Why Being ‘Grown up’ is Harder to define for today’s young adults

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You remember when you were a child and were always being asked what you wanted to do when you had ‘grown-up’? Perhaps you remember thinking yourself that it was okay to feel pretty childish/insecure/carefree because you weren’t properly grown-up yet? Maybe that’s you right now. What does it mean to be grown-up today; how does it feel to be an adult and has this changed over time?

Things used to be relatively black and white: you left school, went to college or university and got a job, your own place, a spouse, family, house and all the other stuff that indicated to everyone, you included, that you were an adult. Every little step brought you a little closer to the grand status of ‘adult’. You’d pass through a few years with a voice in your head saying ‘I don’t have to bother about taking life too seriously because I’m not really an adult yet’ and then, BOOM, there you were with grown-up responsibilities: a path laid out before you with a career-ladder, family responsibilities and a clear guide of what was expected of you. Not anymore.

Now things are different. Gone are the days when everyone went through the same rites of passage at the same time. Instead, you’re more likely to be working in a succession of jobs after college whilst you decide what to do with your life. Gap years, dropping out of uni, years spent doing post-grad qualifications before getting a first ‘proper’ job mean that young people don’t really have the clear transition to the working adult world that used to prevail in the past. Once actually in the workforce proper, the likelihood is that your job is going to be time-limited and less likely to give you the reassuring grown-up feeling that comes with job security. With the price of houses nowadays, you can wave goodbye to getting your own home anytime soon; you’ll probably be parked up with mum and dad for the foreseeable unless your lottery ticket come up. Finding the right partner and having a family are events pushed further and further into the future.

The impact of this different world goes deeper than statistics. It could be that, without the clarity that rites of passage bring to young people, the fuzzy feeling of not quite being an adult is around for longer. Without the responsibilities that running your own life imposes there is a strong argument for not bothering with the sort of behaviours that make people ‘adult’: admitting failure, having realistic expectations, pulling your weight and so on. When we can defer to technology for many of our decisions anyway, being grown-up is being pushed further and further into the future with a potential impact on our self-esteem and mental health, work-productivity and relationships.

We need new ways of enabling people to acquire the maturity and dignity that develop with the challenges of growing up.

 

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