It has long been debated what the appropriate age is for a list of development milestones like driving, drinking alcohol, and being considered an adult. How are these ages decided and how are they enforced? Often these ages seem somewhat arbitrary; what really is the difference between a 20-year-old and 21-year-old? Specific ages are established for universality under the law, but how are these ages even ballparked? Legal age limits usually have a history behind them that shapes the way people think about age and maturity. There are several impactful examples that demonstrate this influence.

In terms of legal adulthood, the Vietnam war had a huge impact on where the adulthood threshold lays. The draft had established age 18 as the beginning of young men’s eligibility for military duty and with that came questions about the rightness of enlisting young people who, at the time, couldn’t even vote for the war either way. This sparked a movement to lower the voting age to 18, and with this success, it only seemed to make sense to also make 18 the legal adult age. As a result, the 21-year-old drinking age was scrutinized and effectively lowered to 18 and 19 in many states. After this change, drunk driving increased among this age group and in 1984 congress put pressure on states to return the drinking age to its current status at 21.

These cases highlight the relevance of cultural debates and their effect on where legal age limits are established. These debates seem to be mostly at rest in the national debate, but a new debate has taken their places.

To analyze this cause-and-effect in current context, take the online bullying conversation happening right now. Like drinking and driving, there seems to be a relationship between age and bullying through electronic devices. Which begs the question: if online bullying is a uniquely digital trend and most common in adolescence, at what age should digital technologies be put in the hands of young people?

The verdict seems to be out on this age among youth health professionals- 13 has been recommended by a host of agencies who specialize in young people and digital technologies. This is the age at which young people develop a sense of perception and become capable of thinking in hypothetical situations. These skills allow them to be able to imagine a situation in which their decisions could negatively affect their lives, which is important in making judgement calls. Even legally, thirteen has been established as the age when internet companies can start collecting data about a person’s online activities without a parent’s permission. This law, called “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998” (COPPA), has resulted in many internet companies adjusting their terms of agreement to prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from having accounts on their website, rather than just not collecting their data.

After determining what age is appropriate in accordance with the potential risks, how do we solve the problem?

In the previously mentioned cases, the law was the ultimate arbiter in preventing drunk driving in that age range and making sure young people can vote for the wars they can be drafted into, but what about digital technologies? Especially considering online bullying isn’t an experience every single adolescent has, how can we solve the problem without taking away the technologies that are so necessary in modern life? Because of the internet’s anonymity, holding individual people accountable for their online actions is particularly challenging, which if approached through law, can result in vague laws being implemented. Thinking about solutions outside of the law, there are ways to empower people with technologies that gives them the ability to mitigate online bullying on their own.

BulliPatrol’s new service scores social media messages as positive or negative based on language sentiment while allowing your child’s messages to remain private. This enables parents to be better equipped when taking the necessary steps towards protecting, seeking counseling, and discussing the effects of online bullying experienced by their child before the issue becomes too difficult to handle.