Boy do we have it wrong as a society. 18 is manhood? (I'm going to talk about manhood since I know very little about coming into womanhood. So little). 18 is nothing. Nothing happens at 18. Or 21. There's a clue to a more appropriate age in the policy of auto insurance companies; a man's insurance goes down at age 26 because, statistically speaking that's when the likelihood of a car accident drops.
I propose that the same attributes which make a man a safe driver are the very ones that make him a man. Obviously I'm not talking about his ability to operate the vehicle. Driving is not a complicated enough skill to chalk up safe driving to exactly 10 years of experience, though I'm sure it helps. The behavioral expression of inner adulthood are things like caution, patience, planning, anticipating/predicting, minimizing risk. I'm not talking about the social context of what it is to "be a man." I'm talking about the naked ape's brain function. To describe a good man I would need an additional list of important adjectives.
Or do jewish folks have it right? A Bar Mitzvah celebrates passage into manhood at just 13. I'm guessing this has something to do with the age of puberty when a male literally changes from boy-like to man-like. Obviously these 13 year olds are not leaving home as a man, but it is a definite rite of passage into a different developmental stage.
I propose the following stages of manhood:
Physical Transition: A boy physically becomes a man when he goes through puberty. The body changes introducing new physical impulses, most notably sexual in nature. Neurologically, boy begins to think in abstract, understands cause and effect, begins to form logical though processes and reach conclusions.
Experimental Stage: Beginning with the physical transition, this stage a boy will experiment with the world from his new body and his new brain capable of processing information in new ways. During this stage he will probably withdraw from his parent(s) somewhat and begin to test the boundaries to his independence. This is a good time to develop a sense of purpose and self-esteem based on hard earned accomplishments. It's also a good time to learn accountability and social norms. This stage is when a boy develops many of the habits and interests that he will carry into manhood.
Legal Transition: It's not realistic to expect a man to leave home as early as 13 and my personal bias is that 26 is starting to get late. There is still going to be a launching transition probably around 18 based on how our education system is set up. I'll leave it up to educators to figure something out something that works, but for now it's reasonable to expect that age 18 is going to remain an important age for a lot of folks in the U.S. Unfortunately there is no new intrinsic transition that prepares a boy for legal adulthood.
Early Legal Adult Stage: At this stage a man experiences uncontrolled consequences to his actions, those imposed by society or natural law, rather than his parent(s). Lessons not learned in the experimental stage may be hard learned during this stage. Brain fully develops during this stage, and you guessed it, finishes around the time men become safe drivers.
Neurological Transition: The brain fully develops in the mid to late 20's. Libido subsides somewhat allowing greater inner logical discourse. Rationalization forms and sense of invincibility begins to subside. Real world experiences are assessed protective adjustments are made. Ambitions change, sense of purpose and the fleeting nature of time becomes important.
Manhood: Late 20's, early 30's. Men are driving safely, starting to think seriously about marriage & family if they ever do. Responsibility and career start to be taken seriously. Planning for the future becomes important.
Society bases it's definition of a man on a completely arbitrary point between two actual transitional phases of adulthood. I wonder if we would do it differently if we based our laws on something closer to what I have outlined.