What Does It Mean To Be An Adult?
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One of the most notable observances in this day and age is that people are maturing much later in life than they used to. Centuries ago people were considered to be adults when they were teenagers and became apprentices while starting families at the age of 14. Of course people also did not live as long either.
Starting off with the definition of an adult from a child’s point of view, we see someone who is simply "older". In addition to older age we see someone who is more authoritative, decisive, and not likely to have doubts about anything. The more legal definitions break down the emergence of adulthood into stages; for example learning to drive at 16. You can also go out and get a job at this age too, and register for Selective Services and voting two years later. The most celebrated ages for the rite of passage into adulthood come at 21 and 25. This is where you can legally drink and rent a car, respectively. The latter is where you insurance rate for vehicles begins to drop. 25 is also the age at which the brain has finally wrapped up it's pre-programmed growth process.
The American Dream?
Then you have the post-World War II definition of what it means to be an adult. This definition has to do with a married homeowner who is established in business and supports his family, or his wife who cares for the family. Because these are huge responsibilities, they require a huge amount of personal growth, especially in this technological day and age that has life ramped up at top superhuman speed.
The more psychological definition, which involves a "self-sufficient" person who knows how to take charge of their own life and be more personally responsible. Anybody these days who achieves this has exhibited significant signs personal growth our of their childhood years; especially with the challenges of living in the post-modern world of the 21st century. This goes with the more classical definition of what being an adult meant back in the 1930’s and 1940’s: one who is sophisticated, knowledgeable, and worldly (in a good way). These traits can be seen in the celebrities who dominated the big screen during that era of the Great Depression and World War II. In your journey toward greater personal growth, if you want to see what it’s like to be more polished and elegant just watch any old movie from the above era with Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant in it, or even John Wayne a few decades later with his sophisticated cowboy style - These are the archetypal symbols of adult males in the U.S.
Today you have something that is actually referred to as more of a "kidult" or the perpetual adolescent. This is someone who embraces their inner child, wears fashions of a generation under them, plays video games, listens to “teeny bopper” music, and reads juvenile fiction. In other words they refuse to act their age. Of course in and of itself it is not necessarily bad to be in tune with the younger generation. It may help you to live longer and be more charismatic. Not to mention it may be easier for you to finding fulfilling work as you get older if you are seen as hip, and if you are carefree, the lack of stress will make you look a couple decades younger.
What separates a "kidult" from an adult? An adult is more mature and caring. You can rely on them because they are more experienced and responsible. They don’t just live for themselves but for others around them, especially those who depend on them in some way; whether it is their aging parents, their children, life partner, or even their co-workers.
Adulthood = Responsibility & Humor
The key word here for what it means to be an adult is “responsibility”. You can’t be a true adult and be irresponsible in any area of your life. Abdication of responsibility shows an obvious lack of personal growth. Consequently it is entirely possible to be a kidult and be just as responsible in the areas of life that count, especially if you exhibit care and compassion for those around you. Of course, one must learn to balance their sense of responsibility with their sense of humor by not taking life too seriously by being too adult.
In relation to personal growth, being an adult is all about how responsible you are with yourself and toward others. Aside from that there is nothing wrong with being in touch with your inner child as long as you know when to be serious. This may make you even more mature than people realize because it lessens the burdens of the extra responsibility that you face when you take on the responsibilities that come with adulthood.
So . . . These are my thoughts on what makes an "adult" in the U.S. these days. What do you think?
- Erwin Wooten