At what age do kids stop acting like kids? According to history, it’s whenever a culture or society says so.
A 19-year-old was sentenced to a year in prison recently for his role in a rock-throwing incident in 2012 that permanently disfigured a young boy. The defendant was 17 when he and two others — who were 16 and 18 years old at the time — decided to spend a July afternoon chucking rocks at passing cars on Mendenhall Loop Road. The teen’s attorney argued the case should be sent to juvenile court since Jared Cheatham was 17 when he was arrested.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez made the right call by insisting Cheatham be tried as an adult. He may not have been 18 when the incident occurred, but he was certainly old enough to know better. The same applies to rock-tossing friends Chaleb Calandra and Noel Toribio (Calandra was 18 at the time and Toribio was 16).
All three were old enough to work a job and drive a car, but instead of doing something productive (and safe) with their time, they acted like unruly school children with no understanding of action and consequence. Where Juneau’s youth is concerned, they’re not alone.
We have high school seniors who treat their alma mater like a truck stop urinal, seniors-to-be who wouldn’t recognize an assault if it smacked them in the rear with a paddle, and students at the high school and middle school level who don’t realize the severity of taking a gun to school (both the real and BB gun kind).
Many of our local youth need to grow up, but as a society we tend to prolong adolescence to the point of arrested development.
According to Pew economist Richard Fry, about 41 percent of those between the ages of 18-24 either lived at home or with a family member in 2012. That’s up from 30 percent in 2001.
A kid is a kid for as long as they’re treated as such. Some of us need to stop raising kids into bigger kids and instead teach them to be capable, responsible and self-reliant adults.
During the Civil War it’s estimated that as much as 20 percent of soldiers were younger than 18, according to a report by PBS. The Union had an age requirement of 18, which often was overlooked, and the Confederacy had no binding age limit to speak of.
During World War II, teens as young as 17 were able to enlist, and some state’s National Guard units allowed those even younger to serve stateside.
In Medieval times, up until the Victorian era, there was no set age for adulthood. When a child was old enough to work, they did. And when the man of the house passed away, his son assumed the role and responsibilities. Same for young girls when the mother passed.
We don’t need to remind many of you what high school graduates received along with their diploma from 1969-72 (for many, a one-way ticket to Vietnam).
As a society and a community, we need to reassess treating our youth with kid gloves so often and for so long. They’re far more capable than we give them credit for, but unless our expectations change why would their behavior? If you have a 14-18 year old spending the summer sleeping in and hanging out with friends, get them out of the house and into the workforce until school starts. Think of their new employer like a babysitter, if you must (only instead of cashing checks they write them). Other options might include a community project or group, something that will build leadership skills and enable them to evolve as citizens.
Considering how rough past generations of teens had it, expecting our youth to be productive with their time and to possess a maturity to match their age isn’t asking too much.
• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton, firstname.lastname@example.org; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, email@example.com; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, firstname.lastname@example.org; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, email@example.com.