Because life is a series of edits

Penny for Your Thought (Minus the Penny)

In Education, Thought on November 7, 2007 at 12:00 am

I’ve got a post or two brewing on the topic, but in the meantime, I’ll ask you the question:

  • When, in your opinion, does a child become an adult in our culture?

If you would, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

  1. I posed this question to my wife. She said that in our culture, a child usually becomes an adult between the ages of 18 and 21. If the child comes from a single parent family, then it is more likely that the child will be forced to become an adult at a younger age (i.e., 18 years at most). In my personal experience, I do not feel that I fully matured into adulthood until I had graduated from college at age 21 and obtained my first job. But even then, there were many lessons to be learned. And even now, at age 24, the learning never ends. Every day is an opportunity for growth. But if I had to draw the line somewhere, I would say that I made the decisive passage from child to adult when I graduated from college. College was the transition zone.

  2. My initial response is that there is some transition that happens between sophomore and junior year of college when the average American is more adult than child. It is a difficult question to answer for a number of reasons, the primary one being that there isn’t really a moment in time when *poof* someone is now an adult. My defining trait of an adult would be that someone thinks beyond themselves more often than their world revolves around just them. I find it interesting that your question (purposely?) omits adolescence and what was that other one you mentioned a while back…oddyssy? I’m just thinking outloud at this point. You’re right. This is a topic big enough for a post or two or three…

  3. Two quotes are relevant:

    First, RC Sproul apparently had a thing with RC Jr., where RC would say, “Son, when do you become a man?” and RC Jr. would answer, “When you tell me I’m a man.”

    Another (unattributed) quote goes something like this: “When a man stops worrying about being a man, then he is a man.”

    I agree with the above comments– but the truth is, it is difficult to pin down a certain time when someone does or doesn’t become an adult. The short answer is: when they are ready, or when they must, and not before.

  4. i think it is interesting that college was involved as part of the landmark. that wouldn’t help much with the person who doesn’t go to college, or the perpetual student who never seems to get out of school and earn a living. maybe it has to do with a time when a person starts to support himself (generic). that is certainly a sign of maturity in our day and age and marks the difference between a child and an adult. (for women who marry very young and move from home to marriage w/o working for pay, it might not involve working outside the home for pay, but she would certainly be working for other than herself.)
    it certainly is not a clear line of one day you are a child and one day you are an adult! definitely a process. m

  5. Another relevant quote: someone once told me, “When you can take the pebble from my hand…”

    I don’t want to be Mr. Negativity, but that question is super difficult to answer. For one thing, “Which culture?” The first two responses above are perfectly valid in some contexts, but the fact is that only a little more than half of “college-aged” Americans are going to college, and only about one-third of that age group actually gets a degree of some sort (including less than 4-year degrees). So, is it something in the experience of college (which both posts made reference to) that pushes one across the line, or is it simply the fact that one is usually about 20 years old in the middle of “the college years”?

    Secondly, it seems to me that not only in our contemporary culture, but also in cultures of diverse times and places people have been viewed as adults in some senses and yet not in others. For example–I can’t cite my source, but–I’ve always heard that Hebrew culture believed that a man reached maturity at age 30, which was why Jesus started His public ministry about that time. Yet, in all likelihood, He was working and providing for His family prior to that age. Working and providing are a couple of attributes that many would associate with adulthood. Also in that culture, it was common for young women in their early teens to get married and become mothers. That seems like adultish behavior too.

    Of course, our own culture has its share of inconsistencies. One may legally maneuver 2000 pounds of metal around public streets at high rates of speed at age 16 (or earlier if an older person is sitting next to you). And one may vote and fight in wars at the age of 18. Yet one may not purchase fermented beverages until age 21. And yet, in many states the age of legal consent for sex is 16. Then again, in order to hold certain public offices, one has to be as old as 30 or 35.

    In addition, whatever age one chooses, there will always be large amounts of contravening anecdotal evidence. I’m sure every one of us can think of several young people, perhaps in their mid or early teens, whom we consider “mature beyond their years.” And on the other hand, we all know numskulls in their 30’s and 40’s who have serious growing up to do.

    With all that said, the way I would go about trying to determine when a child becomes an adult is to look for some sort of rite of passage built into our cultural fabric that is shared by virtually everyone. It would have to mark a change in status in both the way that others viewed the child and the way the child viewed himself or herself. As far as I can tell, the thing that comes closest to that criteria is graduation from high school. About 85% of people are graduating from high school in America, which seems like a fairly high number. And, it seems to me to be the case that high school graduation is something that children, their parents, and the community look at as a landmark in the child’s life that indicates a change in status in the child’s relationship to the rest of the community. The child is expected to (sooner or later) find housing, employment, and a way to contribute to society. College isn’t so much a delay of that expectation as an acceptable means of achieving it that happens to take a few years.

    Okay, that was all off the top of my head. So, I’m not married to any of those ideas. But, things would sure be a lot easier if we could just do the “pebble test.”

  6. Ha, ha!

    I took so long to write my tome that Martha was able to get to the gist of most of my main points and cut out all the fat!

  7. Good thoughts – keep ’em coming. As you wax eloquent, I’d especially appreciate your thoughts as to when and why you think you, personally, became an adult (assuming you think have).

  8. wow, everyone is very thoughtful, i think sometime after 35

  9. Sadly, alot of people feel don’t feel like they have become an adult until one of their parents dies. It’s just hard to see that before it happens.

    I’m shooting for 17-18 with all of my kids b/c I might just not have any energy left for parenting after that, so they’d better be ready!!

    I agree w/ Nick’s last paragraph re: HS graduation and college being a longer means to the end of providing for your own needs rather than an excuse to delay providing for yourself.

  10. In biblical tradition, the bar mitzveh is a critical point–thus 12/13 “Today you are a man, my son” sort of thing. I find it interesting, however, that our culture (including me) wish to determine adulthood . . . and yet Jesus said we must become like children.

    Personally, I am a man in the eyes of others . . . but I often still feel very much like a child most of the time.

  11. I know of a 30+ guy who lives at home with his parents and still acts like a (bad) teenager… shuns responsibility, self-absorbed, spends the money he *does* earn on beer, smokes, & drugs, plays loud music when his parents are gone, etc. … so Ed’s quote by RC may have something to say here… his parents have never told him, “You’re a man” instead opting to let him sponge off of them to support his irresponsible lifestyle.

    Well, that was a bit of a rant mixed with a bit of opinion, I guess. In our society, generally, taking on adult responsibilities does seem to be a major marker… moving out, supporting oneself financially, owning a car and/or house, getting married, having a stable job. I would say most people I know of are considered adults by their late teens/early 20’s with some still being labeled “just a kid!” up to 25 or so.

    Adolescence is just way too long in our society, and there just aren’t many popular culture encouragements to start moving this back in the right direction. It must be a pretty difficult battle for parents who actually *want* to instill increasing responsibility from childhood through the teen years.

  12. I don’t think I became a full-fledged adult until my early to mid-twenties. Even though I hadn’t lived with my family since I turned 18, I still felt very much a child and I wasn’t able to handle adult life on my own. I relied on other adults to help me during those transition years. I think I became an adult when I started paying my own car insurance and was no longer reliant on my dad cutting checks for tuition.
    Then again, I didn’t really FEEL like an adult until very recently.

  13. That is tough to nail down. I think for me it came in my early 20’s. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I did not know. The reality of life set in a little bit and I saw the importance in my decisions. It sure was not a one moment epiphany but a gradual process. I do agree with the above comment that the adolescent is eternally long in American pop culture.

  14. ha-ha! nick is the last person who will ever say i cut out all the fat:)
    re craig’s question 2…when did you b/c an adult. that is a tough one. i was an MK who left home in the 10th grade for boarding school in the US. i had supervision, but had many decisions that i had to make on my own. there was no internet, phone calls were very expensive and when i would think thro’ a problem, i always figured it was too unimportant to call home about. i had the large sum of $10 a month for all expenses…low even then…and no way to earn any money. in many ways, i had to be an adult w/o any privileges or opportunities to deal creatively w problems…or people to discuss problems with. it was the period of my life that i look back on as being the most fearful, lonely and stressful in MANY ways.
    other stages of adulthood (i’m now early 60’s) have been MARRIAGE (learned that not everyone sees life the way i do–huge revelation.) fortunately, i married mr. calm and logical so he would discuss why certain things were logical/sensible. believe it or not, it was helpful to me in growing up.
    PARENTING i can’t even begin to sum up what i learned here from raising 3 children (all girls).
    PASTORING with husband for almost 40 yrs. it is definitely his job, but there is a lot of overflow that affects me and forces me to “grow up”.
    AGING (as in living in the last 1/2 of my life with less to look forward to on earth than i used to have.) that has been difficult. i have learned that my way of handling hard times has often been to think, “better times are coming” or something to that effect. apart from heaven (which i realize is nothing to minimize at all), i am not facing that on earth. i try not to dwell on that fact too much but it also has a way of maturing me.

    the bottom line issue that often seems to be at the heart of my growth in coming of age has always seemed to relate to my own awareness of my selfishness. i can relate to the pharisees who kept so many external rules. they looked good on the outside, but didn’t deal with what was happening inside their hearts. marriage was the first time i saw how selfish i truly was. i realized that i wanted the big piece of cookie (or whatever). when we were dating, i could easily give it to him, but once we were married, i realized i had times when I wanted it! (to use a mild example.) the same has gone for each stage mentioned. so once again i must come back to the gospel. in my “old” age, the realization of God’s grace is just beginning to penetrate…and it is so touching and meaningful. to know that i need Him and He is there to help if i ask. when i was younger, i didn’t realize how needy i was.
    and there is my rambly answer. m

  15. Not sure if I’m really qualified to comment fully on the subject, but here’s my two cents of common sense.

    I honestly think that if there’s any problem it should be what we really mean by what is meaning by an adult. I ask not that we should theorize over it but that the true answer has been skewed by pop culture. When you are pushed to be your own person and be able to experiment in every context by the latest VH1 video,the solution is made quite different from what it should be. Too often we as teens are pushed as far as possible to a mistaken understanding of what adulthood truly is. As Christians maturity is closer to that associated with parenthood than a time when you are allowed freedoms such as a drinking age. I’ve seen in myself that I pushed as hard as I could to my “hard-earned freedoms” but as soon as I got there, I wanted to run back because the big world and its real responsibilities scared me.

    For me as an 18 year old, I haven’t had the pressure of a parent or spouse so I don’t count myself as an adult. However, I see responsibilities that seniors start to accept such as a job and budgeting time manifest themselves in my parents’ lives. So I guess I could use a quote I’ve picked up, (forgive me for not knowing the name of the author) “Now and not yet.

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