With Age Comes Privilege…and Responsibility

“I dive!” my then two-year-old daughter said to my family, car keys in hand.

My parents and I were figuring out logistics of an outing on a visit to them.

She heard us discussing which car to take and she was volunteering to drive us. (Oh, how I miss toddler enunciation issues!)

The child has always thought that she’s much older than she actually is. I’m pretty sure she gave Taylor Swift the idea for the lyric “I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22.”

But my daughter is not 22. She’s still a child, and that means there are things that she is not old enough to do.

“Why?” was a favorite question since she was two. While she doesn’t ask it incessantly like she did when she was a toddler, she’s still known to ask now, especially when told she needs to be a certain age to do something.

I love that question because it’s a great chance to have a conversation and help her learn, both about the world and herself. That understanding is such a crucial part of preparing to handle responsibility.

When it comes to answering why she can’t have alcohol until the legal age of 21, I’m grateful for the resources on Ask. Listen. Learn. They help me answer that exact question.

The first part of the answer is that “privileges come with age.” It’s a topic we’ve revisited many, many times in our home. Sometimes those privileges are amazing – the ability to go to school or play on age-based teams and eventually, yes, driving.

Of course, with privilege comes responsibility, such as unloading the dishwasher and caring for younger siblings or car maintenance. That can be a bit less exciting, but it’s all a part of growing up.

And when you’re really an adult, privileges like decorating your home however you like come with responsibilities like mortgage or rent payments and taxes.

It’s important to me that my children link privilege and responsibility, and that’s especially true when it comes to consuming alcohol. It absolutely can be consumed responsibly, by adults. They are old enough and hopefully mature enough to know what they can handle and enjoy. Teenagers aren’t there yet, and that’s illustrated by studies showing that adolescents who drink are highly prone to accidents and dangerous situations.

The law takes that into account when setting age limits. It also takes into account that kids are still growing. Alcohol interferes with that growth.

Brain development is often one part of the answer to the “why do I have to be a certain age?” question. Games like Memory Flip that show her just how underage drinking can negatively affect her brain development are really helpful.

Having her understand what’s happening in brain now and what’s to come offers a bit of understanding of why she’s not yet ready for alcohol and other privileges, like voting. She was more than a little frustrated that she couldn’t do that in the last election, either.

Instead of focusing on just the can’ts, though, I try to keep the focus on the positive. There is so very much that she can do, whether that’s making healthy choices or making her voice heard. It also means educating hers so that she’s ready to handle the responsibility when the time comes, in addition to making sure she has role models who show her what responsible alcohol consumption by adults looks like.

Also, it helps to remind her that the time really will come when she has the privileges that come with age. She may not believe me, but I know that day will be here sooner than she thinks.  I’ll do what I can to make sure she’s ready for the responsibility.