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September 3, 1982

The Changing Legal World of Adolescence

Author Affiliations

Judge US Court of Appeals (District of Columbia Circuit) Washington, DC

JAMA. 1982;248(9):1110-1111. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330090080042

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In this short (160 pages), readable book, Zimring develops a thesis that, just as physical maturity comes by stages, so maturity in the eyes of the law should not arrive in one fell swoop. Rather, there should be a period in which the older adolescent (aged 18 to 21 years) receives progressively more liberty to make choices, but without permanent stigma or severe penalty for mistakes—a time variously referred to by the author as one of "semiautonomy," a "peculiar mix of liberty and order," and "a special legally protected growing period that is a transition to a fully realized adult status."

He makes a case for legal recognition that the older adolescent is different not only from a younger minor but also from an adult, and it is counterinstinctive as well as counterproductive for our law to draw black-and-white lines for all purposes at age 18 or 21 years. One