Adulthood Defined

Holy 24 hours, Batman!  Since my post yesterday, I’ve received three different phone calls and multiple e-mails and facebook responses, in addition to the comments posted here.  I ask you all to bear with me, as this whole “blogging about a potentially controversial issue” thing is new to me, and definitely a learning process!  The responses to my last post have run a wide range from full support to complete disagreement, and everything in between.  It’s interesting see all the different perspectives that different people bring to this topic from their own life experiences.  I sincerely appreciate all the interest people have taken in what I have to say.

I think I should have been more careful about what I’m not saying, though.  I’m not saying that to be considered an adult, all the pieces of your life must fall completely into place by age (fill in the blank).  I took longer than four years to graduate college.  I’ve worked seven jobs in three states in the last four years, and my husband and I are far from being settled.  We both are experiencing career shifts that require spending time in grad school, and he’s much further along in that process than I am!  I have dear friends that are single and still live with their parents for very valid reasons, and I know that they are responsible adults.  Adulthood has become less of a list of outside requirements and has more to do the individual’s maturity and sense of responsibility.

In his research with college students, Arnett determined that the traditional markers of adulthood no longer apply.  It’s not when someone starts a family, or buys a house, or reaches a certain career level.  Rather, as Arnett asked college students what they they thought the markers of being an adult were, they consistently told him that the criteria for being an adult was psychological.  Over and over again, he heard young people say that when they would consider themselves adults when they reached the following markers:

  • Accepting responsibility for their own actions
  • Making independent decisions
  • Becoming financial independent

I haven’t decided how I feel about this definition of adulthood yet, so I want to take each piece of it and explore it a bit deeper.

Accepting responsibility for their own actions:

Isn’t this something we should be learning as children?  Anyone that ever took a high school science class with Mr. Fluegel, say it with me: “Responsibility is the acceptance of one’s self as the cause of one’s current situation, and it is the willingness to cope with that situation.”  We recited that every day for a year when I was in 9th grade, and it’s never left me.  If I could understand that concept at age 14, someone in their twenties definitely can and should live by it.  It bugs me that it even needs to stated, but at the same time, there are far too many people in their twenties that do not accept responsibility for their actions.  I went to college with some and worked with others.  They are whom I’m referring to when I speak of “emerging adulthood” as a problem.  If you can’t take responsibility for your actions, you really need to grow up.

Making independent decisions:

Again, you cannot consider yourself an adult if you are not making independent decisions!  I think most people will focus on the “independent” part of that, but that’s really not the problem I see.  Instead, I see too many people my age who simply are not making the decisions.  They drift around aimlessly with no clear plan or path, and they’re making no real effort to find a plan or a path.  They enter college because school and family told them to, but they have no real purpose for being there.  They drift from major to major and job to job without pursuing any kind of goal.  And the bigger problem is that they don’t see the need to start making major decisions, because they are still enjoying the fun of adolescence.

Becoming financially independent:

I would actually change this to say “actively pursuing financial independence.”  These days financial independence is tough to attain, considering the economy and the cost of higher education.  But it bugs me when I see people my age (I’m 27) who aren’t even trying to become financially independent.  It bugs me when I see people in their late twenties driving much nicer cars than mine and wearing more expensive clothes, when I know they live with their parents and don’t pay rent.  I could afford a fancier car and a nicer wardrobe, too, if I still lived with Mom and Dad, but I’m an adult.  Again, I don’t include people who are fulfilling a responsibility to their families and are pursuing a path to become financially independent.  They have good reasons, have taken responsibility for their actions, and are making independent decisions.  They are adults.  It’s the perpetual moochers and the “kidults” that bug me.


As I said on the phone to a number of people yesterday, it isn’t about reaching a certain point, and then *BAM!* you’re an adult.  I get that life changes and as people learn and grow, they may realize that they want to move in a different direction, change their minds, and start again.  I and my husband are both prime examples of that process, and we’re not done yet.  My main concern is that people are actually moving and making strides towards adulthood.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Make decisions.  Work towards financial independence, even if you don’t have it yet.  Do those things, and you’ll be an adult, even if you don’t have your career or future family figured out yet.  The problem is that terms like “emerging adulthood” are giving people an excuse and making it socially acceptable for them to not take responsibility for themselves until age 30.  And I don’t think that’s ok.

I also understand that the root causes of emerging adulthood run an exceptionally wide range.  Everything from parenting habits when children are small to the role of the government has been brought to my attention in the last 24 hours, and I agree that there are countless contributing factors.  I also know that I fit a niche, that I have a passion for working with teens, so that is the area that I have a shot at making a difference. I want to see teens build the right habits early.  I want to help them pursue responsible adulthood and do the research that will help them make the choices they will need to make.  In that way, maybe I can at least help a few more individuals avoid Neverland.

6 thoughts on “Adulthood Defined

  1. Good thoughts. I was interested in Mr. Fluegel’s definition of responsibility. It is very good, and as a person that has almost reached senior citizenry, fairly accurate. I find it worth memorizing, as a way of motivating myself to do what needs to be done to improve my situation.

    At the same time, we are very interdependent, especially in family relationships. Sometimes, I am not the total cause of my current situation, but I do have total control over how I respond to the situation. I have to be willing to accept the situation for what it is, and do everything I can to cope with that situation in the most positive way.

    As a Christian, I always come back to the idea that I am both dependent upon and accountable to God. I can’t do anything good without His help, but I am accountable to Him for what I do.


  2. One other question for you. How do you feel about those of us in the generation above you inserting our comments and point of view? Would you rather keep this blog to those who are actually going through it right now, or is it ok for us to join in? We are certainly interested in what your generation is doing, but I can also understand if you would like to limit participation to teens and young adults.


  3. Well, if I post something on the internet, I can’t be too picky about who responds, now can I? *smile* I appreciate the question, though, and I guess my request is that people keep in mind that I am speaking about a certain generation – a generation that has grown up with facebook, youtube, and increasingly lowered expectations in the school systems. I also understand that most of the problems I’m talking about aren’t really an issue for our extended family and my close friends. Overall, though, I do appreciate the feedback and the perspectives that people have offered, since part of my whole point in starting this was just to explore the issues more. I like that it’s starting discussions. 🙂


  4. Pingback: The Changing Culture of Adulthood: Why 30 is the new 25. :) « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

  5. Pingback: How Do You Know When You Have Become An Adult? « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

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