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12 Going On... 16

Meet Naomi. She's 12 going on 13. And if our children turn out anything like her, we could all do a lot worse. Naomi is the latest interviewee in onBeing by Post videographer Jenn Crandall.

To Naomi, becoming a teenager means more expectations of maturity, more responsibility, more complex social issues. Forget sweet sixteen. That's long gone. Thirteen's the age to celebrate. Naomi's mom and dad don't see the same transition she sees. To them, turning 13 isn't the life-altering deal it is to Naomi. And that, in itself, is telling.

Sometimes, Naomi reminds us, it's hard to step back and see the adults our children are becoming. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that today's kids age faster than we did.

Do your kids feel the same as Naomi? Is 13 the new age of adulthood?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 12, 2007; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Teens , Tweens
Previous: Ewww. I Won't Eat THAT! | Next: A Walk on the Independent Side


hmmm this isn't all its cracked up to be

Posted by: First | October 12, 2007 8:38 AM | Report abuse

13 the new age of adulthood? You must be kidding! Every 13 yearold thinks they are grown, but that certainly doesn't make it so. I am 28 and still can look back and wonder how I could actually think I was an adult at 21. Adulthood is about maturity. Even a child that mature for 13 is still a child.

Posted by: Sweetie | October 12, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Not too many Jews would be surprised at the age of 13 being the age of adulthood. The tradition of Bas Mitzvah, generally performed at 13 years of age, has been part of Judaism for hundreds of years.

That having been said, I will follow with "Sweetie" in saying that adulthood is about maturity, even if I will differ with them in that many children are very mature, acting as primary caregivers for siblings and elder relatives, contributing income to a family, and other responsibilities. What I have observed is that a child can be as mature as the responsibilities that they have.

Not to forget, however, in the eyes of the law the magic number is 18. Perhaps, in the end, that functional number is what matters.

Posted by: David S | October 12, 2007 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I have a really lovely journal left from my teen years in which I puzzle over this issue -- trying to figure out what it was that led people to see some young people as "mature" and write off others as "just kids." Since I looked young for my age, I was desperate to "behave" like someone older to compensate. I missed out on some fun and was probably insufferably self-righteous to my peers. Adulthood came and now I wish I could have some of the childhood back. (My kids help me in this regard!) Tell Naomi there's no rush.

Posted by: anne. | October 12, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I tried to play the Bat Mitzvah card when I was 12 and 13 -- "But momma! I got Bat Mitzvah'd! I'm an adult!" "Yuh-huh. Shut up and go do your homework."

I think regardless of how mature kids are -- which usually tends to be equated with how stoically they undertake conflict -- they still do not necessarily have the life experience to make good decisions, and life experience is really not something you can hasten, even in a child genius.

However, teaching pre-teens, I do believe they can afford to be given more responsibility than most of them currently shoulder, and that society needs to find a balance between that fact and the fact that they are NOT adults yet. 13 year olds should not be wearing bikinis or low-cut jeans, but also should not be forced to wear clothes that are demeaning or childish.

I think I'm putting so much thought into this because so many judges in the past year have ruled that 20- or 30- somethings having forcible sex with 10- to 13-year-olds does not constitute rape, statutorily or otherwise. I think we need to remember that no matter what their life experience, they cannot make informed consent to sex that young.

Posted by: Kat | October 12, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I think the Jewish bas mitzvah tradition is lovely, but realistically, these days a child is hardly "an adult" at age 13. I don't know the history, but I suspect that in Biblical times, you were probably able to marry at the age of 13. Maybe that's where the idea came from? In any case, the idea that a 13-year old is an adult is just plain silly. Their brains are not developmentally ready to deal with the decisions adults make.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 12, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Posted by WorkingMomX @ October 12, 2007 12:00 PM:

"I think the Jewish bas mitzvah tradition is lovely, but realistically, these days a child is hardly "an adult" at age 13. I don't know the history, but I suspect that in Biblical times, you were probably able to marry at the age of 13. Maybe that's where the idea came from? In any case, the idea that a 13-year old is an adult is just plain silly. Their brains are not developmentally ready to deal with the decisions adults make."

When the age of 13 became the "Age of Majority" in Judaism is not exactly known. Scholarship indiciates that the Bas Mitzvah tradition originiated in the Middle ages, and Talmudic study points to several indicators of that age in the Bible. The wikipedia article on Bas Mitzvah lists them - it is a bit much to post here.

Regarding your observation regarding Marriage, that is certainly one of the things that being Bas Mitzvah determines (in terms of Jewish Law, not so much in actual reality). Others include being counted as part of the quorum needed to have certain religious observations, the privilage of reading from the Torah, and being considered morally responsible for their own actions.

I do tend to agree with you that a 13 year old is not an adult, though I am of the oppinion that the understanding of makes an adult is clearly mutable, or at least has been changable from civilization to civilization. Certainly in the U.S. the standard is much older. We prefer that our children be children longer, and as such the rights and connected responsibilities we give them are less than are given in other parts of the world. I'll stick with my original thought that, realistically, the legal standard of 18 is probably as close as we have to a cultural norm - allthough I will admit to thinking that some measure of rights and responsiblities earlier than that can be beneficial.

Kat's definition of maturity that draws the line to stocisim is fascinating to me. I will have to think about it, but it is definately a valid consideration.

Posted by: David S | October 12, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Slightly unrelated, but I've always thought that the "On Being" thing that the Post has going is one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a newspaper. It makes the Style section look like hard-nosed journalism by comparison.

Posted by: Ryan | October 12, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree that 13 isn't an adult, but it's still an important milestone. We made a big deal of it when older son turned 13. We didn't have to hire a babysitter anymore, and he could watch his younger brother when we went out. He gets paid for that, of course. He also gets handed cash occassionally and asked to run errands to the corner market and such.

Adulthood is a gradual process - driver's license at 16, voting and binding contractual obligations (like military service) at 18, purchasing and consuming alcohol at 21. Sometimes wills and trusts are set up so that the proceeds don't become available until 25, or later. One must be at least 25 to be elected to Congress, 30 to be elected to the Senate, and 35 to be President.

I think DH finally feels like he's a grown-up at 50. Most everyone who knew him during his years in state juvenile custody perdicted that he'd never live to 30.

Posted by: sue | October 12, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Maybe I missed something, but I just watched the video and Naomi consisently expresses the idea that she is excited about officially becoming a teenager. Not much, if anything, was said by Naomi about adulthood. Just like my 12 year old daughter, she is just excited about the prospect of moving into a new age group ... TEENAGER (not adult).

Posted by: MomWith12YO | October 15, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

13 is hardly the new age of adulthood. While children have are much broader exposure to the world than children of previous generations I don't know of any studies postulating that 13 year old brains have evolved to the level of 16 year old brains. Knowledge does not equal maturity. I will concede the broadened exposure coupled with the slick marketing of a fashion industry that sees billions in disposable income in this age group and campaigns to sell 13 year olds clothes to make them appearolder, do make these kids appear wise beyond their years. My sense is that they are still on the cusp of adolescense biologically, phsycologically, and socialogically and that is how their brain processes the stimuli, not the way the brain of someone three years older. I think this is important to keep in the when determining how to treat these children. Empathizing with your Mini-me because they want to look, act, dress, and be treated like much older childern is not the same as being their buddy...

Posted by: Gaylord Mays | October 17, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

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