Grown before our time

By Pearl Benjamin | Oct 10, 2019

Today I am eighteen. Still a teenager, but no longer a child. I can now sign my own legal paperwork, get drafted (maybe?), go to jail and use a grocery store deli slicer. Ah, what a time to be alive! This first year of adulthood is going to be full of possibilities and changes. But to be honest, I’m not sure how my new legal status has any effect on that. I’ve felt like an adult for a while now – I think my entire generation has, what with all the forcing-adults-to-protect-our-future stuff. Actually, today’s kids have to deal with a whole lot of “adult issues” before we turn eighteen. Here are just a few of the ways my generation has been adulting lately:

Gun Violence

Twenty-one young people are shot every single day in the United States. That’s a full high school class getting injured or killed by guns every day. Of those 21, at least four of us will die: two by murder, two by suicide. Eight of us will be injured in an attack and another eight will be victims of “family fire” when guns are misused or improperly stored in our homes. Gun violence will kill 1,488 of us this year. It’s now our second leading cause of death. As a result, we’ve been raised on lockdown drills and active shooter response training. We’ve sat through as many lectures about how to spot warning signs in a potential shooter as we have about choosing our future career paths. We live in a world where adults pray for our safety, but won’t take action to protect it.

Sexual Assault

Every nine minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the United States and 82 percent of them  are girls. Out of every nine girls, one of us will experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult before we turn 18. In fact, 16 to 19-year-old girls are four times more likely than the rest of the population to be victims of rape or sexual assault. The guys have better odds. Only 0.5 percent of assailants will end up in jail. We live in a world where the very adults who sexually harass and assault us sit in the most powerful positions available, including the Supreme Court.

Climate Change

If the world continues on its current carbon emissions path, by the time I turn 50 Maine’s climate will resemble that of New Jersey. The hottest temperatures of the year will have increased by three degrees celsius and annual snowfall will have decreased by 40 percent. My generation will be struggling to afford the repairs on our storm-damaged properties and medical treatment for newly introduced tick-and water-borne diseases. We are already facing the effects of climate-related natural disasters, but in the future we’ll face more common and more deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and floods than we ever have before. We live in a world where the biggest threat to our existence isn’t even recognized as a crisis. Where adults either cheer us or jeer us when we point to the science and name the threat and then continue on as usual the next day. We live in a time when some of us will think twice about bringing children into a dying world.


Children and teenagers of color are living in a new age of racism that is fostered and encouraged by our very own government. Latinx children are in constant danger of being racially profiled and harassed by ICE and CBP officers and children of immigrants live in daily fear of being separated from their parents or deported without warning. Any interaction with a police officer is cause for young black men and boys to fear for their lives and young black women face disproportionate rates of stress-related disease that is less likely to be treated properly. Muslim children endure relentless and sometimes violent bullying, with intolerance and hate now just a regular part of our political discourse. And of course, indigenous youth like water warrior Autumn Peltier understand that, as protectors of 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and defenders of cultures constantly under attack, the responsibility they carry is an outsized and heavy burden.

On top of all this, many of us are trying our best to get to college. “Yes, fight for your lives, kids, but get those SAT scores up, too!” The culture surrounding college admissions is more competitive than ever, the cost of tuition is higher than ever and the income inequality facing us after college is more extreme than ever. So in 20 years, when we’re all on the run from climate catastrophes, angry guys with guns and more, we’ll also be weighed down by crippling debt. How lovely.

Thankfully, my 18th birthday does offer at least one weapon for battle in these bleak times: voting. And you better believe I’ll be voting for candidates who support gun licensing and background checks and keeping sexual assailants off the Supreme Court. I’ll be picking candidates who have a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Candidates who will take on white nationalists and address systemic racism. Candidates who will fight for indigenous rights and humane immigration policies. My generation is ready to do our part. But that doesn’t mean we want you adults to step into the background. We need your support and partnership now more than ever. By working with us to fight for your children’s world, you’ll give us a chance to fight for ours.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.



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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 10, 2019 14:04

Kudos Pearl and words of wisdom gives us pause. I remember being 18 years old and just starting out from High School. Things were different then, but sort of the same. We "new" High School adults joined the work force, some of us got married and started families and others, a small few, went onto college. I worked, raised a family and eventually returned to get my college degree. Life is tough and different for each generation. I ponder now at age 85 and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Someday Pearl, you will too.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever...+:0)...

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