I Don’t Want To Grow Up

October 7, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Young Man 1It used to be just a fanciful myth.  Now, it’s a psychological reality.  When the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León came to believe some waters at Bimini, the westernmost islands of the Bahamas, could reverse aging and restore youthfulness, he set out on an expedition to find what we have come to know as the Fountain of Youth.

These days, we don’t need a fountain to enjoy perpetual youth, just a psychological pronouncement.  An article published in BBC News chronicles the shift in the way psychologists are viewing youthful adolescence.  Sarah Helps, a clinical psychologist, explains:

We used to think that the brain was fully developed by very early teenagerhood and we now realise that the brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-20s or even early 30s. There’s a lot more information and evidence to suggest that actually brain development in various forms goes on throughout the life span.[1]

It is with this research in mind that child psychologists have now identified three stages of adolescence:  early adolescence from 12-14 years, middle adolescence from 15-17 years, and late adolescence after 18 years.  Notice there is no upper limit on late adolescence.  Adolescence, it seems, can now extend into an indeterminable future.  We can be forever young.  Bob Dylan would be ecstatic.

This is quite a shift from the beginning of the twentieth century when, according to columnist Diana West, “Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they didn’t aspire to adolescence.”[2]  It used to be children wanted to leave adolescence as quickly as they could so they could enjoy the promising perks of adulthood.  Now, more and more grown-ups are eschewing adulthood, with all of its responsibilities, for the nostalgic perks of childhood.

I am not going to argue against scientific evidence that suggests the human brain continues to develop into the late 20s and 30s.  This is, I am certain, true.  But this does not mean that, even while brains are developing, these “late adolescents” are somehow incapable of living – or should not be living – as reasonably developed adults.  Indeed, in any area of life, challenge is necessary for development.  If one wants to develop physical strength, he must endure challenging workouts.  If one wants to increase intellectual acumen, she must challenge herself with reading, researching, and thinking.  If one wants to develop in maturity, he must challenge himself to live as an independent, responsible adult rather than as a dependent, carefree child.

Perhaps it is Gary Cross, Distinguished Professor of Modern History at Penn State University, who states the problem with the increasingly delayed transition into adulthood most succinctly when he writes of young men who refuse to leave the thrills of adolescence:  “The culture of the boy-men today is less a life stage than a lifestyle, less a transition from childhood to adulthood than a choice to live like a teen ‘forever.’”[3]  Brain development may indeed be a product of psychological biology.  Maturity and immaturity, however, are consequences of moral volition.

Choose wisely.

[1] Lucy Wallis, “Is 25 the new cut-off point for adulthood?BBC News Magazine (9.23.2013).

[2] Diana West, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2007), 1.

[3] Gary Cross, Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2008), 5.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. irene  |  October 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Wonderful article. I remember reading other articles about brain development. And I agree: it does in fact seem that teens are slowing down when it comes to becoming independent and leaving the nest. That’s why it’s such a challenge as parents to work hard at preparing our kids for adulthood. Teaching them basics such as cooking, laundry, managing finances. But also the intangibles such as work ethic and setting goals. It seems we’ve lost sight of that and just “support” our children in the name of love to the point that we handicap them rather than help them.


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