sense, everyone’s right who says that personality develops differently under different circumstances, but there is also a physical development & growth of the brain, just like any other body part, that requires time.


  11. Sarah Wiscz says:

    There is a difference between “developing” and “defective”. There are studies that show the prefrontal cortex atrophies in old people. Should we set a maximum age as well? 18-24 year old brains are not defective and their brains are developed enough to analyze the consequences of their actions and to conceptualizer the future. Teens under 16 don’t have that ability, and that’s why society does not let them marry and make big decisions. However, you can’t make public policy based on this brain study. That is just like asking to lower the age of majority to 14 just because a study published in a scientific paper said so. Would you advocate lowering the age of majority to 14 just because a study said so?


    • EricIndiana says:

      We actually do have laws that disallow elderly people from driving when they lose the cognitive ability to drive safely. And, I don’t see how you got the word “defective” from my essay. And I have a very different view than you about how public policy should be determined. I believe that it is exactly the avoidance of relying on scientific knowledge that is resulting in the destruction of habitats through climate change, for example. Your hypothetical example of a bizarre study that contradicts the growing consensus on adolescent development doesn’t make me want to ignore science. If, on the other hand, there were a real trend in neuroscience that indicated that our current understanding is wrong and that children’s brains are fully developed at age 14, then yes, I would want that to be the age of majority.


  12. Not 100% developed =/= not developed at all

    Yes, it’s true. The prefrontal cortex of a 20-year old is not AS developed as that of a 25 year old. However, that does not mean that people between the ages of 18-25 should be treated like children or are completely irresponsible and vulnerable as say a 10 year old.

    We can raise the age of certain responsibilities to 25. For example, I think it’s not a terrible idea to raise the age of voting to 25. However, I think it is insane to put them in the same category as children, when there are many people between the ages of 18-25 who can and do lead responsible and mature lives.

    Saying a 20-year old should be considered a child is like saying that a only Windows 8 computers should be considered high-tech and that anything below should be considered no more developed than a calculator.


  13. Furthermore, another study by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the University College London that states that the pre-frontal cortex continues to develop even into the 40s. By this logic, a 35-year old should be considered a child.


  14. Nightvid Cole says:

    Should we disallow people that have had part of the brain surgically removed from voting, working, driving, entering binding contracts, etc.? If you are consistent, you’d say yes. Ok, what about people who have had a stroke? What about people who have had a TIA?


  15. Nightvid Cole says:

    ….or what about people with multiple sclerosis? If you disallow teens from doing these things because the brain isn’t fully myelinated, you should apply the same logic to anybody who’s brain has myelinated and then suffered from one or more demyelinating events!


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