Eighteen does not make you an adult. It’s a rite of passage into adulthood, sure. You can legally vote and join the military, but you cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol and legally are still considered a minor in many ways. However, the reality is that turning 18 does NOT mean you magically become an adult. As a mother, I have often found myself questioning the societal belief that eighteen is the age of adulthood. In fact, there are several reasons why this myth needs to be revisited.
For starters, the brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. This means that even though an 18-year-old may have reached physical maturity, their decision-making skills and ability to think critically are not fully developed. They may be more prone to impulsivity and risk-taking behavior, which are not traits typically associated with responsible adults. Eighteen-year-olds are still figuring out their values and beliefs, as well as learning how to navigate relationships and handle difficult situations and emotions.
My son and I talk a lot about emotional maturity, as it is a crucial aspect of adulthood that can take years to develop. This includes the ability to regulate emotions, communicate effectively, and form healthy relationships. These skills are not typically taught in school and require life experience and self-reflection to develop fully. As a parent, it’s important to remember your child (because no matter what their age, that’s who they are to you) still has much to learn and grow at this pivotal stage. As your role in their life begins to change, it’s not without a new set of challenges. Remember to be a supportive guide for them throughout the process. A little grace and compassion go a long way; remember you were once this age.
I often wonder if the persons who decided eighteen was the magic number realized that turning eighteen doesn’t automatically grant you financial independence. When my son turned eighteen, he was still in high school and was just starting to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life. If we’re being honest here, I’m forty, and on a good day, I still don’t always have that figured out. At this age, teens are still learning important life skills and making mistakes along the way. Contrary to popular belief, many young adults are still financially dependent on their parents or guardians well into their 20s. Now I’m not saying freeloading, and irresponsibility is an option, but reality is reality. Many outside factors can also have an impact on how soon your young adult becomes financially independent such as the rising cost of education and housing, as well as the difficult job market. Without financial stability, it can be challenging to take on the responsibilities of adulthood, such as paying bills, managing finances, and planning for the future.
There really is no one-size-fits-all definition of what it means to be an adult, but there is a lot of societal pressure on what that is supposed to look like and the timeline on which it is to occur. However, the concept of adulthood is subjective and varies across cultures and individuals. Some people may feel like they have reached adulthood earlier than others, while some may never feel like they have fully grown up. It’s important to recognize that there is no set timeline for reaching adulthood and that everyone’s journey is unique. Turning eighteen may be a significant milestone, but it doesn’t automatically make you an adult. Adulthood is a multifaceted concept that encompasses physical, emotional, and financial maturity, as well as personal beliefs and values. Breaking the myth that turning eighteen is the sole marker of adulthood can help young adults better understand the complexities of growing up and help them navigate the challenges that come with it. Quite frankly, if many of us weren’t rushed to “grow up” and had actually been given the space and opportunity to figure it out, we might not have so many millennials chasing back the clock of self-discovery.
If you haven’t already, you will most certainly find yourself asking yourself and your parents at least once a month, “Was I like this?” once your child turns eighteen and beyond. (They’ll probably tell you no, but I’d be willing to bet in some cases you probably were, there just weren’t cellphones and social media to prove it.)