Turning 18 didn’t turn out to be everything Adrian Veruete-Maya expected.
“I honestly felt like it’d be some kind of enlightenment,” said the recent graduate of St. Michael’s High School. “I assumed that upon becoming 18, I would suddenly start to understand myself and the world better.”
Instead, it was more of a wake-up call that nothing really changes once you hit an age that many correlate to adulthood. Although turning 18 opens a floodgate of opportunities — minors suddenly are able to vote, get a tattoo, change their names, skydive and more — Veruete-Maya’s experience seems to be commonplace with many young adults.
Although Veruete-Maya said he felt like he needed to work to understand himself and the world around him upon entering adulthood, he discovered he was still subject to the rules of older adults. “Sure, as a legal adult you now have the full capacity to your human rights and constitutional rights, but … your rights will remain limited until you can sustain yourself in your own environment,” he said.
The need to get started on the rest of your life is kicked into overdrive for some teens as they hit 18.
“I started getting these bursts of anxiety, which make me feel like I’m on deadline to become successful,” said Anasazi Noisecat, who turned 18 in May. “It’s kind of awful being considered an adult now. The pressure is going to kill me.”
The combination of having the world at your fingertips yet still abiding by the rules of schools and guardians is stressful, said Melody Van Hoose, clinical counselor at Santa Fe Indian School. “The decisions that are placed on us at 18 don’t necessarily drive the rest of our lives, but they do set them up in really important ways,” she said, adding that young adults are expected to choose what colleges and careers they may want to follow while balancing school, family and sometimes work.
For some, their 18th birthday was hardly an event worth acknowledging because of the lack of change. “When I turned 18, it was just like, ‘Oh this is a thing now,’ ” said Darien Lopez, who turned 18 earlier this year. “Honestly, it’s not anything super major like everybody makes it out to be.”
However, even when not much seems to change, turning 18 still creates a new thought process in some teens. While Noisecat said she seems to have “some new sense of freedom and independence … it’s definitely a false sense of freedom” because the independence is accompanied by the need to make her parents proud and impress work or colleges.
With the sense of “false freedom” commonly found in teens, does turning 18 really constitute a big step? Adults cannot drink alcohol or gamble until they are 21, and a recent Pew Research Center study found that more than 30 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds still live with their parents. “It’s probably not the best idea to think that you’ll get that same sort of freedom with the countless other adults around in the ‘adult world,’ ” Lopez said.
Even when young adults don’t feel that they truly fit into the ‘adult world,’ some say the new opportunities, no matter how small, can be empowering.
“Weirdly enough, my favorite part about being 18 was buying a Lotto ticket and a pack of cigs,” said Veruete-Maya. “I don’t smoke, or ever plan to, but just by buying a pack allows me to have that sense of responsibility.”
Gabby Armendariz, who will turn 18 at the beginning of August, agreed. After listing a number of new possibilities, like going to 18-and-up concerts and getting married, she said, “Not that I plan on all of those, but they are things that I can do when I become an adult.” To her, it’s not actually doing the activities but simply the idea of them that matters.
Above all, Van Hoose said, being 18 is a time to explore one’s self and the world. She said that even if someone’s life hasn’t changed much, their world view has. “It’s like you’re confronted by this tangible sense of beingness,” she said, adding that the process was slow for her. “I couldn’t deny that there was a world bigger than me to love.”
The world opens up to teens at that moment, she said, and even if it takes a long time for them to be able to explore it, just having the experience of the world at your fingertips is exhilarating. “It’s this explosive time of chaos and movement, and that’s a good and beautiful thing,” she added.
Turning 18 and taking a step toward adulthood can feel overwhelming and like life has hit fast forward. “[I feel] like I need to be doing something extraordinary with every second of my time,” Noisecat said.
Because of this pressure to live life faster, Van Hoose’s advice is: “Take your time, have compassion toward yourself. … You don’t need to know how everything will work yet.”
Generation Next reporter Hannah Laga-Abrams contributed to this story.
Seneca Johnson is a senior at Santa Fe Indian School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hannah Laga-Abrams will be a freshman at Middlebury College. Contact her at email@example.com.