High Point University

When do you actually become an adult?

By Ally Ortolani

Opinion Editor

By definition, the age of attaining legal adulthood is 18 years old. Meanwhile, I am currently 22 years old, and I still question if I am actually an adult. It’s comical.

While the age of legal adulthood is 18 years old, one still can’t consume alcohol, or purchase nicotine- related products until 21 years old in most states.
However, one can vote, pay taxes or even enlist in the Army. Makes sense to me.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am petrified of becoming fully independent from my parents.

The transition to adulthood is tough. Getting a job, moving away from parents and trying to be financially independent — all at the same time.

I wouldn’t say I am completely dependent on my parents — I work two jobs while being a full-time student.

I also live on my own while I’m at school and have my own organized schedule and routine, like most college students.

However, my schooling is financially funded by my parents. I fully recognize and am extremely grateful for that privilege.

So, this reflection poses the question: When does one actually become an adult? Quite simply, it has nothing to do with age and has everything to do with one’s mental maturity.

Neuroscience research suggests that most human brains take up until 25 years to develop. However, these rates vary among genders.

In other words, adulthood is a social construct.

This doesn’t mean that once someone turns 25 years old, they are then considered to be an adult.

One can think of the transition to “adulthood” more as a collection of markers. Moving out of the parent’s home, getting married, having kids and so on.

“I think there is a really hard transition [between childhood and adulthood],” said Kelly Williams Brown, author of the book “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps” in a January 2016 Atlantic article. “It’s not just hard for millennials; I think it was hard for Gen X-ers; I think it was hard for baby boomers. All of a sudden, you’re out in the world, and you have this insane array of options, but you don’t know which you should take. There are all these things your mom and dad told you, presumably, and yet you’re living like a feral wolf who doesn’t have toilet paper, who’s using Arby’s napkins instead.”

For all of those who struggle with the transition into adulthood: You are not alone.

On social media, I see individuals, both ordinary people and celebrities, posting about how they are living lavishly and liv- ing — what appears to be — financially independent.

I’ll admit that I become jealous — envious almost. Similar to others my age, I long for financial freedom from my parents. It’s all about baby steps.

Age, alone, does not make an adult. In the United States, individuals delay getting married, having kids or even buying a home.

“Especially with an ongoing pandemic, the transition into adulthood might take slightly longer, which is absolutely permissible. While I want these things in life eventually, these momentous milestones don’t define adulthood.

“Chronological age is not a particularly good indicator [of maturity], but it’s something we need to do for practical purposes,” said Professor of Psychology at Temple University Laurence Steinberg in the aforementioned January 2016 Atlantic article.

“We all know people, who are 21 or 22 years old, who are very wise and mature, but we also know people who are very immature and very reckless. We’re not going to start giving people maturity tests to decide whether they can buy alcohol or not.”

There’s still much more to life if you don’t move out of your parent’s home by 24 years old or if you’re not married by 30 years old.

I am trying to soak in my last couple of months as an undergraduate student before I’m out in the real world trying to navigate life.

At the end of the day, there really are many factors that make an adult. What made an “adult” 20 years ago looks different today. Social norms change, traditional roles cease to exist or some individuals take on adulthood too early.

Adulthood altogether can clearly be messy. Our paths may have some windy roads, but we’ll get there. I promise.