A number of articles have been publicised in the press recently, including in the Times and on BBC News, suggesting that adolescence now runs from 10 to 24. These articles reference an opinion piece entitled “The Age of Adolescence” from the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal. How is this justifiable? Below is the summary of the attached piece.
“Adolescence is the phase of life stretching between childhood and adulthood, and its definition has long posed a conundrum. Adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century. 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. In parallel, delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of education, marriage, and parenthood, continue to shift popular perceptions of when adulthood begins. Arguably, the transition period from childhood to adulthood now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and wellbeing across these years. An expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for developmentally appropriate framing of laws, social policies, and service systems. 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.”
However we define adolescence, that does not absolve young people of growing into and assuming the responsibility that society demands they develop into. Being childlike is not admirable – we spend 20 years as children, and potentially up to 80 as adults. Being an adult must therefore be the more desirable state, and it comes with an unprecedented level of freedom when compared with being a child.
I opened a previous blog post with the following pair of quotations.
Newman: “Jordan Peterson, you’ve said that men need to ‘grow the hell up’. Tell me why.”
Dr. Peterson: “Because there’s nothing uglier than an old infant. There’s nothing good about it. People who don’t grow up don’t find the sort of meaning in their life that sustains them through difficult times, and they are certain to encounter difficult times. And they are left bitter, and resentful, and without purpose, and adrift, and hostile, and resentful, and vengeful, and arrogant, and deceitful, and of no use to themselves, and of no use to anyone else, and no partner for a woman. There’s nothing in it that’s good.”
Therefore why is it becoming more societally acceptable to continue to act like an “old infant”, far beyond when it has historically been allowed?
A justification for the opinions of the above paper could easily be our increased longevity. As the average age of the population of the developed world grows and grows, so proportionally can the length of time in which it is permissible to be considered a child. Yet wouldn’t this be easy to use as an excuse? It is eminently undesirable.
Kierkegaard said, in his Journals and Papers Vol. 1,
What our age needs is an honest earnestness which affectionately preserves the tasks, which does not alarm people into wanting to rush pell-mell into the highest but keeps the tasks young and beautiful and lovely to look at and beckoning to all and yet for all that difficult and inspiring to the noble, for the noble nature is inspired only by what is difficult. My listener, how did I dare to be so impolite as to doubt that I shall succeed in inspiring you — for I have the difficulties all ready.
“For the noble nature is inspired only by what is difficult.” This sounds all too similar to “life is suffering”, one of the founding teachings of Buddhism. There is an inherent need in life for struggle, challenge and contest. As Albert Camus said, one must consider Sisyphus happy.
The decision to put something off is still a decision. It is a decision to do nothing. Putting off the burden of the mantle of responsibility and wearing it like a heavy crown is still a conscious choice, and it is one that should be scorned. Responsibility is often the making of a person. It forces you to grow.
It is too easy a choice to neglect to learn about the subjects of most import to one’s ability to handle responsibility. Personal finances, the biological effects of food, drink and drugs on one’s system, the philosophies of the ancient world that the foundations of our society were built upon. The importance of exercise, of solitude, of connection to nature and of uninhibited thinking. Yet none of these are ever covered in the education we receive in school. They are learned from parents, friends and mentors. By luck of circumstance.
Our parents and grandparents generation grew up with hardship and the subsequent requirement for responsibility from a very young age. They grew up with the overhanging fear of war, for a start. Without the same level of technology, they learnt to appreciate nature from day one and social interaction was physical and tactile. So many things have changed in the past 50 years, and with Moore’s law still holding true across a wide range of technological sectors, that is not going to slow down in the near future.
To avoid ending up as an ugly infant, every individual is now in a position of the need to seek out hardship. To allow us to grow into adulthood, and be the role models that our parents were for us. Without the same fire to be forged in, we need to stoke it ourselves before we then voluntarily jump into the blaze. A quote that is often thrown around is,
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsh.
Have you found the end of your comfort zone yet? If not, keep looking.