When did you feel you had finally become an adult? Was it age 18? High school or college graduation? When a child was born to you? Like me, was it when you landed your first permanent job?
I used to ask that question when I found myself in a group of people I knew semi-well. I haven’t asked it in a while, but I started wondering when adulthood starts now that many of us will celebrate our eightieth birthdays.
When I was eight or nine, I started reading the Little House on the Prairie books (we Lauras have to stick together, you know). I was shocked to learn that children during her time “could not speak unless spoken to.” I could not imagine entering Grandma’s house in the Big Woods and having to wait to greet her with, “Hi Grandma, do you have cookies for us?”
There was a children’s table at holiday dinners, but even that seemed fluid. No one told me I had to sit there.
Is this fuzzy demarcation between childhood, young adulthood and adulthood due to a lack of cultural milestones?
Children in the US no longer leave school to work at eight or fourteen. No more debutantes enter society for the first time at grand balls. In my culture, sweet sixteen parties, if they even happen, don’t seem to be that big a deal for girls who are not likely to get a permanent job or marry for more than a decade. Do Quincineras, Bar Mitzvahs or Bat Mitzvahs have a more powerful effect on people’s perceptions of when adulthood begins?
Or maybe it’s something else. Millennials have always freely interacted with our elders. What if we went back to “Children are to be seen and not heard?” Are our parents helicopters for so long we have difficulty shedding our dependence?
As parents and children live longer, will the limbo between young adulthood and adulthood become longer? What if we do away with aging altogether?