Experts say we should redefine adolescence.
Source: Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

Experts are proposing that adolescence should be socially and legally accepted as lasting longer than 19 years of age — up until 24, to be exact. But why?

The problem with adolescence as we know it:

“Adolescence” is the period between 10 to 19 years of age (or 18 in other countries), where many cognitive and physical changes take place in the human body.

Both male and female individuals go through dramatic physical changes that lead to a sexual awakening — naturally accompanied by insecurities; cognitive developments, making them more aware of themselves and those around them; a greater sense of responsibility, with parents and teachers frequently reminding them of important future decisions they will have to make; and so on…

There have always been debates on how long adolescence should last legally. For Susan Sawyer, chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, the problem is simple:

19 years of age is not long enough.

After this 19-year threshold, you're considered an adult, gaining all the rights and responsibilities that come along…

… at an age when most individuals are still unfit for an adult life.

Why 24 years of age is a more realistic “end” for adolescence

24 years is a more realistic "end" of adolescence.
Source: Marie Claire

According to a New York Times article, people in their 20s go through an average of seven jobs. Two-thirds of them live with romantic partners without marrying, and forty percent of them move back to their parents at least once.

This same article corroborates Susan Sawyer’s remark on how “delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of education, marriage, and parenthood, continue to shift popular perceptions of when adulthood begins.”

What happens is that supposed “adults” in their early 20s are:

  • ... still going through extensive education (usually college);
  • … more often than not, still relying on their parents financial support;
  • … going through several different jobs, if working at all;
  • … living with romantic partners without marrying - hence, marrying later;
  • … given a lot of trust and responsibility to decide their own future, while cognitively and/or psychologically underprepared to do so;

It makes a lot of sense — you don’t have to go far to find young adults (people in their early 20s) going through the same conflicts familiar to teenagers. Self-doubt, identity, rebellion, uncertainty, instability, and so much more. This proposition leads to a more realistic timeline, and thus, a more realistic understanding of adolescence.

For those reasons, Sawyer proposes:

“Rather than age 10–19 years, a definition of 10–24 years corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase and would facilitate extended investments across a broader range of settings.” - The Age of Adolescence, by Susan Sawyer

But should it change?

The short answer is: yes.

There has always been debate over this matter, hence why different countries and cultures so often disagree on how they treat adulthood.

About a hundred years ago, adolescence wasn’t even regarded as a special period in human life. Back then, you were either a child, or an adult. Only after many studies and cultural changes it became recognized as such, and only recently.

But we’re now a few decades later. Several other cultural changes have taken place, yet we cling to an antiquated notion of adolescence that no longer applies to our modern world.

We can expect studies like this will lead to awareness, and little by little, our society will change to reflect that.

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