What You Can Do (Legally) at 16, 18, and 21

Leila Harper, Staff Writer

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As you get older, your country’s legal system enables you to participate in society more and more. When you reach a certain age, you are officially allowed to do something you’ve been waiting your entire life for. Whether that be driving, voting, or drinking, it’s probably pretty exciting.

You’ve most likely heard of outrageous Sweet Sixteen parties that basically acknowledge the age of maturity, but why is turning 16 such a big deal? Of course, this is the age when you get your driver’s license. When you turn 16, you can also earn minimum wage, choose your own doctor, apply for legal aid, move out and rent a home (with parental consent), access school records, and even join the armed forces. Some less known—but just as relevant—things you can do include registering as an organ donor in 48/50 states, donating blood (with parental consent), getting a passport, and going to confidential counseling to work towards sobriety.

In the next two years, you have hopefully matured more, because now you’re a legal adult! Hitting 18 years old is a huge turning point in anyone’s life. You’re out of school and can vote in the next election. Almost everything involving legality, money, and politics is open to you now: you can be selected for jury duty, make and sign legal documents in your name, open a savings account, get a loan from a bank, sue or be sued, and get insurance. On a brighter note, you can also work full-time, get married without parental consent in 48/50 states, book a hotel room in your name, and watch R- rated movies!

The next big age is 21. Three years of practicing, hopefully, good decisions are behind you, because up next is the legal drinking age. Other than that, not much changes after you turn 21. Except, now you can: adopt a child, gamble, go to nightclubs, rent a car from some rental companies (with daily fees until you’re 25), supervise a learning driver, change your driver’s license, get a horizontal driver’s license in New Jersey, and get married in Mississippi and Ohio. Fun fact: the minimum drinking age in the US is 21 because the teenage years are the most important for the brain to develop, and excessive alcohol can severely damage it.

Other countries may sometimes bend these age limits—mostly because they don’t follow the laws here in America. For the most part, the laws are very similar. There are a few harrowing differences. In the UK (Cambridgeshire), for instance, when you turn 16, you are allowed to buy a lottery ticket, leave home, apply for a passport, drive a moped, change your name, and even pilot a glider. When you turn 21, you can earn a pilot’s license for an airplane, helicopter, and gyroplane in England.

These age laws are put in place to restrict people from harming themselves or others. The political- and money-involving laws are put in place because, as one gets older, he or she matures more; the brain develops in multiple areas, like the limbic system (processes social and emotional information) and the prefrontal cortex (centers around judgment, impulse control, abstract thought, and the ability to anticipate the consequences of one’s actions).

Now that you know some of the things you can do once you get older, the anticipation one gets when their birthday comes near probably seems to make more sense.

Sources:
● Legal rights at 16 – Teenagers at 16 and the law. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22,
2018, from https://www.mumsnet.com/teenagers/legal-rights- at-16
● Thorpe, J. (2018, March 20). Surprising Things Teens Can Do Before Age 18.
Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://www.bustle.com/p/surprising-things-
american-teenagers- can-legally- do-before- they-turn- 18-38285
● What You Can Legally Do When You're 18. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2018,
from https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-you- can-legally- do-when- youre-18/
● All the Fun And Wonderful Things You Can Do At 18. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26,
2018, from https://entertainism.com/things-you- can-do- at18
● Things to Do Now That You're 21 | Your 21st USA Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved March
27, 2018, from http://www.your21st.us/21st-birthday- blog/things-to- do-now- that-
youre-21/
● Salloway, L. (2017, June 19). Things You Can Do at 21 Years of Age, But Not at
18. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from https://legalbeagle.com/8649600-things- age-
but-not- 18.html
● Christensen, J. (2014, July 15). 21: Science's limit when it comes to the drinking
age. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from
https://www.cnn.com/2014/07/15/health/science-drinking- age/index.html
● Creeden, C. (2018, March 27). NBD I Had 3 Prom Dates, Which Is 1 Of The 12
Perks Being The Only Girl In A Guy Group. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/girls-guys- friends
● What can I do at age 16? (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from
http://www.youthoria.org/home/life/rights/what-can- i-do/1238766403.391/

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About the Writer
Leila Harper, Staff writer
The odd one out in her family, Leila Harper has always been a reader. Born and raised in California, she has always been an obedient and quiet adolescent. Now a Sophomore, she enjoys reading, listening to music, watching Disney movies, being with her dog, and writing. Ever-so the socially anxious opinionated Gen Z teenager, she...
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