When Does Responsibility Begin? 16, 18, 21?

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Read Alan Greenblatt's article in Governing Magazine, "What is the Age of Responsibility?"

The path to adulthood is marked by ages that signify responsibility. But science shows those laws have very little to do with teens' ability to make good decisions. Alan Greenblatt of Governing Magazine and Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg explain.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There are a few landmark birthdays that arrive with some serious significance: 16, in most states, you can get your driver's license, 18 you can vote, you can join the Army, you can sign contracts and you're on the hook or any bills in your name too. Twenty-one, you can toast your birthday with alcohol, 25 you can finally rent a car. And you don't have to be a teenager to find hypocrisy in those numbers. You can buy a car before you can rent one. You can fight in a war, before you can go into a bar. In some places, you can work in that bar before you can drink in it.

There are reasons for each of these apparently arbitrary milestones and arguments that some of these rights should be made dependent on an individual's ability to handle them or rather than a calendar, that instead of voting age or drinking age or driving age, we ought to decide on an age of responsibility. Was there a time you realized you were or were not ready, for a right or a responsibility? Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington: 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, we'll talk with Andrew Bacevich about whether President Obama's top General in Afghanistan crossed a line. But first, we're talking about the age of responsibility. Let's start with a caller. Dave joins us on the line from St. Louis.

DAVE (Caller): Good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: Good afternoon, Dave.

DAVE: My experience was my father decided that we needed to take flight training when I was 14 years old. And so, we lived in the Los Angeles area. We went out to Hemet, California. There was a place called Sailplane Enterprises, and we learned to fly. And these aircrafts had no engines. They were sailplanes. There was no radio in the aircraft. So when I was 15 and my flight instructor said, are you ready, you know, they hooked up the plane and into the wild blue yonder we went, and it was a good thing that I paid attention to my flight instructor, when I'm up there at, you know, 2,000 ATL with nobody for a lifeline.

CONAN: So, you learned to fly two years before you could get a driver's license.

DAVE: Absolutely.

CONAN: All right, Dave. Thanks very much. And - are you still flying?

DAVE: No, I've found motor sports. But that's another story.

CONAN: All right, for another show. Thanks very much for the call.

DAVE: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Joining us now on the line is Alan Greenblatt of Governing Magazine. He's a staff writer there and an editor of Governing's "Ballot Box" blog. And he's the author of an article called, "What is the Age of Responsibility?" And Alan, that's just one of the contradictions that comes up time and again.

Mr. ALAN GREENBLATT (Staff Writer, Governing Magazine; Editor, Governing's "Ballot Box" Blog): Well, that's right. I mean, as you point out, there are all these different ages for different rights and responsibilities, and they do seem arbitrary. And it's difficult for states to find exactly the right age because you may have people like Dave, who are ready to fly at an immature age, but you probably don't want all your 14 or 15-year-olds flying. So it's hard for states to test individuals, so they set these ages when they think you're going to be ready.

CONAN: Or most people are going to be ready.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Or most people.

CONAN: And you describe the contradictions faced by a young policeman in your article.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, that's right. I talked to somebody who was a cop. He was married. He was a college graduate. He was 23. And, you know, he seemed, but for all purposes, an adult. But he could not rent a car. He said, I've been in the 100-mile-per-hour police pursuits, and they wouldn't rent me a car. And I have to admit, if I as the customer, who had been in 100-mile-per-hour pursuits, I might not rent them a car, either.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREENBLATT: But, you know, there are these contradictions. You can buy a car, but you can't rent one. You can drive a car by yourself at age 16 and go to the movie theater, but you can't buy yourself a ticket to a R-rated movie.

CONAN: Yes, of course. And, you know, I guess teenagers have to learn that life is unfair. That may be one of the lessons we're drawing here.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, life is unfair, and I think it's probably impossible to set a perfect age for all these different things. The brain matures in a way that handles different tasks at different ages. And there's some practical considerations. It may seem odd that you can serve in the military but not get a drink. But there are reasons for these differences. Eighteen is actually a good age to recruit people, in part because they're fearless. They're not as cautious as they will be just a few years later. On the other hand, that caution is something you want people to have before they're at least legal to drink.

CONAN: And we're going to be talking about the brain science a little bit later in the program. But there's a lot of a tradition that, in fact, underlies the ages at which you - we decide that people are children no more and are suddenly adults. I think you point out it was Aristotle who first arrived at the age of 21.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Yeah. He had this idea that you had three seven-year stages of maturation in childhood. And when you're done with the three sets of seven and you're 21, then you're an adult. And then in the Middle Ages, they thought 21 was a good age for adults because you were big enough to wear a full suit of armor. And these seem pretty arbitrary reasons. And I think some of the brain scientists that we'll talk about would say 21 is probably not the optimum age. But since then, in, you know, recent decades, 18 has become more the age of adulthood for most things in this country. We had the 26th Amendment in 1972 giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, a lot of different responsibilities went to 18, including drinking in a lot of states. And…

CONAN: Well, that seems…

Mr. GREENBLATT: …since then, we've found that 18 was not a good age to have people drinking, when they could also be driving.

CONAN: Well, let's get another caller on the line. This is Shannon, Shannon calling from Oklahoma City.

SHANNON: Hi. I was just calling to comment about how when I was 16, obviously, I got my driver's license. But immediately following that, I had a few wrecks because of my inexperience driving. And since then, I have thought that I think 16 is a little too young for you driving and maybe the age should be moved to 18, which I know most high schoolers would disagree with me, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHANNON: …with the result of my wreck and my friend's many speeding tickets, I feel that that would be more appropriate age to start driving.

CONAN: Would you have thought the same even after your wreck, your first wreck?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHANNON: At 16, probably not. But once I got to 18, I think I thought that 18 was a better age.

CONAN: Yeah, once you were safely past the age.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHANNON: Yes.

CONAN: I hope you're driving more safely these days, Shannon?

SHANNON: Yes. Yes, I am.

CONAN: Oh, good. I'm glad to hear that. Thanks very much for the phone call.

SHANNON: Uh-huh. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Aaron, Aaron with us from Bingham Farms in Michigan.

AARON (Caller): Oh, yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi, there.

AARON: In Michigan, there's a - I live in Michigan, just across the border from Canada. It's only about 45 minutes by car. And the drinking age in Canada is 19, as opposed to being 21 in Michigan. And so there's a big tradition in the area of on everyone's 19th birthday, their friends get together, take them to Canada and everybody starts buying them drinks. And there's a huge culture in the area, especially among college students, of going into Canada for good times. There are the Windsor Casinos. But what I found from my own personal experiences in dealing with people is that the people that are drinking at 19 -begin to start realizing that there's more to life than that, that there's more to do than that. And once the - it becomes a difficult thing to obtain, while legal, it sort of loses its luster quickly. And by the time they're 21, their drinking days are behind them and they just sort of move on and have a beer casually with other people.

CONAN: Alan Greenblatt, you write about this a lot in your article, specifically about a proposal by some college and university presidents to lower the drinking age to hopefully get more students past the binge drinking that we see so much of on campus.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Yeah, that's right. That's their argument, that everybody is drinking anyway, and because it's illegal, it's kind of a fugitive thing and they can't control it. And the problem with this argument, I think, is - and by the way, they want to have a kind of individual-competence-testing model where they can find out when people are ready to drink.

I'm not sure what the test would be, whether it would be two drinks or more. But anyway, I think the danger of it is that, again, you know, the other caller was talking about driving. You don't want people making their driving mistakes the same time they're making their drinking mistakes. You want to kind of separate some of these ages, I think, just as a practical consideration. And one of the reasons - the reason states raised the age to 21 is that Congress passed a law saying if you didn't raise the age to 21, you would lost 10 percent of your highway funds. So all 50 states made 21 the drinking age.

But one of the considerations was that, as the caller says, people were going to other jurisdictions. They were driving to the next state, where the drinking age was lower, getting drunk, driving back, getting into crashes. It was a real problem. But sort of the underlying issue for all of these things is the question of how much responsibility to give people, how much rights to allow them.

We deny teenagers things we would not deny to adults, but there is this public safety and health component. We want to protect young people from the harm they can do themselves to others, and there's a real tough balancing act of helping them reach an age of responsibility, but in a way that is best for public safety. And it seems to me that the driving is where states have done the best.

The caller from Oklahoma City, Shannon, was saying she had a lot of wrecks at 16. And the insurance people will tell you the most dangerous time for a new driver is when they are a new driver, when they - the first six months after they get their license. It's very - they're very cocky, and it's a really risky time, and there are lots and lots of accidents.

And almost every state, every state but North Dakota has put in something called graduated driver's licensing, which is basically a provisional license. You get your license. You can drive legally, but there are different restrictions. You can't drive at night. You might have to have a parent in the car for a few months with you. You can't have your friends in the car with you.

And this gives teenagers a chance to drive and get real practice with - but with some safeguards so that they have this period where they can begin how to learn how to do it safely. And driving may be unique. It may be one of the few things where society says we're going to put this investment into gradually bringing kids along until they are responsible.

There's a societal benefit for letting people drive. They can drive to work. Their parents don't have to chauffeur them anymore, but there's not a real societal benefit to letting people drink earlier.

CONAN: Please. And Aaron, the other thing that's cited in the Governing Magazine article that Alan Greenblatt wrote is that when states raised the age to 21, the number of traffic accidents and the number of traffic deaths immediately dropped by 15 to 20 percent.

AARON: That's definitely something that's a significant reason for consideration. At the same time, though, I think part of it is that an arbitrary of an age up or down isn't going to give people the chance to learn responsibly what to do.

One of the advantages in the Michigan socializing people with drinking in Canada is that it's something that is taken in a social setting with people usually older that will sort of guide people through. It's sort of an initiation, after which point in time they learn not to make the same mistakes.

CONAN: All right, Aaron, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

AARON: All right, well, thank you.

CONAN: Any number of laws set arbitrary age requirements on young people, rules that often have little to do with what science says about the ability to make good decisions. More on that science part of this question in a moment - what brain scans tell us about maturity and more of your calls.

Tell us about decisions you made when you were younger that may have been, well, a little past your years or, well, wise, in retrospect. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. How's this for a mixed message: 18-year-olds can't legally drink or rent a car, but in many states, 10-year-olds can be tried as adults for murder.

We're talking about the age of responsibility, how young people are treated under the law and what new brain scans tell us about the real age of maturity. Our guest is Alan Greenblatt. He wrote the article "What is the Age of Responsibility?" that appeared in Governing Magazine. He's a staff writer there. You can find a link to that article at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Was there a time you realized you were or were not ready for a right or responsibility? Tell us your story. Our phone number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We got this email from Kevin in Davison, Michigan. I suspect that the only reason 16-year-olds are allowed to drive is so that they can get to work and satisfy the market for cheap labor. Most children that age lack the maturity needed behind the wheel.

And this from Megan(ph) in San Antonio, Texas. If the age required for getting a tattoo was 21-plus, I would look very different right now. Deciding who you are or what you want to look like for the rest of your life is maybe not a decision best left to your 18-year-old self.

For a look at some of the science that does and does not go to the making of these policies, Laurence Steinberg joins us now from his home in Philadelphia. He's a professor of psychology at Temple University, coauthor of the book "Rethinking Juvenile Justice." Nice to have you back on the program.

Professor LAURENCE STEINBERG (Psychology, Temple University; Coauthor, "Rethinking Juvenile Justice"): Good to be back.

CONAN: And what does the adolescent brain really look like? Is it capable in terms of voting, drinking, driving, decision-making?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, I wish that we had the technology that would answer that question, but we don't. I mean, what we do know is that there is continued maturation of the brain during adolescence and into the early 20s. But how we should use that science to draw legal boundaries between adolescents and adults is really uncertain because we can't look at a brain and say, well, this is now an adult brain. We don't have the technology. We probably never will have the technology to do that.

CONAN: Yet, as I understand it, the prefrontal cortex is the area that changes the most as we're in our late adolescence, up till the age of 25. And that's the area of the brain that's thought to govern things like, well, decision-making and impulse control.

Prof. STEINBERG: Absolutely. We know that the parts of the brain that mature, the systems of the brain that mature are those parts that are active when we engage in planning, thinking ahead, foresight and impulse control. And it's not just the prefrontal cortex. It also involves the connections between the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain.

So clearly, the parts of the brain that are responsible for decision-making are maturing during this time, but the more difficult question is asking when is somebody mature enough.

CONAN: And that can, as they say in many cases, vary with individuals.

Prof. STEINBERG: It does vary within individuals, and I think that one of the problems we encounter there is that we don't have the time or resources to test everybody.

I mean, imagine what the line would look like at the multiplex if we had to test everybody to see what their maturity was before deciding whether to let them in for R-rated movies. So we have to draw boundaries based on chronological age, if only because it's the only practical thing to do.

CONAN: And from what you've seen, have those arbitrary decisions that we've made in the past, based on whatever reasons we've had for various things, that 18 is the right age to allow people to vote, 16 to drive, 21 to drink alcohol? Do those seem wise?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, they certainly don't seem to have any scientific basis for them. I mean, generally speaking, we use 18 as the presumptive age of adulthood, and then we tweak that number depending upon what the consequences might be for teenagers and society.

So, for example, we use a lower age for driving because we think that there may be some benefits of allowing adolescents to get to their jobs, as one of the callers indicated before. But yet we use a higher age when it comes to drinking because we don't see any benefits to letting adolescents drink. So I don't think that there is a right age, and I don't even think that's it's necessary that we have one age that applies to everything.

CONAN: I wanted to get back to Alan Greenblatt, who writes for Governing Magazine. Obviously, people who write laws and enforce them are reading these brain-science stories, too. Have these brain scans begun to affect the way people are thinking about the laws that govern when people are allowed to do what?

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, I think they're beginning to have some impact. I think it begins to start a conversation. And professor Steinberg can talk about this better than I can, but I think it's beginning to have an impact in the juvenile-justice arena, the question of whether it really makes sense, as we've done over the last 30 years, to make it easier and easier to try kids well before they're 18 as adults, put them in adult facilities.

I don't think it's convinced anyone for the reasons the professor states, that it - you can't make a link between what a brain looks like at 25 versus 16 and say, well, this is going to affect behavior. But it's a way of opening a door to think about whether kids are really at a different stage, even if they're committing horrible crimes, whether they're more rehabitable than an adult would be.

CONAN: Laurence Steinberg?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, I think the reason that the research has attracted a lot of attention to people interested in juvenile and criminal justice is that there's an example where the age at which we treat people like adults is so out of synch with what we know about brain development and what we know about behavioral development that it just calls into question the whole logic of doing things like trying 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds as adults.

So I don't think that the brain science is going to be very important in arguments about whether the drinking age should be 20 or 21, or even 18 or 21. But I do think it has been important, as Alan says, in starting a conversation about whether the way we've organized the juvenile and criminal justice systems makes sense.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers in - Brianna(ph) with us, calling from Nashville.

BRIANNA (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say, first off, that thank you for your show. It makes my commute to school, hour-long commute a lot more enjoyable.

CONAN: Well, thank you for that.

BRIANNA: Also, I wanted to comment specifically on the car rental laws, because the other laws - or, the laws(ph). The other rules are sort of decided by state or federal governments, and so they're going to make their decisions as they will.

The car rentals seem to me to be more - they're governed by the companies. So I find it interesting. I'm 21. I work full-time. I go to school full-time, and then on the weekends, basically, I essentially do freelance work. And I am in a different city pretty much every weekend of every month.

They could have made by now - the car rental companies - could have made a bundle of money on me, or at least have a regular customer in someone who would use their services and could use them for a good reason who has a decent driving record, all that sort of thing. But because I'm not 25, I can't rent for any reasonable price for even those companies that do rent to 21 to 24-year-olds, and I'm much less inclined to do that if I'm going to have to jump through all these hoops, anyway.

CONAN: Right. Alan Greenblatt, as far as I understand it, she's right. This is not a governmental regulation or law of any sort. This is the car rental companies looking at statistics and saying people under the age of 25 are a much greater risk than those over.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, that's right. It's an actuarial question. They're private companies, and they've made a decision that the risk of renting to people before they're 25 outweighs the benefits of having a few good customers like Brianna. And that was something I tried to toy with in the article was the question of whether the car rental companies were right, whether 25 was the age of responsibility. And it just - again, it's not a practical thing. You can't delay a lot of these rights that are enshrined in our minds as being 16, 18, 21, until people are already well out of college and years into the workforce.

CONAN: Brianna, I'm afraid there's no good answer for you.

BRIANNA: Yeah, I just - I thought I would bring it up, considering I've owned two cars now in my life and drive regularly, and, you know, I'll be in New Orleans, Columbus, Seattle, wherever, and they lose a good customer because they want to judge based on age because…

CONAN: Arbitrary decision based on age. Yeah. All right. Drive safely, Brianna.

BRIANNA: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from David in Charlotte. If the ages for various things are based on development, shouldn't there be a gender difference, as women have been shown to develop faster during those years? Is that right, Laurence Steinberg?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, a little bit, but certainly, I think what the research would say is that by the time we get to the age range that we're talking about here, sex differences are quite small. So it is true that in early adolescence, you see girls as more mature psychologically than boys, but by late adolescence, there aren't really large differences.

CONAN: Let's go to Adam, Adam with us from Grand Rapids.

ADAM (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ADAM: I wanted to say just as 15-year-olds lose sleep over the fact that they're going to be able to drive in a year and 20-year-olds - whether they've had a beer or not - recognize that these are pinnacle ages. And I think the idea behind the law is to reinforce to people underage that there's something more than just the law banning them from having fun, that perhaps they'll gain something out of it, and, you know, there's some responsibility to be had behind it. I know not every underage person is going to gain this, but if some of them do, I think that's a plus.

CONAN: So Adam, you, in retrospect, think that maybe it ought to be a little older?

ADAM: Well, I'm 28 myself and, you know, I look around at my - some of colleagues and friends, and I think that we are now just realizing how to handle some things like alcohol and smoking, you know? We - a lot of us - a lot of people my age suffer from alcoholism and smoking effects, and we're sort of wishing we wouldn't have done it, so...

CONAN: All right. Adam, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

ADAM: Thanks.

CONAN: All right. Here's an email from Laura(ph) in Michigan. I would love to hear more about access to birth control and reproductive information, because having a baby too young is one of the biggest ways kids can mess up their lives.

I wonder, Laurence Steinberg, are you familiar with that?

Prof. STEINBERG: I am, and in fact, my colleagues and I have an article on this very topic coming out this month in the journal American Psychologist. And actually, a press release about it went out today in which we examine the logic of Supreme Court rulings that give adolescents the right to obtain abortions, as one part of this question, without parental involvement.

But the same court has ruled that people that age are not mature enough to be held to adult levels of criminal responsibility. So again, here's an instance in which we use different ages for different legal questions.

CONAN: And, indeed, your article, Alan Greenblatt, goes into another related issue, "The Age of Consent."

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, that's right. You know, just last night I happened to go to a concert with Lyle Lovett, and he sang a song about how there's world full of creeps. And I'm in a music studio, but I'm not going to sing it, but he had these lyrics: I met this pretty girl. She was 18, maybe. What's a year or two?

And, you know, States have really done a lot of work on laws regarding the age of consent and rape of children and sexual offenders, and they've - as with all these other things, their impulse has been to take a harder line. In recent years, though, they've found is that the arbitrary lines sometimes don't work in practice, that it makes sense to all of us that 13-year-olds shouldn't be having sex and 14-year-old and 15-year-olds, but they found that they were jailing people who weren't much older than that.

And they then went to pass some, what we call Romeo and Juliet Law, saying, if you were within three years of age of the younger person, it would not be considered statutory rape. So that's another instance where states are still trying to find the right balance of where to set the age.

CONAN: Alan Greenblatt of Governing magazine. His article, "What is the Age of Responsibility?" And Laurence Steinberg, a professor of Psychology at Temple University who studies the problem of behavior in adolescent development.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR news.

And let's go next to Jacob(ph), Jacob with us from Little Rock.

JACOB (Caller): Yeah. I was just wondering if, in terms of talking about determining a person's ability to make good decision or good judgment - I was just wondering if there's any - ever been any research on an age of irresponsibility or if someone maybe too old to drive or, you know, make those good decisions, good judgment in their mental state because there's certainly some - I mean, as far as I know, there's no law that would keep a person with Alzheimer's who can, you know, hardly walk without falling down from getting in a car and driving somewhere and could be a danger to themselves and others.

CONAN: Laurence Steinberg, has there been research on this?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, it's a very good question and I think the short answer is no. We - in our group, we have studied people as old as 30 and we see increasing maturity from, let's say, 20 onto 30, certainly before 20. We haven't pushed much beyond 30. Certainly, we know that for some elderly individuals - and I emphasize the word some - there is a decline in cognitive ability that would affect their judgment.

But I don't think that it's widespread enough to warrant reexamining laws governing elderly individuals in general, and I think there is an instance where we could probably rely on individualized assessments to decide whether someone was too impaired to be able to grant informed consent or sign a contract or drive.

CONAN: And Alan Greenblatt, you write in your article about a big difference between asking somebody to wait a little while longer before giving them a right or a privilege rather than taking away a right or a privilege that somebody has become accustomed to for many years.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, that's right. I mean, I was thinking a lot about a case about 10 years ago when, I think it was an 88-year-old man, lost control of his car and ran through a street fare or market in Santa Monica, California, and killed - I forget - it was eight or 10 people. And there was a lot of talk about whether there should be an age where older people are cut off.

But as Professor Steinberg says, we can test drivers. And the other thing, it's politically very difficult to take rights away from adults that we feel perfectly confident in saying young people aren't old enough to handle.

Prof. STEINBERG: Part of - if I may - part of the issue is that there are some things that we can test and that we feel comfortable testing like driving ability. There are other things that I don't know how we would possibly test, like whether somebody is mature enough to purchase alcohol or mature enough to see a movie with sex and violence in it. So for some decisions, we are just going to have to rely on chronological age, and you are best at estimating where the sanest dividing line is.

CONAN: Jacob, good question. Thanks for the call.

JACOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go - I forget one more caller. And this is Bessie(ph), Bessie with us from Portland, Oregon.

BESSIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Bessie.

BESSIE: I just wanted to say that I'm one of those people who has been, sort of consistently pushing the - not even just the age laws, but the age expectations.

I started going to college at 13, and I became married at 19 and, you know, had my first child at 22. And, you know, at the age of 24 now - I'm ripe old age of 24…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BESSIE: …approaching my fifth anniversary with my husband. And I find that I also began my career quite early. I began working in a professional job as a volunteer coordinator when I was 19 as well.

CONAN: And, Bessie, I hate to interrupt. But what was college like for a 13-year-old, surrounded by people - and those are big age differences?

BESSIE: Yes. Well, it was a community college, so there were some people in the teenage years. No one else under 16, definitely. But everyone, you know, it was 16 up into 80 in my classes, so the diversity of age helped. But what I learned quickly was that I needed to step up my game. And I think that it was a great experience for me in learning that this is what you have to behave like as an adult.

No one's going to make special concessions for you. And for anyone who is younger and does want some sort of exception like that, I think they have to understand that.

CONAN: Bessie, thanks very much. And continued good luck to you.

BESSIE: Thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate the call. And we'd like to thank our guest, Alan Greenblatt, Governing magazine's staff writer, editor of Governing's Ballot Box blog. And he wrote the article that triggered our interest in this story today, "What is the Age of Responsibility?" He joined us from a studio in New Mexico. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. GREENBLATT: Well, it's - time just flew, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: Laurence Steinberg also, a professor of psychology at Temple. He studies the problem of behavior and adolescent development, and coauthor of the book, "Rethinking Juvenile Justice" with us from his home in Philadelphia. And professor, thanks very much.

Prof. STEINBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up, the general and the president, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said publicly he would not support a pared down counterterrorism strategy. Did he cross the line? We'd like to hear from our listeners who are or were in the military: 800-989-8255.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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