What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term 'Adult'?
You're probably thinking something along the line of freedom? bills? perhaps taxes?
Rather than going in circles with your thoughts, why not see what others are saying and set it straight once and for all.
What are the masses saying?
Recent research done by the BBC documentary Club 18-30, asks Britons what they thought were the signs that someone has grown up. Unsurprisingly, it is exactly what I think is the outdated indicator that someone can be called an adult or a grown-up. The three highest picked answers are (in order): (a) Owning your own house, (b) having a full-time job, and (c) moving out of your parent's house.
Another survey done by earnest.com showed the same result, just in a different order with the first pick having a stable job, followed by owning your own house, and moving out of parent's house being the third-highest overall pick.
Still a valid point or an outdated mindset?
Richard et al. (2015) released an essay discussing the markers to adulthood which I will try to share my interpretation on it in this article. Based on the foundational research part of the essay, they categorized the markers to adulthood in four different parts; biological markers, social markers, psychological markers, and legal markers.
In short, the most common basic signs for adulthood are none other than the onset of puberty, which used to start quite late back in the 1700s and 1800s (menstruation starts at 15 to 16 years old for women) compared to recent decades (starts at 10 to 12 years old).
These changes, which are generally attributed to nutritional and environmental factors have been accompanied by a shift in the value of children and childhood. Whereas in the twentieth century, there has been a huge decrease in child mortality, the emergence of compulsory schooling, and declines in fertility, which in turn cause children to have a psychological value, not just an economic one like back in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
That being said, with how current society works, where it is not uncommon for late-teens to engage in sexual activities or become a parent, concerns and risks arise as societies responded negatively to these massive cultural and social shocks. This, in turn, diminishes the significance of puberty as a sign of adulthood and instead marks it as the transition from childhood to adolescence.
The process of becoming an adult is associated with the obtainment of responsibilities and social roles, which traditionally consist of finishing school, finding a job, leaving home, getting married, and having children. However, the last few decades have brought large-scale changes in the process of transitioning to adulthood all around the world.
The Transition To A New Age
With much more economic opportunities and the rate of social networking growth, young people tend to leave home, get married, and become a parent at a much faster rate than what it used to be. Some of the examples that can be a good measure are how most decent standard of living today requires a college education, and even with college, it takes longer to secure a full-time job that pays enough to support a family nowadays. This results in a delay in marriage and parenting for most people, most notably if someone aspires to reach a high position in his/her career.
Even so, we must also consider that people have significantly different sets of opportunities and experiences depending on their backgrounds and resources, and with the current technological advances, young people need to develop much more soft and hard skills to be able to compete with their peers.
How does this affect the current social markers of adulthood
Nowadays people tend to have more freedom in how they live their life, even though it comes with many risks as individuals are subject to institutions and policies that are designed in an earlier era. This so-called freedom depicts how different generations have different ideas on how the journey to adulthood feels.
Even though most people agreed that the traditional markers regarding education, employment, and family formation are still important for the well-being of said individuals and societies, these roles may no longer be enough to define the start of adulthood, given that they now happen much later, and that marriage and parenthood are inapplicable to or rejected by a large number of people who decide to remain unmarried or childless due to circumstances or by choice.
The psychological markers of adulthood can be defined more as the subjective or internal phenomenon, one such example is the feeling of becoming an adult. These phenomenons can be shown by markers such as one being more responsible to oneself, starting to make independent decisions, or even become financially independent. Further research shows that young people use more individualistic and indeterminate criteria on how they view adulthood, rather than the traditional roles given by the older societies.
A correct view on things?
Although the perspective on old and new maturity or adulthood looks different, they are not contradictory, on the contrary, they support each other. One such example is the degree of maturity or responsibility necessary to perform the role of a parent, which evidently shows in the number of young people who are actively postponing marriage and parenthood because they want to be ready for and do well in those said roles.
A valid depiction of reality?
Though marriage and parenting have mostly become dissociated with adulthood due to the postponing done by the current generation's young adults, financial independence is still one of the most prominent signs of adulthood as it is a very popular notion of autonomy. On the other hand, research shows that a large proportion of middle and upper-class Americans still receive financial assistance until their 30s.
Currently, there is a consensus that full legal emancipation from parents occurs between the age of 18 to 21, where young people are granted rights and responsibilities as embedded in the law. While these legal ages are important indicators to youth that they are going into a new category of adulthood, few young people today are truly independent concerning the social, economic, and psychological markers that have been described earlier.
There are some differences in the granting of particular rights and responsibilities in different countries, as most are fully structured by biological age. Few examples are voting, driving, driving, military service, working, and making medical decisions. This has caused a dissonant experience like being able to vote at 18 but not drinking until 21. And while developmental research has long noted that chronological/biological age is a poor and rough indicator of the development status of an individual, ultimately these judgments are based on assumptions about when young people are mature enough to make 'adult' decisions.
Further research on the topic
Other than the developmental research stated above, recent brain research on the development of the prefrontal cortex, one that is responsible for solving problems, anticipating short and long-term consequences, and regulating emotions and behaviors, is not fully developed until the age of 25. While this creates questions on the law enforcement on juvenile cases, it is also proof that brain development is very detrimental in understanding behaviors and their consequences in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Food for thought
Besides the markers of adulthood that have been mentioned previously, I want to convey some of the issues that have not been discussed thoroughly.
One such issue is the importance of family relationships and socioeconomic status in a child's journey towards adulthood. Recent times show that parents are more called upon to provide assistance to their children, whether it be economical, mental, even in childcare. It's also common for parents nowadays to help their children in getting into college and finding employment opportunities.
This shows that families with limited means will have a much harder time providing support for their children, while their privileged counterparts will easily provide said support. In addition to that, recent recessions and the pandemic are not very helpful either. Families in the low and middle-income class will suffer dire consequences, and in turn, have to prioritize surviving while sacrificing something else; in some cases being access to higher education for their children.
Another point in regards to how the family relationship affects the journey towards adulthood is parent-child relationships. To illustrate, parents might have different expectations for each of their children, which in turn will affect how they treat and value certain children and the expectation that is resting on those young shoulders.
Continuing, we should also consider the socioeconomic standing of the families, which will greatly influence how the transitioning process towards adulthood feels to a certain child. Someone in a resourceful family will have time to explore and cultivate himself while growing up, while their counterpart might have to ramble and wait for opportunities to arrive.
Socioeconomic standings differences also showed in how parents from lower-income families tend to view young adults as independent, way earlier than how middle and high-income families might, and also expected to contribute to the household and take care of family members.
With all that extra considerations added, let's move on to the conclusion.
Although societies have yet to confront the substantial consequences of the economic and social changes brought about by the increasing need for higher education, the postponement of work, marriage, and childbirth, it is quite clear that there is no single correct path to define adulthood, as there are so many uncertainties and factors in every person's journey towards adulthood.
The journey towards adulthood should not be a leap of faith, rather a long process, in which someone accumulates experience and events until it renders someone an adult in the eyes of oneself and others. Adulthood should not just be measured by how well someone is doing financially or mentally, but rather by how one deals with problems, especially in the process of building a sense of identity a carries himself into this new, uncertain world.
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