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What does "adult" really mean?

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 
What does it mean to you? For example, if someone were to say to you "Well, he/she is an adult."

Does it mean that they are 18?

I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me feels like when teenagers are 16-18 they are "adults", but then part of me feels like they are soooo far from being adults.

I have three sisters all in the 18-20 range (one is an inlaw) and that has really made me question what people mean when they say that someone is an adult.

When I think of the word "adult" I think of someone who supports themselves (mostly), someone who is making their own decisions, someone who is responsible for their own actions, more than likely someone who works or has a reason to get up every day, someone who has to pay bills, ect.
post #2 of 43

I usually think of someone older than me, in a nebulous 35ish age range. But that's just because the idea of me being an adult seems ludicrous (and I'm 25, and married with two kids!).

 

I guess "adult" means, at minimum, fairly self-sufficientand somewhat responsible. I'd say 21 rather than 18, if we have to pick an arbitrary age. I definitely wasn't an adult at 18 - I was a Young Person. :p

 

More abstractly: adults know how to pay their taxes and gas bill, adults drive, adults go to the dentist regularly and get checkups at the doctor, adults go to the gym, adults know about insulation, adults invest money, adults spend $700 on a dog and take it to dog obedience classes, adults go away for the weekend with their partners, adults know what drinks to order at a bar, adults have lots of keys, adults talk about communication, adults wear suits, adults eat seafood, adults know how to apply makeup, adults wear heels, adults go jogging, adults do yoga, adults maintain their property.

 

I do about two of the above. :p Oh well, I can cook. That's something. I'm going to have homemade coffee ice cream with chocolate ripple for dessert tonight, and that's better than knowing how to do taxes. (Except, you know, financially...)

post #3 of 43

Well, if I wanted to be legalistic, it's someone over 18. But really, I don't think of someone in their late teens/early 20s as 'fully' adult yet. Some are, but many aren't. And there's some pretty significant brain changes that take place in the early 20s.

 

So, probably for me, it's over 25.

post #4 of 43

we've all heard the term "young adults" -- when does that begin and end? i'd say it begins towards the end of high school, if not beginning of high school even. and it ends?? i guess it depends on the age of the person calling someone that. if i was 50, a 30 year old would seem like a "young adult". to a 60 year old, a 40 year old seems "young." 

 

i would guess that most people would find someone in their early 20s to be "young adults." i've even used the term, "young 20s." because then you get to the "middle 20s" or "mid 20s -- which would probably be 24, 25, 26 or so. then the "old 20s" -- 27, 28, 29. by 30, the only people calling you "young" are those a couple decades older.

 

and as we all know or are at least learning, there are some people who never grow up. there can be 80 year olds who have the emotional maturity of a child. there are 40 year olds still very dependent on their parents, in all kinds of ways. i ask, if they aren't adults at 40, will they be adults at 50? how about 60?

 

i don't think i've really answered the question, but i've talked *about* the question if that counts for anything. it's one of those kinds of questions that doesn't have one correct answer, anyway.

post #5 of 43

i think adult is as adult does.  i have known some folks who took on adult responsibilities at age 18, and i have known some folks who continued to behave in childish ways well into their 30's. 

 

i totally agree with this: When I think of the word "adult" I think of someone who supports themselves (mostly), someone who is making their own decisions, someone who is responsible for their own actions, more than likely someone who works or has a reason to get up every day, someone who has to pay bills, ect.

 

i don't think it's an actual age, but the ability to handle responsibility, demonstrate maturity in action and most of all, in the way problems are handled.  i think how someone approaches obstacles and difficulty is the best way to gauge adulthood.

 

post #6 of 43

I've wondered about this too. DH and I often joke about doing very "adult things" (not those things  nono.gif) like getting quotes for car insurance, writing up our will or when we finally started a savings account that wasn't just saving up for a specific item/trip.  I've lived mostly on my own since I was 16 which is almost half my life (I'm 30 now), am an overly-responsible person who doesn't rely on anyone else by myself and DH, but for some reason I still have a hard time thinking of myself as an adult... maybe it's just the Peter Pan in me?

 

Then again, I work with teens & college students (mostly 17-23) for my job, and compared to them I feel like an old lady!

 

I guess that I saw my parents & extended family defining adulthood as giving up every goal/dream you had for yourself, just so you can scrape by and earn a living for your family. And even though I would do that in a second if I absolutely HAD to, I still try to have my own life and goals and dreams... and try not to make them mutually exclusive to supporting my family. I guess I am just struggling to re-define adulthood for myself.

post #7 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post

I usually think of someone older than me, in a nebulous 35ish age range. But that's just because the idea of me being an adult seems ludicrous (and I'm 25, and married with two kids!).

 

I guess "adult" means, at minimum, fairly self-sufficientand somewhat responsible. I'd say 21 rather than 18, if we have to pick an arbitrary age. I definitely wasn't an adult at 18 - I was a Young Person. :p

 

More abstractly: adults know how to pay their taxes and gas bill, adults drive, adults go to the dentist regularly and get checkups at the doctor, adults go to the gym, adults know about insulation, adults invest money, adults spend $700 on a dog and take it to dog obedience classes, adults go away for the weekend with their partners, adults know what drinks to order at a bar, adults have lots of keys, adults talk about communication, adults wear suits, adults eat seafood, adults know how to apply makeup, adults wear heels, adults go jogging, adults do yoga, adults maintain their property.

 

I do about two of the above. :p Oh well, I can cook. That's something. I'm going to have homemade coffee ice cream with chocolate ripple for dessert tonight, and that's better than knowing how to do taxes. (Except, you know, financially...)


Hey now, I didnt mean responsible adult. smile.gif

I agree, there are times when I still dont feel like a "grown up" but I think at around 20 I was capable of paying my own bills, buying all my own clothes, owning my own animals, understanding that I was responsible for my own actions.

I dont think some age all of the sudden makes you an adult. I think that the age of adulthood may be getting higher and higher. For example, I have a cousin that is unable to drive her car on the highway (at 20!) because her parents refuse to pay for her insurance and cell phone if she does (if they find out that is). They pay for her college, so they look at her grades online weekly. They require her to come home for Christmas and other college breaks instead of going to her boyfriends house because they are paying for everything. But she is an "adult?" How? What does she do that is anything like an adult life? She lives in a dorm, has to listen to her parents, relies on someone else for all of her finances, and has no responsibilities other than schoolwork and the social obligations she has committed to. How is this any different than boarding school? In what way would someone who was living in this manner be considered an adult?

I have several examples of young people in my life that are still living the same way they were when they lived at home with their parents, only at college instead of in their bedroom. Because college is SO expected nowadays, and kids have cars and cell phones that keep them attached to their parents, I feel like the age at which people start having adult responsiblities is getting higher and higher. I think it used to be pretty normal to expect someone who was 20 to be responsible for themselves, but Im finding more and more that its very typical for a 20 year old to still be completely reliant on their parents for almost everything (obviously there are tons of exceptions).
post #8 of 43

I think that being an adult varies by culture, and by family. For me, the way I grew up, 18 is an adult. You are of legal age: you can enter into contracts, you can vote, you can marry without parental permission.  Where I live now, at 18 you can buy liquor too. You may not be self-supporting, but you are (or should be) responsible for your own decisions. That's what I'm trying to teach my kids. I would have said I was an adult when I was 18, a young woman (but not as mature as I am now in my 40's :))

 

The example of pp gave of a cousin who at 20 cannot drive on the high-way because her parents will not pay for the insurance. That is part of the 20-year-old's decision too. If she wanted to, she could make other decisions (including not letting her parents pay for her schooling) and follow another path. If she did so, her parents could not legally compel her to stay home, go to the college they want, etc. etc.

 

When I was a child, I enjoyed being a child, but also looked forward to being an adult so I could have autonomy.

 

But, there are degrees of what we can call "social adulthood" as well. In some cultures, until someone marries, he or she is a "boy" or a "girl", even  if they are in their 30s.  In Hong Kong (where I live) people who are unmarried used to not give out red packets of money at Chinese New Year. Unmarried people in their 20s still do not, but I have seen some unmarried friends in their 40s do so. I think this is a growing trend, as fewer people marry, or marry later.

post #9 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post

 

More abstractly: adults know how to pay their taxes and gas bill, adults drive, adults go to the dentist regularly and get checkups at the doctor, adults go to the gym, adults know about insulation, adults invest money, adults spend $700 on a dog and take it to dog obedience classes, adults go away for the weekend with their partners, adults know what drinks to order at a bar, adults have lots of keys, adults talk about communication, adults wear suits, adults eat seafood, adults know how to apply makeup, adults wear heels, adults go jogging, adults do yoga, adults maintain their property.

 

I do about two of the above. :p Oh well, I can cook. That's something. I'm going to have homemade coffee ice cream with chocolate ripple for dessert tonight, and that's better than knowing how to do taxes. (Except, you know, financially...)


I guess in your world, all adults live in the suburbs and need a car, have dental and medical insurance and can afford a gym membership, afford to buy and keep a dog, and afford to invest and own property. I guess povery infantalizes.eyesroll.gif

 

post #10 of 43
I'm a married mother of two and I definitely know how to request car insurance, buy a house, navigate the world of doctors and hospitals, move cross-country, cook from scratch, find the best bargains in town, travel internationally, help people find the best attachment parenting resources in town... etc., whatever.

I am not self-sufficient financially. I'm far from it, alas.

My husband has served in the military but doesn't know how to pay taxes, etc.

My mother is a widow who does not know how to manage anything at all. She doesn't even know how to pay a cell phone bill. She is blowing her inheritance with a hired personal assistant who does everything for her. (I wish she'd let me do it for her instead of the assistant but she won't hear of it.)

Are we adults? I imagine so. By those standards? Um, no.

And why do adults need to pay $700 for a dog? Why can't they adopt one from a shelter or from a friend? I'm confused. I also wouldn't begin to know what drink to order in a bar. I've never been to one, never any interest. I'm nearing 30 now. I also don't wear heels and rarely wear make-up. (I wore both as a teen, though.) I've never been away for the weekend with my husband. Would LOVE to but we're a little too busy raising the kids and such. Oh, I don't know. There's nothing wrong with that particular list, really, I just don't see how arbitrary it is and doesn't apply to a lot of people. I guess that's the OP's point.
post #11 of 43

 

Quote:
I guess in your world, all adults live in the suburbs and need a car, have dental and medical insurance and can afford a gym membership, afford to buy and keep a dog, and afford to invest and own property. I guess povery infantalizes.eyesroll.gif

Wow. Did I say "all adults"? No. I think it was pretty clear that I was just riffing on things I think when I hear the word "adult", not implying that every single adult does all of those things. It's not like I believe people who are allergic to dogs aren't adults... or that I really believe I'm not an adult, if it comes to that.

 

But yes, I was thinking in a NZ-centric context, and we have free healthcare here (and in my city at least, pretty ghastly public transport), so it's a slightly different picture. But in my mind it's not about affording health care, it's about being the kind of responsible, organised person who thinks every year "Hey, I should get my teeth scaled and polished". As a rather scatty and forgetful person, that kind of with-it-ness seems extremely grown-up to me. You could translate the same mentality to people who flip their mattresses over every... um, however often this is recommended... or whatever you like. When I see adults doing those kinds of things - even stuff I really have no interest in doing, like ordering drinks at a bar or wearing makeup - I tend to have a subconscious feeling that they're doing it because they're grown up, and maybe one day I'll magically become "adult" and do those things too. Of course it's not really true; it's just because they're that sort of person (and in some cases, money comes into it - I have friends my age who've bought houses, and it never ceases to astound me); but the thought is there, nevertheless. I assumed that was a common experience. Maybe not.

 

ETA: Now I think about it, though, poverty does infantilise to a degree. Isn't that a well-documented phenomenon? Nomadic tribes learn to rely on food aid after years of drought, and stop taking their flocks to greener pastures, instead staying in the same place so as to be on hand when the food parcels arrive. It's absolutely understandable, but self-sufficiency is one of the hallmarks of adulthood (at least according to this thread). Right now DH and I are broke, and our car is extremely old and dying. DH's father is going to lend us money to buy a new car; and I hate it, because it makes me feel like a child. In Western culture, there's a stigma to adult children living with their parents to help pay the rent, because it's seen as something teenagers do. (Apparently that's changing with the economy, but for now, in NZ at least, the stigma's still there. My two best friends currently live with their parents, and are somewhat embarrassed by it.) Before I learned to drive, when we couldn't afford a car, Mum would take our entire family to church on Sundays, and again, it made me feel like a child (it's why I eventually learned to drive).

 

It's certainly an interesting question, and you could argue about Western perceptions of self-sufficiency vs interdependence and so on and so forth, but even as a bald statement I think it deserves better discourse than just a snarky eyeroll. By its very nature, poverty reduces one's ability to be self-sufficient and independent; dependence and non-self-sufficiency are traits associated with children, in Western culture at least.


Edited by Smokering - 8/10/11 at 6:27pm
post #12 of 43

My answer is simple.  When I say adult, I truly mean 18 or over.  HOWEVER, like I always tell my daughter, if you have to keep telling everyone that you are an adult, then you really are not one.  The way I see it, if you ARE an adult, you will generally act like an adult.  And if you act like a child rather than an adult, well then, are you really an adult?

 

That is just my take.  My "adult" daughter is now 21. And I often remind her, as well as the younger siblings, that when she screws up now, it is her problem to deal with, not mine; because she is an adult.  (She just has to remind everyone of that "fact" ALL the time.)

post #13 of 43

I think 18 and done with high school (if that is graduating or not). I think if someone graduates early, they aren't an adult until they are 18, and that high school seniors who have already turned 18 don't really count as adults until they graduate.  Drop outs count as adults on their 18th birthday in my mind.

 

I would consider 18 to about 22- 23 "young adult" and often an inbetween state of often still somewhat dependent on parents, but making adult decisions and taking responsibility for them. It's the launch phase.

 

I think that by the time someone is around 23, even if they are still in graduate school, they are just "adults."

 

I don't think we do the next generation a favor when we treat them or think of them like children when they no longer are.

post #14 of 43

legally i think the age of adult should change to 25. i mean biologically the frontal lobes of our brains dont completely develop till then. and that is the area which impacts impulse control.

 

i think that will have a huge social impact on how one treats 18 year olds.

 

in my books 'adult' is a legal term. 

 

but basically adult means yeah - taking care of yourself and family - however that looks like. going out and getting an apt of your own at 18 to me is no more of an adult than the 20 year old who chooses to stay home who would be considered still a child socially for still living with their parents. 

 

for me its not even really the physical aspect - anyone can learn thru their mistakes. 

 

its more the mental maturity that matters to me. and with that i will admit many die as 'children' in my books. 

post #15 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

legally i think the age of adult should change to 25. i mean biologically the frontal lobes of our brains dont completely develop till then. and that is the area which impacts impulse control.

 

i think that will have a huge social impact on how one treats 18 year olds.

 

Yes, it would lower expectations of young adults even more than the abysmal standard of expections at the moment.

 

I think we should be raising our expectations, not lowering them. IME, teens and adults live up to expectations.

post #16 of 43

lol.gif i guess we differ here a lot. i think we over expect out of our young adults way too young. i think we as parents need to support our kids a few years longer than 18. for example when one looks at college applications, its expected that kids should experience no 'pain' at being torn apart from family and go live in a whole new place - like different city/state. many are ready for that, but many, many arent. yet we have this expectation that they can or should. 

 

i dont like the focus being stand on your feet, earn your money. i would much rather support my dd till she is ready to take the leap  - whether she is 18 or 25 (which in my city i see a lot of immigrant families do - esp. asian and hispanic)

 

again of course this is an individual situation. but i feel we yank the carpet too young from our kids feet. we need to lower our expectations. you cant hold a 20 or even a 25 year old to the same standards as a 30 year old. but a 30 year old you can hold to the same standards as a 40 year old. 

 

however i am an immigrant here so my perspective is different. 
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by choli View Post



Yes, it would lower expectations of young adults even more than the abysmal standard of expections at the moment.

 

I think we should be raising our expectations, not lowering them. IME, teens and adults live up to expectations.



 

post #17 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

lol.gif i guess we differ here a lot. i think we over expect out of our young adults way too young. i think we as parents need to support our kids a few years longer than 18. for example when one looks at college applications, its expected that kids should experience no 'pain' at being torn apart from family and go live in a whole new place - like different city/state. many are ready for that, but many, many arent. yet we have this expectation that they can or should. 

 

i dont like the focus being stand on your feet, earn your money. i would much rather support my dd till she is ready to take the leap  - whether she is 18 or 25 (which in my city i see a lot of immigrant families do - esp. asian and hispanic)

 

again of course this is an individual situation. but i feel we yank the carpet too young from our kids feet. we need to lower our expectations. you cant hold a 20 or even a 25 year old to the same standards as a 30 year old. but a 30 year old you can hold to the same standards as a 40 year old. 

 

however i am an immigrant here so my perspective is different. 



I am also an immigrant, and as such I have a very healthy respect for the ability to stand on your own feet. It has always stood me in good stead and I have always strived to instill that ability in my kids.

 

If my kids at 18 do not want to attend third level education in a different city or state that is not a problem - there is no shortage of schools around here. But if living at home at that age they will be budgeting their own money (even if that money comes from me), doing their share of the cooking, housework, shopping etc and generally living as an adult roommate in our house. Emotional support, sure, but I am not going to treat an 18 yr old like a toddler or 8 yr old. It would not be doing them any favors.

 

post #18 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

lol.gif i guess we differ here a lot. i think we over expect out of our young adults way too young. i think we as parents need to support our kids a few years longer than 18. for example when one looks at college applications, its expected that kids should experience no 'pain' at being torn apart from family and go live in a whole new place - like different city/state. many are ready for that, but many, many arent. yet we have this expectation that they can or should. 

 

i dont like the focus being stand on your feet, earn your money. i would much rather support my dd till she is ready to take the leap  - whether she is 18 or 25 (which in my city i see a lot of immigrant families do - esp. asian and hispanic)

 

again of course this is an individual situation. but i feel we yank the carpet too young from our kids feet. we need to lower our expectations. you cant hold a 20 or even a 25 year old to the same standards as a 30 year old. but a 30 year old you can hold to the same standards as a 40 year old. 

 

however i am an immigrant here so my perspective is different. 
 



 


I disagree. I dont really see much of a difference between 25 and 30 and Im 28. I dont think we need to be lowering our expectations of youth, if anything I wish more parents would require their children to stand on their own two feet a little more. I find that I have lots of friends who are still 23 or 24 years old who have NO idea how to budget money, how to pay bills, how to rent an apartment, or how to go about anything in the adult world. I have a friend who is 27 years old who did not know that when you buy a car you have to have insurance before you go stand in line at the DMV for an hour to get your car registered. You know why? Her parents have always done it for her. She didnt even know the name of her insurance company because she doesnt have to worry about it. The bills dont come to her house...

I am constantly shocked at people in my age group who are still unable to do simple tasks that some people have been doing since they were 18. I think when someone is in their early twenties, they should pretty much be able to live in the world without having to call their parents all the time for help. IMO, if you are still living off your parents and relying on your parents to do all the important adultish stuff for you, you arent really an adult yourself.
post #19 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adaline'sMama View Post



I disagree. I dont really see much of a difference between 25 and 30 and Im 28. I dont think we need to be lowering our expectations of youth, if anything I wish more parents would require their children to stand on their own two feet a little more. I find that I have lots of friends who are still 23 or 24 years old who have NO idea how to budget money, how to pay bills, how to rent an apartment, or how to go about anything in the adult world. I have a friend who is 27 years old who did not know that when you buy a car you have to have insurance before you go stand in line at the DMV for an hour to get your car registered. You know why? Her parents have always done it for her. She didnt even know the name of her insurance company because she doesnt have to worry about it. The bills dont come to her house...

I am constantly shocked at people in my age group who are still unable to do simple tasks that some people have been doing since they were 18. I think when someone is in their early twenties, they should pretty much be able to live in the world without having to call their parents all the time for help. IMO, if you are still living off your parents and relying on your parents to do all the important adultish stuff for you, you arent really an adult yourself.

I know some parents who deliberately set up this dynamic because it allows them to keep their adult children as children. It makes the parent feel needed. (Yes, I am talking about you, SILwink1.gif). It's more about the parents' needs than the childrens'.

 

 

post #20 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by choli View Post



I know some parents who deliberately set up this dynamic because it allows them to keep their adult children as children. It makes the parent feel needed. (Yes, I am talking about you, SIL" rel="http://files.mothering.com/images/smilies/wink1.gif">wink1.gif). It's more about the parents' needs than the childrens'.

 

 


I totally agree.

And, yes, Im talking about you SIL.
and sis.
and cuz.
and other sis.
and bro.
and another cuz.
and pretty much every single less than 25 year old that I know, aside from my radical anarchist friends who obviously didnt listen to their parents anyway.
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