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Adulthood: what does it really mean?

There have been a growing number of blogs and articles along the lines of “you know you’re an adult when…”, and “you can’t be a real adult until…”. These articles tend to be very focused on what the person writing the article has achieved and experienced, and they can leave the rest of us feeling a little confused.

The line between child, teenager, and adult is very blurred, especially with the introduction of the term “young adult”. What is the difference between a young adult and a full adult? Is there an age where you become an “old adult”? This strange lack of line coupled with recent research that the brain doesn’t fully finish developing until the late twenties or early thirties, has left many twenty-somethings confused about where they stand, and many people older than this feel vindicated that they were right: “those twenty somethings aren’t real adults yet; they’re not like me”.

So, what does it mean to be an adult? To be a grown-up? Are they the same thing?

To me, growing up and being adult meant being financially responsible, living out of the family home and paying my own bills. That was my personal definition. And technically I haven’t reached it yet. I can’t go visit my family without them paying for my plane ticket, and if I ever got really sick I could never afford it without their help (although I guess that a pretty universal problem in the US). Mine can’t be an overarching rule because I wonder – what about the people who are living with their parents, the people who moved home after college and have regular jobs but are saving up for their own place. Are they not adults yet? Nowadays, more and more people are living with their parents after they’ve finished high school/college/graduate school. Some parents with kids are moving back in with their parents due to financial problems. I think that these people, who are often in their 30s and sometimes 40s, who sometimes even have their own children, should be called adults. However, I don’t think that having children necessarily makes you an adult. We know that there are kids as young as 10 who have had their own children, and I wouldn’t say that that means they are definitely adults now.

Well, if we’re thinking about this question so much we have to wonder why it is so important. It’s a big issue, especially among 20-somethings, of being grown up and reaching adulthood. Why is it such a big thing? Let’s be honest now, do people even want to grow up? The older I get the more I realize that most of the people around me (ranging in age from 20s to 80s) never really wanted to “grow up”. Inside many people still feel like they’re faking this whole adult thing, and that they’re really still 18 inside (or some other teenage age usually). If we don’t even want to really grow up then why are we so obsessed with it?

I don’t really have much more to add, what I’d like to know is what does “being an adult” mean to you, and does the label really matter?