When Does A Child Become An Adult?

By Evan Bailyn

People tend to talk about childhood and adulthood like they are completely distinct phases of life. One is supposed to be an early period of growth, where a person undergoes great physical and psychological changes. The other is supposed to be a time when a person goes about achieving his long-term goals, which usually includes working and starting a family. Between childhood and adulthood is adolescence, a time when one’s decisions and experiences determine the type of adult one will become. It is interesting to thing about where exactly in that hazy time of life one officialy becomes an adult. Is it when you get the keys to your first car? Is it when you take your first job? Is it when you finally leave your parent’s home? Does this point even occur during so-called adolesence, or does adulthood actually arrive when you are in your early thirties?

Accoring to our legal system, there is a definitive age of adulthood. Lawmakers have determined that people who are 18 or 21 should be able to take on adult privileges like gambling, voting, owning a gun, and marrying. But this does not necessarily imply that 18 or 21 year-olds are adults; nor does it even imply that lawmakers consider them so. The purpose of this definition of adulthood is practical only. It is a rough estimation that lawmakers were willing to settle on because they believed that most people in this age range could handle adult responsibilities.

Writers and artists throughout the ages have offered a popular definition of childhood and adulthood—that it is a state of mind. As true as this may feel for many people, it is not a good definition because it has no boundaries at all. Should an older person who feels energetic be called a child? Not any more than a serious ten year-old should be called an adult.

There are many other possible answers to the question of when exactly a child becomes an adult. People have said that adulthood begins with financial independence, with the end of formal schooling, with getting married…Some have even suggested that adulthood begins when you stop wishing that you were older.

In fact, there is truth to all these statements, but they have a common thread. Adulthood begins when you lose the feeling of protection you have had all your life, giving way to a security of your own. This can happen at thirteen or thirty-five. But the strongest sign of adulthood is having a child of your own, for then you are expected to do everything your parents did for you, for somebody else.



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