Those three years

I was invited today to a meeting of a philosophy club. Every week the club picks a topic of conversation. This week the topic happened to be “childhood”. The discussion around this topic was thoughtful and far-ranging, roaming from thoughts about earliest childhood memories to the question of when childhood ends.

Another distinguishing quality of this club is that all of its members are between the ages of seventeen and eighteen (I was invited by a seventeen year old friend — these people are clearly not ageist).

One thought I came away with, after this experience of deep and thoughtful conversation, is that by the time you have reached the age of seventeen, you have already, in many ways, completed the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Those three years seem to make a world of difference. The distance that separates, say, fourteen and seventeen can be vastly greater than the distance that separates seventeen from any other age of adult.

8 thoughts on “Those three years”

  1. Interestingly, the article also says that “the role of experience is critical in developing the neural connectivity that allows for conscious cognitive control of the emotions and passions of adolescence. Teens who take risks in relatively safe situations exercise the circuitry and develop the skills to `put on the brakes’ in more dangerous situations.” So the situation is not necessarily dire.

  2. I suppose if it were very dire many fewer teens would make it to age 25! It does make one wonder about the prudence of allowing teens to drive (at age 16 in California) since driving is not really a “relatively safe situation” in which to make mistakes, at least not in highly populated areas.

  3. The article states: “Teens who take risks in relatively safe situations exercise the circuitry and develop the skills to `put on the brakes’ in more dangerous situations.” Which means that teens can develop the brain circuitry to be able to drive safely. They — and all potential drivers — should be tested before being given licenses to drive, to make sure the requisite circuitry has been developed.

    It is important, while acknowledging your point, to also acknowledge that there are differences between individuals, and that in many situations these differences can be measured.

  4. I certainly agree about individual differences. I hope that the drivers licensing process is making sure that the requisite circuitry has developed but I’m not so sure about that.

  5. Yes, I hope the process checks the readiness of would-be drivers of all ages!

  6. As a teenager who was present at–and the organizer of–this Philosophy club, it is a little sad to me that on a blog post about a very intelligent, high-level discussion and the importance of recognizing that capability in people of my age, the first comment was one about how teenagers are biologically irresponsible. As Ken said, it is extremely important to look at teenagers as individuals and not as products of brain development levels. All menopausal women are not seen as inferior because of their hormonal and emotional changes, for example.

    Interestingly, in my time running the Philosophy Club and as a responsible teen in my school, I have been informed of this brain activity stuff by at least half of the adults I talk to about my experiences. However, considering my experiences both in my everyday life and as an advisory board member for the Games for Learning institute, I think that the power of the individual outweighs this kind of information.

    Of course, I’m not saying that we should ignore the important growth process that happens between the ages of 18 and 25. I’m just saying that it is important to avoid being dismissive of people in the middle of that growth process, because often they have a lot to offer… sometimes more than their adult counterparts, since they have fresh eyes.

  7. Kaelan, I didn’t mean to be dismissive of teenagers and I apologize if it came across that way. I was just responding to Ken’s comment about the amount of growth that happens after 17 as compared to between 14 and 17 (i.e., that there is still important growth after 17—you seem to agree with this). Also, I think that the research about brain development is not questioning the intelligence of people your age, or the value of what they can contribute to society. It is just saying that some of their mental faculties are not yet fully developed even though in many ways they seem like adults. That doesn’t diminish the considerable mental faculties that they already do possess (especially extraordinary individuals), or even imply that they are “lesser” than adults (they probably can learn new things more easily, for example). And as I said, I agree about individual variation, and I have known some 17-year-olds with much better judgement than some people twice their age.

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