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When Do We Become Adults?

     Most have grown up in the United States of America knowing that the age of eighteen is when one becomes an adult, while twenty-one is the age where alcohol becomes openly available to citizens of that age. However, despite the many freedoms granted by aging, what does becoming an adult truly mean, and can it be determined with just an age?

     There are many opportunities when legally becoming an adult in the United States, such as opening a bank account, enlisting in the army, voting for a President, marrying, working full-time, and even more when turning twenty-one. There are many ways to measure adulthood. But at what point does one stop physically developing and become an “adult” organism? Julie Beck, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, answers this question. Beck says, “That depends, though, on what measure you choose. Humans are sexually mature after puberty, but puberty can start anywhere between age 8 and 13 for girls and between age 9 and 14 for boys, and still be considered “normal,” according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She also explains an alternative measure: skeletal maturity. “For centuries, skeletal development has been a measure of maturity. Under the U.K.’s 1833 Factory Act, the emergence of the second molar (the adult version of which usually shows up between the ages of 11 and 13) was accepted as proof that a child was old enough to work in a factory. Today, both dental and wrist X-rays are used to determine the age of refugee children seeking asylum—but both are unreliable,” Beck elaborates. Even in regards to the human body, when one achieves adulthood isn’t so simple.

     What other measures exist for adulthood? For kids in high school, the idea of adulthood becomes very real. Neuroscientists now know the a brain’s maturation continues later into development than what was previously believed and does not reach full maturity until the early- or mid-twenties.  But one must also consider that brain regions and systems mature along different timetables, according to Daniel E. Slotnik’s When Do you Become an Adult? Meaning that there is no single point at which the adolescent brain becomes that of an adult one. However, Drake Baer, a correspondent at Tech Insider, believes that there are three things one must achieve to become an adult: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and having financial independence.

     But what of the students at Oakland Mills High School (OMHS), what are their thoughts? We asked several students about the meaning of being an adult. Peyton Linge, a sophomore at OMHS believes “It means taking on a new level of responsibility with more freedom. However, freedom can be too tempting, so then an adult must realize the responsibility placed upon them.” He goes on to say that teenagers “have false ideas of freedom, and that can cause complications later on.” Another anonymous student believes that “Being an adult is being free to do anything your parents didn’t let you do.” We then asked when they thought they became an adult; an anonymous student responded, “Personally, I think you become an adult when you just feel mature. Some people grow up to be an adult at heart and at mind. Some people like me, will feel like a child at heart and never truly grow up.”  Kion Marsh puts it simply: “Eighteen, but you can’t drink until you’re twenty-one.” Finally, we asked our students why peers in their age were hurrying to grow up.  One person elaborates, “Some kids think being grown up is all about having freedom and going or doing anything you want with less consequences. They fail to realize the true meaning of growing up is to mature or evolve into a new you.”

Becoming an adult has no set age, biologically, chronologically, or psychologically. But when does one become an adult, and what does that mean for you?

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