Refusing to Grow Up


The path to adulthood is getting longer. As more college graduates move back home to live with their parents and as the median age for marriage rises, psychologists are beginning to examine the impact “emerging adulthood” is having on society. “Thirty is the new twenty,” is how one family therapist described the trend (Associated Press, May 17).

A number of factors contribute to this maturation slowdown. For one, many more young people today spend their early 20s in college, unlike two or three generations ago, when high school graduates could find manufacturing jobs that paid enough to support a family. Added to that, as we noted in last month’s SocietyWatch, the high cost of college education leaves all too many graduates deeply in debt the moment they set foot on a career path. And since the most common salary offered to graduates in the U.S. today falls between $30,000 and $40,000, something has to give. There’s not a lot left over after making payments on the student loan, the car and insurance.

Not all the factors are economically motivated, however. “With a shifting economic, social and cultural landscape,” Maureen Milford wrote in the News Journal (Wilmington, Del.), “more young men and women are using the years between 18 and 29 to explore jobs, experiment with relationships and define their adult identities” (May 23).

One can hardly blame a young person for trying to avoid a bad marriage or boring career. But what does this pre-adulthood “experiment” say about our educational system or, for that matter, the institutions of marriage and family? Should a 29-year-old really be searching for an “identity”?

To be sure, maturity is something that varies from person to person. But the process by which one becomes mature enough to be considered an adult is constant. It can be broken down into four categories.

First, there is physical maturity—something everyone reaches, in large part, by the end of the teen years. The mind, however, does not mature until around age 25. At that age, Herbert Armstrong wrote in The Missing Dimension in Sex, “a more definite adulthood of mind, attitude, interests, is reached. The mind becomes more ‘set’ in its ways.”

In addition to physical and mental development, one must also grow up emotionally and spiritually. This is where so many families and educational institutions completely drop the ball. As Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The great tragedy of our generation is that nearly all people mature physically, perhaps half to two thirds mature mentally, but very few ever grow up emotionally or spiritually. One is not a fully mature man or woman, as God intended, until emotional and spiritual maturity has been reached” (Good News, February 1982).

Indeed, the path to adulthood might be a lot longer than some have assumed.