Why Turning 18 Isn't a Big Deal, Even Though It Sort of Is

Us humans tend to be obsessed with declaring various milestones in life that come with age and/or time; depending on the milestone, it is celebrated, longed for or a relief to be over. The first ones are most likely celebrated before we can even remember, like being toilet trained and turning one year old. As we grow older, we look back on these veiled memories through photos and laughs with family, all the while awaiting the next milestone.

In my high school experience, the two ages most longed for and celebrated were those of 16 and 18 years old. I personally did not understand the appeal for turning 16 years old; I didn’t care for the tiara and big dress. 18 years old, however, I longed for. Turning 18 is supposed to mean so many things—the onset of adulthood, independence from parents and the end of high school. All in all, this glorious age that teenagers below it hail to stands for a new beginning.

In reality, though, what does it actually stand for? I mean, it just so happens to be the age picked for automatic emancipation from parents, being able to legally vote in America, being able to play the lottery, etc. For many, it also means the beginning of college. It makes you wonder: Why is it so special? No matter the reason, it is an extremely important coming-of-age number in our society.

For me, it meant that I needed to have my act together by the time of the big day. As my parents counted down to it, more and more responsibilities were piled onto my plate. I heard phrases like, “Since you’ll be an adult soon,” “young adult,” “maturing,” and “not a kid anymore” in every other sentence. As a result, I had gone from desperately crawling toward the age to backing away from it in fear. Of these new responsibilities, the ones that scared me the most were the ones involving me being 100 percent responsible for myself; up until the age, that’s what parents are for.

Turning 18 had suddenly meant becoming a full-fledged adult with my act together, ready to take on the world and become less financially dependent on my parents. I wondered how I was to gracefully step over the line from moody high school teenager to young adult ready for college and life beyond it. I felt as if it was all happening too quickly. I had yearned for all the freedoms that came with turning 18, yet I hadn’t thought about the price that one pays for them—a lot more responsibility.

I turned 18 in the winter of my senior year of high school, which is a very awkward time to be pronounced an Adult™️; I purportedly had all the freedoms in the world, but at the same time, I still had to do my homework and live by my parents’ rules since I was still living under their roof.

My life didn’t change all that much when I turned 18. This was because my parents had been scaring the responsibilities of being 18 into me way before the date. When I kept up with them, I was granted small freedoms. As a result, by the time I turned 18, I already had my adult-like routine down and normalized into my daily life; I was a responsible student and I had a job that I used to pay for myself and save for college.

The freedoms are pretty great, though, because you’re now accountable only to yourself. I no longer had to ask permission (for the little things—I am always reminded by my parents that there are rules since I am under their roof). I found myself able to do things without asking, like going out to the coffee shop, a friend’s house, the bank, the movies, shopping, etc. These are little things, sure, but they allow me to feel an inner sense of independence that I enjoy. I personally like the feeling of being accountable to myself and only myself.

Don’t get me wrong, though—the responsibilities may be big and the freedoms small in comparison, but the age is definitely important. It signifies the onset of early adulthood, which means new freedoms and new responsibilities. If you have tough love parents like mine, you’re ready for 18 years old before it hits. But if you don’t, or if you just don’t have your act together, that date is the blaring alarm in your face that it’s time to do just that.

If anything, turning 18 meant more of a reality check than anything else. The realization hit me that I would soon be doing my own laundry and balancing my own checkbook. I thought I was well-prepared for 18, but the day still shocked me when it arrived. Now that I’ve been 18 for six months, I look back on the days when the number loomed in front of me and I miss being a child. I wish I hadn’t rushed to grow up, because real life comes all too soon.

I found that turning 18 years old was a new beginning, but that didn’t mean I was suddenly a new person—I was merely coming into myself. As I looked back, I saw that I had been coming into myself for months and hadn't even noticed it. There was no blaring red line to step across, because it was actually a long bridge I had been crossing for a while.

Now that I’m 18 and the fuss is over, l await the next chapter of my life where there will be new milestones to fuss over. As much as we may await and anticipate one, there will always be others throughout our lives. I’ve learned from this experience that a slow appreciation might be a better choice than desperate anticipation.