When are you grown up?
“Grow up” and “act your age” are popular refrains of exasperated parents but these phrases, rather like our glib usage of generation, begs the question, when are we grown up? Of course, there is a fairly simple biological answer. The body reaches physical maturity between the ages of 18 and 21 by virtue of the fact that we stop growing, upwards if not outwards. And those ages tend to mark out in legislation the formal line that separates childhood from adulthood.
What were simple demarcations are now being muddied firstly by a trend by legislators to push more responsibility on to those who are even younger – I am thinking primarily of the bandwagon to give the vote to 16 year olds – and on the other hand a dependence of our offspring on their parents, at least for accommodation and financial assistance, well into their twenties and beyond. If what marks out a child from an adult is dependency for the basics, then childhood is extending rather than contracting. Perhaps, rather than the purely biological and legal distinction, there are social and psychological factors which determine when we have grown up.
In an attempt to resolve this line of enquiry I came across a survey which asked 2,000 people over the age of 18 what were the factors that made them believe they had reached adulthood.
The triggers for feeling that they had become an adult are interesting, quite sad and portray a rather strange view of the more mature set. 68 per cent said that the key rite of passage was buying your first home while 63 per cent thought that the patter of tiny feet and 52% getting married was the decisive moment. More boring activities such as paying into a pension (29%), becoming house proud (22%) and taking out life insurance (21%) were signs of adulthood to some. And, quaintly, some thought that looking forward to a night in (21%), doing DIY (18%), hosting dinner parties (18%) and having a joint bank account (17%) were features that marked the arrival of adulthood.
To these respondents unearthed by Beagle Street, the main characteristic which meant that you had not reached psychological adulthood was a reliance on your parents (42%). Other symptoms were living at home (36%), playing computer games (31%), watching children’s movies (30%) and watching cartoons (29%). Perhaps more alarmingly, key reasons why the respondents didn’t feel like adults included a fear of growing up and taking responsibility (28%), not wanting a real or 9 to 5 job (22%), a desire to travel and see the world (20%) and idolising juvenile role models (20%).
On average, the respondents felt that they reached or were likely to reach adulthood at the grand old age of twenty nine. So there we have it, straight from the mouths of babes. And with the price of housing becoming ever more unaffordable and the scandalous dearth of good quality, affordable rented accommodation and the high levels of youth unemployment this trend towards adult infantilism is likely to remain with us and the boundary between childhood and adulthood extend ever outwards. A grim prospect indeed.
And it begs a couple of questions too big for this post to consider – would a dose of nanny-statism reduce the divide between the start of chronological and psychological adulthood and whether the legislative definition of adulthood move nearer towards the psychological definition? We live in strange times.