Why are we all so afraid to grow up?

I recently read something about how adolescence has been extended to 25. Putting aside for a second the probability that the psychologists extending the borders of childhood are likely trying to help people by making these determinations, what is it about adulthood that we so anxious to protect our children from experiencing?

Why are we so interested in extending childhood? Why are we so afraid to be grown ups?

My mom is fond of saying “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” I hear this a lot from people: weighing the variety of options for what their lives should be well into their thirties, forties, fifties.

I don’t typically go around feeling like a grown up. I think it’s absurd that anyone should go around perceiving me as an adult.

The number of anti-aging serums in my bedside drawer is nearly infinite. Little tubes promising ageless aging for a generation that is just one of many American generations that endlessly extends childhood.

But to what end? Do we want to be young until we die? Do we never want to experience anything of life other that the flailing, grasping, limitless, indestructible feeling of youth? Do we find no value in whatever these other ages that we become have to offer?

What do we even think adulthood is? By suggesting that we ought stay children as long as we can, we trump adulthood up into some secure panacea of good jobs and savings accounts. An adult is not a person who has worked everything out, knows all the answers, gives up or has fully realized their dreams, and settles in for the long haul. The problem is not that we don’t know how to define childhood, it’s that we have no definition, other than sexual maturity, to define adulthood. Adulthood ought not be defined by how well prepared a person feels they are to be one. There is no magic moment when childhood ends and adulthood begins. the end of childhood is not a cliff from which we plumment straight to death.

By extending childhood we extend the period when a person can feel like they’re not responsible for themselves or their actions.  Why are we so afraid to be responsible for ourselves? Is it really so bad?

My parents were 25 when I was born. Were they still adolescent? Is adolescence abruptly ended at such time as a person has a child? Or commits a crime that is deemed serious enough by the criminal justice system to vault that person into adulthood? Is extended adolescence is only for people whose parents can afford it?

There’s nothing wrong with being a grown up. You can still do whatever crazy things you want to do, you just have to take responsibility for the consequences of those things. Honestly, that makes those things better. Taking a calculated risk and reaping the benefit of that risk, or experiencing total failure, is what being a grown up is all about. A grown up doesn’t have to settle down, or have babies, or get married. A grown up doens’t have to drive a car, or own one, or a home. A grown up can travel all over the world, and break hearts, and break laws.

People will tire of an endless childhood. People thrive with expectations, exceeding their own limitations.

What horror do we really think we’re protecting people from by letting them be children for so long into maturity?

When I was a kid I imagined all the great things I would do when I grew up. I wanted to leave home and embark on my own. I wanted to try things out, like who I was and who I could be. I wanted to plot my own course, dive into my own mind, choose my own clothes, set my own hours. We’re so obsessed with youth, and our inability to retain it, that we continuously redefine it’s boundaries. There’s more to life than staying young.

Let’s just be the age we are, it’s probably great.

***

Dave found this set of photographs when he was doing an estate load-out. They were destined for the dust heap, but he knows how I like found photos, and brought them home. I’d forgotten about them, here they are. I don’t know anything about these people, but they give us a glimpse into mid-20th Century childhood. The boy looks to be about C’s age, the girl in her teens, and the mom doesn’t look any more prepared for adulthood than I do.

found child photo 1afound child photo 3found child photo 1cfound child photo 5found child photo 6found child photo 4

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2 thoughts on “Why are we all so afraid to grow up?

  1. Kerianne Kerr

    3 words: YOUTH. Job. Program. If there are programs out there to help people just properly entering the workforce who are you to say that they should settle for whatever mediocre, part-time, job they were able to get in their teens. Maybe Millennial DON’T WANT to bee in fast food or retail their whole lives, THAT’S WHY THEY SPEND SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY ON ATTAINING POST-SECONDARY CREDENTIALS! I don’t know the academic level achieved at age 25 by you, your parents, or that lady in the picture you showed, but in our day if you don’t want to waste your life bordering the edge of the POVERTY line you better get a post – sec education and you better do so well in it that you could potentially run your own business or become a contractor if necessary. Or have you just not noticed the main complaint Millenials state all over the internet is about employment and home ownership opportunities?

    Furthermore, psychologists have determined that one’s brain isn’t fully mature enough to make long term decisions until around age 25. What then would be so wrong with designing programs to help people of that age group rather than “toss ’em to the street with the other homeless, jobless bums. They’re over 18. In my day blah blah blah…” The issues facing our generation are different than the ones that faced yours and if the powers that be determine that the best way to address those issues is to give adolescents and young adults a separate category upon which to focus them why do you have a problem with that? No one is saying “live like you’re 13 until midnight of your 26th birthday when EVERYTHING you would have experienced in those 13 years you now have to go through so you can be on the same experiential level as the other adults.”

    GROWING UP IS A PROCESS AND NOT EVERYONE IS AT THE SAME SPEED but by the time one finishes school (and they’re brain is biologically fully mature as any other adult) the is no excuse as to why one can’t make long term decisions and understand the long term consequences. In the meanwhile TEENAGE years (and early 20s while in college/ university) NOT adulthood is when one figured out the majority of who they are and what they want to wear. That’s why the process is called TEENAGE rebellion not adult rebellion.

    I’m sorry for yelling and getting so angry but I’ve experienced living like a child longer than I should, skipping the teen rebellion stage thinking I could go straight into adulthood without it, tried skipping the post-secondary education stage thinking the sooner I get a job the better I’ll be able to be an adult, and seeing the WHOLE THING BLOW UP IN MY FACE RESULTING IN ME LIVING AS A CHILD ALL OVER AGAIN. I’m not against rushing to grow up, I’m against rushing it at the expense of learning and developing along each stage of the way which your blog post seems to be against. The way I interpreted your post was the type of opinion that contributed to my decision to rush into the workforce without having the experiences I would have needed to be able to relate with others my age without judgement. So if the government programs wants to “extend adolescence to 25” to help the slow-to-mature catch up then let it be, it would be better for the economy not to let groups of people slip though the cracks.

    Why are people afraid to grow up? Because POVERTY IS REAL

    Reply
    1. Libby Emmons Post author

      I agree with pretty much everything you said. But I don’t think that learning, studying, rebelling against societies norms prohibits a person from considering themselves grown and able to take care of themselves. There ought to be more structures in place to give people emerging from adolescence. Great would be mandatory service years, where kids leaving high school can go do something worthwhile before either going headlong into a lifetime of work or into education, to give people a new perspective on where they’re coming from and where they want to go. I didn’t feel grown until I was about 32. I didn’t finish my education until I was 27. My quibble is with individuals extending their own, mental adolescence, letting themselves feel like they’re not responsible for themselves or their actions, not the tools in place that are designed to get people from one phase of life to the next without falling through the giant cracks. Taking charge of your life by deciding to pursue educational goals, ditching a job that crushes your soul and doesn’t pay the bills, that all sounds pretty grown up to me.

      Reply

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