When do children become adults? asks 16-year-old EMILY THOMSON


As a 16-year-old, I find there’s real confusion as to what you can do at what age and why. I’ve been able to own an air rifle for two years but I can’t buy fireworks until I’m 18. I can work full time and pay National Insurance, but can’t claim a full minimum wage for five more years. I’ve been able to register as an organ donor for four years now, but I can’t give blood until I turn 17. I can get a skin piercing without my parents’ consent but I can’t get a tattoo. I can’t vote for my local MSP until I’m 18, but according to recent SNP proposals I’m going to vote on the future of Scotland.

The government needs to standardise the age at which it believes people are adults. Either you’re an adult at 16 and have the full set of adult rights at 16 or you have to wait until 18. At the moment we don’t understand whether we’re adults or children so have to make do with the ambiguous title “young adult” or, even worse, “youth”.

There are advantages to defining 16-year-olds as adults. Mainly, it would help to force situations affecting young adults into the spotlight, for example, the minimum wage for 16-year-olds being just over half the full minimum wage, negative stereotyping of young people and a lack of facilities for young people in many areas. By allowing us to vote, politicians would have to start addressing these issues. With the introduction of 16-year-old voters, it allows people my age to learn about politics through school and receive a broader education in current affairs as well as encouraging us to vote from a younger age. So many of my friends only have a political viewpoint because of occasional newspaper articles their parents’ opinion. By counting 16-year-olds as adults, it would promote the teaching of politics in schools, changing the culture and enthusing young people for life.

However voting at 16 could cause some significant problems. The main one is that, whilst some 16 year olds do leave home and get a full time job, most do not. We are therefore not as affected by adult issues because we are still at school.  In addition, by lowering the adult age to 16, we would be allowed to be sent to war zones, buy alcohol, smoke, bet and stand for Parliament. This would make it much harder for schools to discipline teenage drinking and smoking, and sending 1616-year-olds to war zones would probably cause international outcry.

Therefore 16 does seem quite young for full adulthood and perhaps most consents should be set at 18. This would probably mean following controversial plans from earlier this century to raise school leaving age to 18 with the option of entering training or apprenticeship schemes potentially causing benefits such decreased youth unemployment and a more skilled workforce. Eighteen-year-old adults would mean no more 16-year-old brides. Although reversing one of Scotland’s more traditional laws of a marriage and sexual consent age would be controversial, it is a fairly out-dated law. Very few people now get married so young in Scotland and it may be an advantage for them to wait a couple more years to marry. It could also help to deal with rapidly increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies and teenagers with STIs which is a growing problem.

There are also some levels of consent that don’t happen until 21 and setting adulthood at 18 would decrease certain age restrictions. At the moment, no one can be sent to adult prisons unless they are over 21 despite the fact that everyone can be held accountable for their actions if they are over the age of 18. Although it would obviously be cruel to send an 18 year old to adult prison, it doesn’t seem fair to send two people who have the same crime to different places because one of them is 21 and one is 18. Overall, by increasing the age of adulthood to 18, we “youths” would finally understand that we are not yet adults and shouldn’t behave like we are – there could be serious advantages to raising the age of adulthood to 18.

This still leaves the question, should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum? Unless all elections are moved to include those 16-year-olds, I am against having a different voting age for the Scottish Referendum than at other elections. It simply increases the confusion as to when the age of adulthood starts and looks as if it is being done for political reasons rather than a proper argument for when the age of adulthood should begin. As for what age that should be, now that we live longer and more of us don’t leave school until later, 18 does seem to be a sensible age to standardize the age of consents.

Emily Thomson is a 16 year old student in Edinburgh, with an interest in politics and economics.

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9 thoughts on “The age of consent

  1. I thought most young people would be grabbing all the rights of citizenship enthusiastically and not shying away from them. I don’t think there needs to be as much confusion about appropriate behaviour and rights and responsibilities. It’s really a question of common sense and good conduct. For example, take schools. It doesn’t matter whether you are 16 or 17 or 18 – or even as old as adults in the school – with regard to conduct. Schools are perfectly entitled to say that you can’t drink, smoke or have sex for that matter within the building regardless of your age and are perfectly entitled to exclude or prohibit anyone 16 years old or over who breaks these rules since 16 is the age at which statutory education ends. Then again you may feel that 16 is very young to be married as I do but it seems illogical to raise the age of marriage when the age of consent is 16. Not all of the anomolies you put forward actually are anomalies.However, I agree that the 16 to 18 years period is anomolous in some contexts but having the vote at 16 will surely help iron out some of the anomalies. When in history past governments have extended the franchise – to working class men and significantly to women – it has generally been viewed as something to celebrate – an achievement of historic significance. Few democrats would argue against it because widening participation in the political process is rightly seen as a hallmark of democracy. It does seem improbable that a young person with an interest in politics would disavow this opportunity so I would ask you to carefully reconsider and use your vote even at 16 since many people across the world of all ages can only envy your right to participate in a process they are still struggling to achieve.

  2. We do not require a single age for everything as the article implies as it make sense to introduce adult responsibilities gradually. For example, children can operate bank accounts and make Wills before they are even teenagers – there is no reason for that to change.

    I believe that the voting age should match the age for getting married – if you are old enough to choose a partner for life, you are old enough to vote.

    Therefoe I agree that voting should be at 16.

  3. So being at school means you aren’t affected by ‘adult’ issues?
    As more than 50% of school leavers go on to further education, maybe we should raise the voting age to 21?
    Or maybe limit voting to the shrinking percentage to those only have a ‘real job?
    Or maybe limit the vote to proper folk who own property?
    Or maybe only those with blue eyes and blonde hair should be allowed to vote?

  4. The thing is Emily, you will have the right to vote if aged 16 Autumn 2014, it will be up to the individual if they actually do vote.
    And a early “happy 18th birthday” to you for 2014.

  5. Well, Emily, without being patronising, (be aware I’m closer to 80 than 70), I have contemporaries who have not yet attained adulthood. ;-)) Sadly some of them have already passed on without gaining that great milestone. So don’t feel doubtful of your own adulthood, we old guy often feel the same. Realising you don’t know everything indicates you have already, “Grown-up”. Welcome to adulthood. Anyway, down to practicality’s, main reason for the different legal ages for different things is the problems of two independent legal systems in one Union. England’s legal system is shared by both N. Ireland and Wales. A mere 18 years before the Union it was still, “The Divine Right of Kings”, the monarchy owned everything including their Majesty’s subjects and had a veto over their single parliament of England. Under English Law everything still belongs to Her Majesty but with the Royal powers delegated to elected members in the Parliament. In Scotland, as asserted in the, “Declaration of Arbroath”, the monarchy is NOT sovereign and the People of Scotland are sovereign. So some laws comply with English law and some with Scottish Law. There is no such thing as UK law. That’s the reason of the long tradition of under-age people under English Law running away to the first place they could marry as adults in Scotland – Gretna. The things you cannot do as a 16 year old adult in Scotland are controlled by English law and there is no such thing as a UK legal system.

  6. I like this article.

    BBC Scotland asked 16 year olds how they felt about getting a vote on Scottish independence – a couple said “Most 16/17 year olds don’t know enough about it”.

    I would say this is a problem for Scots as a whole – regardless of age. The bad news for the Scottish nationalists is that, even if all 16 and 17 year olds voted yes, it wouldn’t sway the referendum one way or another.

  7. EMILY if you want responses to your arguments then this is not the forum due to the lack of fair moderation and delay in posts being moderated on this site.

  8. Good points Emily, it’s an untidy mixture of ages for different aspects of being adult. The basic reason for extending the Independence vote to 16 and 17 year olds is that it is an historic decision which will only come once, I think, in a lifetime. It will affect the lives of all Scots and you and your cohort really have a stake in the answer. Whatever way you vote I hope you do vote. And I do support the idea that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote in all elections. The people of that age I teach are mostly well able to make intelligent choices, and many over 17 are frankly not.

    For general elections there is an argument that another one will be along soon if you miss this one. But the indy referendum is the big one.

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