Recently, many supermarkets in the UK have voluntarily decided to impose a ban on selling highly-caffeinated energy drinks to children under the age of 16. In an interesting turn of events, the retailers themselves have decided to self-restrict in this manner, without the state’s usual heavy-handed imposition.
This is really a first for the UK, whose government is usually chomping at the bit when it comes to controlling our decisions. Be it protecting us from the dangers of cigarette packaging, or the second-largest party suggesting a ban on junk food commercials, or simply taxing all of our favourite vices to death, Britain is usually the European flag-bearer of nanny statism.
The unique British brand of state interference, however, has left teens in the UK with some rather juxtaposing freedoms. Here are three fun things you can do as a British 16-year-old (and three things you can’t).
- You can… Join the army
With your parent’s permission, you can enlist as a soldier in the British army once you turn 16. While you won’t be seeing active service until you turn 18, you’ll go through all the training, receive substandard education in English and maths, and be locked-in to military service until you turn 22.
Thus, once you’re old enough to buy a can of Red Bull from the local supermarket, you’re apparently also old enough to commit yourself to six years of military service. While you might be old enough to learn how to prepare for real warfare, however…
You can’t… Play Call of Duty
While the state is more than happy to hand you a rifle and train you to kill, it still thinks you need to wait a year or two before you can do that online. In the UK, violent video games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
So, if you’re a British 16-year-old who’s yearning for some combat action, don’t look to your local video game retailer; find the nearest recruitment office instead!
- You can… Have sex and get married
At 16, regardless of gender or sexual identity, you can consent to sex in the UK. If you’re in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, you also won’t get prosecuted if you consent with a similarly-aged partner before the age of 16.
What’s more, with both parents’ permission, you can even get married once you turn 16. Not only can you commit to a life of military service at 16, you can commit to a lifelong marriage as well. Long-term commitment making seems to be something the UK government trusts teenagers with, even if it won’t trust them to vote.
Nonetheless, 16-year-olds should rejoice at the freedom they have both to sleep around and to commit to a serious parship. However…
You can’t… Watch Pornography
While the state seems to have no issue with 16-year-olds performing the acts themselves, watching them is a big no-no. The government feels so strongly about under-18s watching porn that they even plan to implement mandatory age-checks for online porn providers, with a hefty fine for those found in non-compliance.
So, while you’re perfectly free to sleep with whomever you please at 16, don’t even think about watching other people do it!
- You can… Gamble
Once you turn 16, you’re free to spend your hard-earned (or more likely your parents’) cash on the National Lottery or football pools. In gambling via the lottery, you have a 1 in 10 million chance of becoming a millionaire, while football pools can depend on a number of factors.
Despite these astronomically low odds of winning, the state has no issue with 16-year-olds gambling in this fashion to their heart’s content. Whether it’s a one-off bit of fun or a weekly habit, playing the lottery is a wholly state-sanctioned activity for teenagers in the UK.
You can’t… Gamble?
Although other forms of gambling, such as a visit to a casino or the use of a slot-machine, give the gamble far better chances of success than the near-impossible chances of the lottery, you won’t be allowed to try them until you turn 18 in the UK.
With sports, too, you’re pretty limited before your 18th birthday. While football pools are totally fine at 16, horse and greyhound racing is a no-go.
So, once you turn 16 in the UK, not only can you enjoy a energy drink from your local supermarket, but you can get married, join the army, and blow all your money on the lottery! Just don’t let the local bobby catch you watching porn, playing computer games, or betting on the horses. That would be unacceptable for such a young mind.