People in their twenties, breathe a sigh of relief. But only if you belong to the majority of people who haven’t figured out their lives yet. Those who know what they’re doing and where their lives are headed, you can skip this one. Nothing for you here. But for all those millennials who have had either parents or relatives or even sometimes neighbours tell them that it is time they grew up and began (to use a millennial word) “adulting”, scientists at Cambridge University have a neat reply. They have found that people don’t really become adults until they reach their 30s.
Speaking before a meeting of the Academy of Medical Sciences in Oxford, scientists said that there isn’t really some clear line demarcating adults from adolescents. “People are on a pathway, they’re on a trajectory,” they said, adding that “to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd.” There has been other research corroborating such thinking. A paper published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journalin 2018 says, “Earlier puberty has accelerated the onset of adolescence in nearly all populations, while understanding of continued growth has lifted its endpoint age well into the 20s.” The term, young adult, has often been employed to describe people who find themselves not yet out of teenage, but having to be treated like adults. In 1986, in the American Psychologist, scientist Daniel J Levinson wrote that the time between 17 and 45 was an “era of greatest energy and abundance and of greatest contradiction and stress”. That, at least, has not changed.
But if this is so, then is it wise to allow an 18-year-old to drive a car unsupervised, buy real estate, and, indeed, vote to pick the rulers of their countries? The thing is the age signifying the start of adulthood was always an arbitrary number, that seemed to lie somewhere after the worst irresponsibility of teenage had passed. Perhaps it is time for older generations to acknowledge that this generation of young adults — who find themselves in a world quite spectacularly messed up by the generations that came before them — have been saddled with the responsibility of not only navigating this chaos, but also fixing it. It is sobering to know that, unlike what parents or relatives or neighbours have been telling the kids, the kids don’t really have it easier than the previous generations. And now that scientists are hinting at it as well, perhaps it’s time to stop bothering the millennials and accept that the kids are going to be all right.