When do you reach adulthood? A current petition on the internet asks for a change in the law so that a 17-year-old taken into custody by the police will be treated as a child.
It offers the very tragic and powerfully emotive case of a teenager called Joe Lawton who committed suicide after spending the night in a police cell. But why was Joe Lawton in a police cell? For drink driving. He failed a breath test. Joe was considered old enough to legally drive a car. He was considered old enough to legally buy and drink alcohol. He was old enough to pose a serious danger to other road users by driving home drunk after a party in the middle of the night.
For Joe's parents this is a tragedy but the question of whether you are an adult or a child cannot be settled so easily.
If somebody is old enough to behave like an adult, by driving a car and by drinking alcohol, then surely they are old enough to be treated like one.
What if Joe had killed somebody? Then the tragedy would be the other way around.
The LibDem party and the Scottish Nationalists both want to drop the voting age from 18 to 16, arguing that 16-year-olds are old enough to understand politics and should vote because they pay tax. How do they pay this tax? How many of them have jobs, now that the school-leaving age is 18, and how many earn enough to pay tax on it? Only a handful of models and child actors surely. Well, some of the things they buy might be subject to VAT. Not food, and not children's clothes, not books or newspapers or magazines or cinema tickets or bus fares or admission to sports centres or activities. Not on health services and only 5% on sanitary protection. So unless these 16-year-olds are buying alcoholic drinks and takeaway meals they are not paying VAT either.
Where would they get the money anyway? The Labour government started paying the Education Maintenance Allowance to 16-18-year-olds from low-income families just to stay in school. It is a bribe of course, but it is more than many school-leavers used to earn in real jobs in the 1960s or 70s. If the government gives them this money and they spend it on VAT-rated luxuries I don't see how that gives them the right to vote.
The main reason the LibDem party wants to lower the voting age is that only children would believe their party's promises at the next election...
In previous generations, a lot of people left school at 14 or 15 and worked full-time until they were 21 before being allowed to vote. They were old enough to join the army or to be conscripted into it but too young to go to the ballot box. Nowadays we have a situation where teenagers have got virtually all the rights of adults without any responsibilities. If they don't want to do what their parents say, they can claim "children's rights". But if they refuse to go to school, their parents can be gaoled - yes gaoled and I am not joking. That is an appalling injustice. A parent cannot force a child to have a bath without being accused of "cruelty and abuse", but a stranger can supply them with contraception or abortion without the parent being informed.
We have created a generation of young people who get all the advantages of adulthood, while evading the responsibilities. When they finally become real adults, they may find it a terrible shock.