Wednesday, November 16, 2005



Today's not-really-news-story-of-the-day is about a 37-year-old woman in Georgia who, for two years, has been having a sexual relationship with a teenaged boy. Like the case here in suburban Seattle, where a female 30-ish schoolteacher kept having sex -- and children -- with a middle-schooler, the story makes the national news primarily for its titillation quotient. I suspect that there are about as many of these instances as there are bird flu cases (at least, for the moment).

In Georgia, this woman is now pregnant. She did what some would consider the Right Thing -- she got married. Except that the boy is still 15, and while Georgia law permits children under 16 to marry with their parents' consent (can anyone say "sharia"?), apparently the 15-year-old father of a pregnant 37-year-old woman's fetus may not marry. I want the American religious right to explain THAT to me... I suspect that they want to have their fetus and stone the mother, too, but perhaps I'm stereotyping.

I have met well-adjusted, successful people whose parents were what I would consider ridiculously young, so this can't simply be a matter of presuming someone young can't handle a child.

More to the point, this case throws all sorts of water on the rush to try teenaged crime suspects as adults. If you can't be 15 and be married in Georgia, then one would presume that you shouldn't be tried for murder as an adult, either.

Is this the hobgoblin of small minds? Perhaps. I remain confused by laws that say that 18-year-olds are mature enough to incompletely sever chads in Florida, but can't buy a beer. And why should 16-year-olds be permitted to drive, but not get an abortion? And does it matter what the actual 16-year-old is like? I remember junior high school, where a room full of 14-year-old boys could include kids who were practically zygotes and kids with facial hair that would have shamed most middle-aged men and muscles that would have made Jose Canseco jealous. The girls were the same; some were better-developed than any centerfold model, while others were as two-dimensional as the page on which the photograph was printed.

Society demands more maturity of its children at all ages, but especially so at markers along their paths to adulthood. Two centuries ago, if a teenager could read and write and cook and sew or reap and sow, that was all that was necessary to get along. A century ago, you could still pretty much get by without much book-learning and awareness of the world. Today we have five-year-olds being dressed up to look like they belong in Vogue, ten-year-olds dealing drugs in middle school, and fifteen-year-olds who know more about technology than most people twice their age. More important, we expect children to understand things that would have been the crowning achievement of any thinker not too far in the past. And, for crying out loud, we give these children access to things that are inconceivably expensive and dangerous -- not just a car, but a luxury car; not just clothing, but designer clothing; not just a summer vacation but unchaperoned trips to Europe or Central America.

Is it any surprise, then, that adults in their 30s find themselves emotionally at ease with kids in their teens? Is it any surprise when adolescents misread the signals they're given by both parents and society at large? No, it shouldn't be.

So if we're saying that a 15-year-old is bright enough to figure that he shouldn't kill someone, then we must reasonably judge a 15-year-old bright enough to marry.

I'm just saying.

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