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.