Kids should be treated as kids. Adults should be treated as adults. Perhaps, though, there needs to be an officially designated third category we can shunt certain people into, like “Probationary Adult.” Perhaps there are tests we could require PAs to pass before they can have the full rights of adulthood.
This Probationary Adult Period (PAP) could begin at an age agreed upon by individual parents and the government, and could officially end whenever all the tests we as a society deem necessary are passed. Chillun can begin to learn about all of the rights and more importantly the responsibilities of adulthood at age-appropriate times. As they prove aptitude for each they can earn those adult rights, like voting, driving, drinking, or what have you. There can be a paper trail that documents that on a certain date, Johnny agreed that the way to solve his problems is not by assaulting whomever he has a problem with, or that he shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to him, or what have you.
Society would benefit from my little initiative: A more educated populace, a concrete basic standard applied to whether a person is ready to assume particular adult rights—something more challenging for the recipient than our current standard of turning 16, 18, or 21—and the ability to not only revoke rights after someone proves that they're an idiot but the ability to withhold them until someone proves that there is a decent chance that they are not. That last bit is particularly important.
I've been thinking about this because of the people who have defended the two Rutgers University students who were involved in broadcasting to the Internet the roommate of one of them having some sort of sexual encounter. Humiliated, the subject of said broadcast subsequently jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death. There are plenty of people who can be found in situations such as this to explain away the actions of the perpetrators as those of stupid kids.
Perhaps they are stupid kids. But perhaps, if that is the case, they ought not have the right to vote on the leadership of the local school board, much less the Presidency. Perhaps, if that is the case, we ought not allow them control of a 3000 pound automobile. I'm just throwing out ideas here.
If you think that broadcasting someone having sex without their knowledge is a good idea, or a funny idea, then you have missed a class somewhere in my Probationary Adult Period Schooling, Mentoring, Educating, And Refining (PAPSMEAR) curriculum, and as such you're not yet allowed to possess a webcam, or a cellphone with a camera. This kind of behavior is worse than just being a Peeping Tom. These days, just about everyone is capable or soon will be capable of being a Peeping Tom with the equivalent of a satellite uplink and television channel. Some people like this already exist in society. It would seem many of them work at ESPN Television. We don't want this is to be the norm, though. More education is clearly needed.
The world is changing. In some ways, it's great that so many people have the ability to broadcast video. It can certainly be used as a tool for freedom, watching the watchers, as it were. It can also be a tool of idiots. And let's face it; there are a heck of a lot more potential idiots in this world than there are potential geniuses. I won't ever get exponentially smarter than I am right now, but I could very easily act in a way exponentially dumber than I am. Indeed, I have. I hope not to again. Not only is it these days easier to be an idiot, it seems like it's a lot easier to be an idiot on a grand scale.
Children now are going to need a much deeper understanding as they grow up of copyright law (and for Pete's Sake, it's not now nor ever has been “copywrite” or “copywritten.” If it's past tense, it's “copyrighted.” But that’s not germane to the topic at hand.) They're going to need a greater knowledge of privacy law, both in terms of how they protect their own privacy (because like it or not, there are cameras everywhere these days, and I don't think that's going away) as well as how others' privacy needs to be respected. Just because you have the ability to catch someone in an intimate or compromising moment doesn’t mean you should. Certainly if you do, a great deal of thought should go into whether you should then proceed to broadcast that moment to the world.
It seems like in many ways we rush our children toward adulthood. We allow them to consume media that contains adult topics, we allow them on the web unsupervised, they play video games where the stated goal of the game is to pick up hookers and kill people. Yet at the same time, parents often shelter their children from the reality of taking responsibility for their actions. That’s 180-degrees off kilter.
Having done such a lackadaisical job of turning out citizens with a proper perspective on what it means to be a responsible adult, when the kids are 18 and theoretically contract-signing-qualified, driving-qualified, voting-qualified—that is to say, qualified to be adults—and they get in trouble, they're defended as being “just kids.” At some point, if you can get married, go to war, vote, drive, sign a lease, obtain a mortgage or a car loan, then by-God you'd better not be a kid. It cannot be both ways.
Thus, my probationary period. Stay in it as long as you like, and enjoy not enjoying the rights given adults. Have you passed all the required tests to get out of probation and acquire all the benefits that go with adulthood? Got your little Adult Club Card, do ya? Fine-'n'-dandy. Now when you screw up big-time I shan't have to listen for one second to your caterwauling parent bemoan how you're “just a kid” who made a mistake. You're an adult who acted like an idiot. Man up, Nancy, and tell your mom to pipe down (in the most respectful way possible—that's your mother, you jerk.)
The only problem with this is that the government is involved, and the government generally ruins everything it touches. This idea is so damn good, I may have to begin organizing a coup.