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Turning 18

Air Date: 01/11/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net. I know lots and lots of teenagers. I always enjoy spending time with them: they are among the most idealistic, passionate, and creative people I know. Unfortunately, the very things that can make adolescents so fascinating and engaging can also create lots of conflict with the people who know and love them best: their parents. And it's a rare teen who hasn't yelled at a parent in a moment of anger, "I'm moving out as soon as I turn 18!" The simple truth is that, for better or worse, it could happen.             I often wonder who came up with the idea that teens become adults at the age of 18. There's nothing magical or even particularly special about that number. Kids don't automatically mature on their 18th birthday; in fact, developmentally speaking, they are far from mature at that point in their lives. They still have physical growth and maturation ahead of them and most important, the prefrontal cortex in the human brain is not mature until sometime between the ages of 20 and 25. That means that, at the age of 18, teens may still struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation. They still lack adult judgment and problem-solving skills. And they just haven't been on the planet long enough to have learned everything they need to know to be independent, successful adults. At 18, most teens are still in high school, and when they're being honest, they know that making it on their own would be challenging if not impossible. That doesn't mean they don't think about it. And in fact, teens can move out on their own once they're 18. They can sign agreements, join the military, get married, and do all sorts of adult things without anyone's permission or input. To most parents, that's a truly frightening thought.             By the way, it's probably appropriate to mention the idea of "emancipation" here, since many younger teens have heard of it from friends and mutter under their breath when they're angry at parents that they're going to "get emancipated" and move out. I'm not an attorney and a lawyer is the best source of information on this topic, but teens can indeed be emancipated from parental authority as early as 16 IF (and it's a big "if") they can support themselves and demonstrate that they can continue their education, work, and make good decisions, and that there is a compelling reason to remove them from their parents' control. It doesn't happen often, but it is possible; kids ask me about it all the time.             However it happens, making the transition from adolescence to young adulthood can be complicated. I turned 18 in the great state of Texas. I was actually a freshman at the University of Texas at the time, having started school a year sooner than most of my peers, and under Texas law, I could not only sign a contract and be held legally responsible for my behavior, I could sit down in any bar and drink. That has changed; the drinking age in Texas is now 21, just as it is pretty much everywhere else. But I remember thinking back in amazement when my own son turned 18 on how much power and independence I had at that age-and how ill-prepared I was to exercise it.             Turning 18 is a milestone in any adolescent's life, and it merits careful thought, consideration, and planning. I like to remind frustrated teens that it's a two-way street: yes, they can move out, but their parents also are no longer obligated to provide a place to live, money, or other support. Especially in these tough economic times, living on your own at 18 can be difficult. It makes more sense to sit down with your almost-legal-young-adult and have a calm conversation about what it might mean in your family.             Most teens want to remain at home until they've graduated from high school and are ready to move on to whatever comes next. Some do want-and occasionally demand-more independence. You can find a time when everyone is feeling calm and relaxed, and make an agreement about privileges and responsibilities. You can talk about money, helping with household chores, staying out (and coming home), and other issues that sometimes create friction as teens develop an independent life. You can and should make a point of teaching necessary life skills. Watching your son or daughter become an adult can be a joyous experience, and it's worth noting that parents often gain a bit more independence as their kids mature, too.             Take time to listen, to plan, and to focus on solving the inevitable problems that come along, and you and your 18-year-old should do just fine. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.