Seventeen Year Olds? Not Quite Adults — But Not Children Either


When my grandfather was 17, he ran off to join the Army. It was World War II, and that was what young men of that time did.

When my father was 17, he was going to school and working full time at my grandfather’s shop, changing tires in the Texas heat. It was the early 1980s, and young men needed to make a living so they could prove they could support a family.

Granted, I am not a young man, but when I was 17 — which some days feels farther and farther away — I was working any odd job I could find, babysitting every chance I got, going to high school and taking college courses so I could get ahead. At the time, my grand ambition in life was to write The Next Great American Novel, so I was reading every classic American novel I could get my hands on and learning as much as I could about what made them great. Maybe not everyone was as ambitious as I was, but it was almost the start of the new century, and I felt I had to prove myself.

This was, perhaps, one of my bigger pet peeves with the whole Martin-Zimmerman case, that 17-year old Trayvon Martin should be described as a “child” (my other big pet peeve is that people describe him as “murdered” or “killed”, which gives into the narrative that he was just innocently minding his own business by beating George Zimmerman’s head into the concrete, so please, let’s amend this to “killed in self-defense” so we know he was an active participant).

Seventeen is not a child. Seventeen is above the age of consent in 38 states. Seventeen should be hussling to prove you’re almost an adult, not slouching about, getting kicked out of school and causing problems for your parents.

Seventeen should be an expert at how to interact with adults, how to shake hands, look people in the eye, and intelligently ask, “Sir, may I help you with something?”, or know when to walk into your house and leave well enough alone.

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