Coming of Age
NADIA KABIR BARB
My elder daughter turned eighteen last month. For some parts of the world, this particular age has no significant meaning. It is just another year, such as 15 or 17 or 19. However, in the UK someone's eighteenth birthday is a momentous occasion as they step from childhood in to adulthood, at least in the legal sense of the word. It is almost like a magic number or formula where '18 = adult' and being acknowledged as an adult does not depend on maturity or capability.
When I wished my daughter on her birthday I did not see an adult standing in front of me only my little girl, the same scrawny but adorable little baby we brought back from the hospital who made us delirious with joy and light headed with lack of sleep, the gap toothed child whose lisp made us smile to ourselves, and the nine year old girl who only had faith in her parents to look after her and not the nurses when she broke her arm. How was I suddenly to accept the fact that because the law or society says so I now have to acknowledge that she is no longer our responsibility (legally) and that she can make her own decisions without us? Does this mean that my job as a parent is officially over or that I have somehow become redundant and obsolete overnight?
I recall being quite shocked in University when some of my friends and contemporaries told me that they had either left home or had been asked by their parents to pay rent. To my friends it seemed normal as they were over the age of eighteen and therefore no longer a financial burden on their parents. To me it was unthinkable as in our culture, we are used to the fact that children live with their parents indefinitely and generally are not asked to leave home or pay board. I find it interesting that even if you are financially responsible for your children and they are living with you, they still have autonomy when it comes to other aspects of their life. I do not mean to sound like an overbearing and controlling parent just a concerned one.
If I am correct, when you are eighteen in the UK; you have the right to vote (which I think is absolutely fine), acquire a full driving licence (I admit that when I was fifteen and in Bangladesh, I got our driver of many years to teach me how to drive but I actually did pass my test and got a driving licence a few years later in the UK!), you can open your own bank account and get a credit card, work full time, smoke, buy and consume alcohol (in the US you have to be 21 or over), gamble, enter in to sexual relations, and get married without the permission of your parents. It is the age of consent -- where you are the author of your destiny and can choose to do as you wish. I suppose one good thing is that at least in this country when my son turns eighteen, he will not have to sign up for national duty or get drafted in to the army unlike various other countries where it is obligatory.
I think young people get carried away with this idea of total freedom and cannot wait to be rid of the shackles of restrictions imposed upon them. But what many fail to realise is that with this so called power or freedom come responsibilities and consequences. If for example, your child takes out a credit card and finds themselves in debt or unable to pay the bill, you as a parent are not liable. You are not obligated by law to bail them out, that is if they are 18 or above. Also in the UK, someone who is over eighteen can end up serving jail time for what may have previously been considered to be a misdemeanour or minor offence. It seems to me that the whole idea of becoming an adult should not really be about age but about a person's level of maturity and ability to behave sensibly in given situations. Some children have to grow up prematurely due to circumstances outside their control and are far more independent even before they reach the age of 18 or even 16. For others, it may take longer for them to 'grow up' and may find themselves not equipped to deal with the challenges life throws at them. It is different for different people.
What is noticeable is that recently, due to the bleak economic climate more and more university students are staying at home with their parents to try and reduce debt or are returning home after graduation while they are in search of employment. Some would argue that living at home beyond a certain age stunts the development of young people as it does not give them the opportunity to learn to be a fully functioning responsible adult. Parents from certain ethnic backgrounds are thought to mollycoddle their children far beyond adolescence and are also thought to be overprotective. If you look at the flipside, which I do, it can also allow families to remain together for longer and can help to retain a stronger familial bond.
I accept that as your children get older you need to loosen the reigns and let go but I do not think that parents really ever stop feeling responsible for their children nor does the desire to protect them from hardship or the harsh realities of the big bad world ever disappear completely. I also agree that there has to be a cut off point where our children need to realise that they have to take on certain responsibilities and take charge of their lives and decisions but I do feel that maybe 18 is just a bit too young. I keep telling myself that I should think of it like trying to teach your kids to ride a bike. You cannot hold on to the back of the bike forever, you just have to let go at some point and hope they will not fall and hurt themselves.
What we as parents can only hope, is that all the advice, guidance and love we have given our children will help them on their journey into the world of adulthood and allow them to make the right choices or learn from their mistakes.