Neuroscientists now know that brain maturation continues far later into development than had been believed previously. Significant changes in brain anatomy and activity are still taking place during young adulthood, especially in prefrontal regions that are important for planning ahead, anticipating the future consequences of one’s decisions, controlling impulses, and comparing risk and reward. Indeed, some brain regions and systems do not reach full maturity until the early or mid-20s. Should this new knowledge prompt us to rethink where we draw legal boundaries between minors and adults?
Maybe, but it’s not as straightforward as it seems, for at least two reasons. First, different brain regions and systems mature along different timetables. There is no single age at which the adolescent brain becomes an adult brain. Systems responsible for logical reasoning mature by the time people are 16, but those involved in self-regulation are still developing in young adulthood. This is why 16-year-olds are just as competent as adults when it comes to granting informed medical consent, but still immature in ways that diminish their criminal responsibility, as the Supreme Court has noted in several recent cases. Using different ages for different legal boundaries seems odd, but it would make neuroscientific sense if we did it rationally.
Second, science has never had much of an influence on these sorts of decisions. If it did, we wouldn’t have ended up with a society that permits teenagers to drive before they can see R-rated movies on their own, or go to war before they can buy beer. Surely the maturity required to operate a car or face combat exceeds that required to handle sexy movies or drinking. Age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones. It’s unlikely that brain science will have much of an impact on these thresholds, no matter what the science says.
… Children are so variable in their growth and the ways in which cultures understand child development are so different, it is futile to attempt to pin down the “right” age of majority. The Dutch, for example, allow children to drink at the age of 16 but not to drive until they are 19. Even if I thought it was a good idea to lower the drinking age and raise the driving age — and I do — I recognize that the U.S. would never embrace it.
We should require all 18-year-olds in America to leave home and give a year to society, either in the military or in community-based projects.
The original purpose of raising the age of majority from puberty to what it is now (16-19) is due to wanting a more educated populace. Now that a bachelors degree is the high school degree of 50 years ago (less will hire with only a high school degree), the age of majority should be raised to 26 to coincide with a full education - a doctorate degree. Just as all kids may not graduate from high school, neither will all graduate with a doctorate, but now they will have the opportunity. Of course, the sex offender list will be included so that if anyone messes around with anyone under the age of 27 will be put on the sex offender list for life, unless later laws address that.
More schooling is necessary for a full education. However, it is not more uniformal schooling that is needed. Depending on a person's career goals they will benefit from different sorts of schooling. So the person needs to be recognized as an adult and have the rights of an adult so they can choose their path of study.
It's also absurd to say we should raise the age of consent to 27. Being mature enough to consent to sex is not related to being done with your academic education. Those are two different things.