Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Infantilization of Our Youth

While doing research for my up coming post for the birthday of Washington, I came across the following which I present because It makes a point I want to address. What follows is part of a longer piece on Valley Forge

"Lewis Hurt, age 17, a private from Connecticut. Benjamin Blossom, age about 31 years, a soldier from Massachusetts. George Ewing, age 23, an Ensign of the Seventh Company in the Third New Jersey Regiment. Joseph Plumb Martin, age 15 when he enlisted in Connecticut's Third Company on July 6, 1776; age 16 when he arrived at Valley Forge. They came from Virginia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey...They represented every state in the new union. Some were still boys -- as young as 12 -- others in their 50s and 60s."

The point is that once upon a time young people in our society had a lot more independence and responsibility than they do today. They were out fighting for their freedom and the nations independence. Today, all to often, young people are kept-act like children into their 20s.

At Common Law young people had more independence than they do today. While it is true that majority was not until 21, at 14 a boy or girl was able witness deeds and contracts, testify in court, select their own guardian, bequeath personal property by will, own land, and apprentice themselves. With their guardian’s permission, they could marry. They could even enter contracts for necessities and in theory could sell land, but since they had a right to void the contract on turning 21, most buyers would not buy land from minors. However, their guardian could take such action for them if he or she agreed with them.

Basically turning 21 meant that a person not longer needed a guardian, could vote, and that their contracts would henceforth be enforced whether they were in their interests or not. This meant that the period from 14 to 21 was a period of quasi adulthood were the young person could make many important decisions but had training wheals so to speak in the form of his legal guardian and the courts.

Now one may question some of the details of the common law scheme, for example the sexual inequality where by young women of 12 were accorded the “training wheels” stage that young men had to wait until 14 to be given. One might also question whether 21 was an appropriate age of majority. However the over all idea of having a training period where young people can make some but not all of their own decisions is a good one.

If we want superior performance from our young people, we need to both give them more independence and responsibility. (more info on the common law rules here)

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