What makes someone an adult?

Is it their age? We’ve all been told that at 18 we’re “legal”, but are we ‘old enough’ to make mature decisions?

Is adulthood defined by checking off a list of pre-selected rites of passage? Buy a house, a car, get marries, 9-5 job in tow along with exactly 2.5 kids playing behind a white picket fence?

It seems that science once again makes way more sense. Recent research suggests that we don’t actually become full fledged adults until we reach out thirties, although the exact number remains individual to the person, because we are after all, unique in many ways.

The reason is rather simple and it has a lot to do with our brains – our neurons continue to develop, connect and become more refined in our third decade of life, with the bulk taking place in our mid teens, continuing to change, even after our 30th birthday.

These changes affect our behavior and our propensity to develop mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, with the average onset in our late teens to early 20’s in men and late 20’s to early 30’s in women.

“What we’re really saying is that to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd,” Peter Jones, a professor of neuroscience from Cambridge University, told reporters at the Academy of Medical Sciences in Oxford, UK.

“It’s a much more nuanced transition that takes place over three decades.”

The idea that childhood stops at 18 has gained much traction in recent years, with an article published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal in the previous year, arguing that the period of life we consider adolescence is much longer than we all originally thought.

The term ‘adolescence’ first appeared in a 1904 paper which was published by psychologist G. Stanley Hall, aptly named “Adolescence”. She described the word as “the phase of life stretching between childhood and adulthood”. And while most of us associate the phrase with teen years, it can start as young as 10 years of age according to researchers – usually when girls hit puberty as a flag or marker.

They further explain that this process goes further on, well into the 20’s, as the body and brain continues to develop and socio-economic forces *think student debt, an unstable job etc take effect, delaying the transitional signposts of adulthood *think parenting and independence are extended.

Recent neuroscience research similarly suggests that putting a timestamp on adulthood at 18 years of age is old fashioned and outdated.

“There isn’t a childhood and then an adulthood,” Jones explained. “People are on a pathway, they’re on a trajectory.”

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