I think about seventeen,
I think about my old Jeep,
I think about the stars in the sky.
In their late teen years, at least in the US, kids become no longer kids... but not quite adults.
A character age as device, being explicitly 17 — especially if it's qualified as almost 18 — is used to show when these young adults are in their Coming of Age. They may be aware that they're entering their final throngs of true childhood, thus becoming nostalgic. Of course, being seventeen also offers a semantic sense of not too young nor too old. It's like you can only enjoy this feeling of total freedom — to be given a pass to run wild, and the ability to actually go: like Free-Range Children on steroids — aged seventeen.
It's suggested that seventeen is the age at which people are inherently dichotomous: both a child and an adult, also neither a child nor an adult; being idealistic yet also postulating on mortality (see: The Anti-Nihilist); it's strongly when personal identity solidifies and they find who they are, but also when they feel most lost and searching. In Real Life and in media, expect (all of the above, but in particular) being lost in 'such a vast world' feeling (especially in the more stylistic and thought-provoking age of The New '10s) to actually be part of the person's identity.
Trust this to be the age that people sigh dreamily back at when they turn on their Nostalgia Filter or sing their Ode to Youth. It may also be an important age in the relationship of High-School Sweethearts. Characters that are presently this age, if fitting the trope, will likely be self-reflective about their life and experience some horrific Age-Appropriate Angst. It may be the best but also most regretful age.
This trope to some extent relies upon an equating of physical with emotional maturity, though typically accurate rather than fallacy. Relevant plot tropes are the Coming-of-Age Story and both Took a Level in Idealism and Cynicism. See also Nostalgic Narrator.
- In From Bajor to the Black, viewpoint character Kanril Eleya is seventeen when the main narrative begins. In short order she breaks up with her high school boyfriend over him wanting them to go to a religious college together and her intent to enlist in the Bajoran Militia; her father thinks her grown-up, her mother still tells her she's "still just a seventeen-year-old girl" as she boards her flight to boot camp. From there she loses her virginity, earns a medal for valor in combat, and ultimately attends Starfleet Academy and finally becomes captain of a starship.
- The Edge of Seventeen: Follows 17-year-old Nadine, who finally realizes that her life hasn't been so happy up to now through a series of unfortunate Wild Teen Parties, and wants to kill herself after retrospectively also realizing that her life has never been as unhappy as it is now, either.
- 17 Again: A washed-up divorcee is returned to his 17-year-old body in order to affect change in his life when it was most important.
- In the Harry Potter books, the legal threshold for wizards' adulthood is at 17 (compared to 18 for the real/muggle UK) — this is shown in The Goblet of Fire when the goblet in question will only allow for those 17 or older to come near it.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the events of her 17th birthday are in one of the most important episodes in the series. She loses her virginity to Angel, who is said to reverse to his evil self called Angellus when he is the happiest in his life, ie: having sex with Buffy. Buffy would finally realise that Angel is definitely not the man (or Vampire) she liked and realises he must be defeated.
- ABBA's "Dancing Queen". The lyrics suggest how that being 17 is the key to being free in dance, and yet can also be interpreted as retrospectively wishing the singer could be 17, despite how peppy it is:
You are the dancing queen,
Young and sweet, only seventeen.
You can dance, you can jive,
Having the time of your life!
- Alessia Cara's "Seventeen":
I wish I could freeze time at seventeen.
- Blitzen Trapper "Furr"
When I was only 17
I could hear the angels whispering
- Eric Church's "Springsteen", as in the page quote, reminisces upon memories of being "so alive, never been more free" at a concert age 17 brought on by hearing Springsteen again later in life.
- Circa Waves' "T-Shirt Weather" is yet another song about the unforgettable summer living they loved at this time.
Seventeen went far too quick.
- There's the super angsty song "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian. It's all about how she learned the truth: that only pretty teens get success in the world and ugly kids get left lonely and pining on the edge of adulthood.
- Kid Rock's "All Summer Long":
It was 1989 my thoughts were short my hair was long
Caught somewhere between a boy and man
She was seventeen and she was far from in-between
It was summertime in Northern Michigan.
- Kygo feat. Selena Gomez "It Ain't Me" is about someone getting drunk and their friend not looking after them because they're not kids anymore:
I had a dream, we were back to seventeen,
Summer nights and The Libertines, never growing up.
- Marina & the Diamonds "Seventeen"
- Britney Spears "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" discusses not just the confusion of being age seventeen and so neither social construct of girl nor woman, but also asks for a moment to remain in this time of in between.
- In "It Was a Very Good Year", written by Ervin Drake and best known in a version recorded by Frank Sinatra, a Nostalgic Narrator looks back on the best years of his life. The first he mentions is the year he was seventeen.
When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
- Golden Sun: At age 14, Isaac's father and Jenna's parents and brother are lost, when thieves break into the village sanctum and set off a trap that causes a giant boulder to fall. Three years later, the thieves return, stealing the Elemental Stars and kidnapping Jenna (Felix now working with them). Isaac and his best friend Garet are sent out to retrieve them, leaving the village for possibly the first time.
- World of Warcraft: Anduin Wrynn is 17 in Legion, when his father is killed and he becomes King of Stormwind. Word of God actually said they thought 17 was a good age for him to become King — Young enough to still have the "Boy King" aspect of the character, but old enough to understand his duties and have agency in his decisions rather than being a Puppet King who's Kingdom is effectively run by his advisers.
- The song "Maritime Memory" from Splatoon is a bittersweet ballad that is only supposed to be sung by seventeen year olds. This implies that the otherwise vaguely aged Idol Singers Callie and Marie were seventeen in the first game.
- The retrievable memories and the diaries of Princess Zelda and King Rhoam in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild show that Zelda went up Mount Lanayru to pray at the Spring of Wisdom on her seventeenth birthday in a last-ditch effort to awaken the Royalty Super Power needed to defeat Calamity Ganon. She couldn't go up there before because people under seventeen are forbidden from doing so. And when she comes back down still unable to awaken that power, Calamity Ganon reemerges from his seal to devastate Hyrule.
- The Loud House: Lori, firstborn and eldest is 17, and several of the episodes focusing on her involve this trope:
- Despite reminding her siblings she's eldest, she has a Sickeningly Sweethearts nickname for her boyfriend all the other kids know and use sarcastically: "Boo Boo Bear"
- She only allows Leni, Luna and Luan to come to her sophisticated party. She tries to make it an elegant affair,eschewing what she thinks of as childish. The party flops and everyone leaves until Leni posts a photo of fun with the younger sibs. Lori's teen friends weren't ready for a sophisticated adult soiree.
- "Driving Miss Hazy" Lori has been lording being eldest and the only licensed driver over the other kids so they band together to help ditzy Leni get her license. Lori becomes insecure that the kids won't need her anymore and sabotages Leni.
- Lori decides she needs her own space to get away from the chaos of 10 siblings. She realizes it's lonely and scary on her own and contrives to get back in the house without admitting her decision was hasty.
- "The Loudest Mission: Relative Chaos:" when she finds out that Bobby is not returning to Royal Woods, she has a Freak Out! and drives Lincoln to demand answers. After several abortive attempts to trick or convince Bobby to come back, she gives up and breaks down into Inelegant Blubbering. Bobby explains his plan, and Lori comes around, maturely realizing they'll only be apart for a year until university...and that his plan will let them be together long term.
- "Change of Heart" Lori is caught between hating Clyde's obsessive crush, and wanting the attention because it boosts her self esteem.
- In the UK, seventeen is the age at which one may legally learn to drive a motor-powered vehicle.
- In the US, it is the age at which one may rent/buy M-rated videogames and R-rated movies.
- Likely trying to be invoked by the teenage magazine called seventeen.
- One Frisky article, written by a procrastinating 21-year-old looking back at life after their last significant birthday, asserts that "Seventeen is the media world's go-to age of bittersweet reminiscence."
- Another 21-year-old writes about their faith in the phenomenon from Notre Dame University as an academic think-study:
According to the myriad references to being 17, the age isn't just one year in a life, but a symbol for growing up and all that comes with it. To be 17 is to be innocent but experienced, bold but afraid, naive but jaded or beautiful but lonely. The age, in the American psyche, is much more than the number of candles on a cake or a three-syllable word that's catchy to sing — it's the ultimate time of transition and change. Age 17 is the lynchpin in a lifespan, holding together all of the opposites and contradictions exposed or created with age.
Or maybe it's none of these things, and being 17 isn't so special at all. One thing is for certain: an age has never sounded so good.