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Vilsan ’19: Adulthood: Are we there yet?

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

As college students, we often rely on our parents for guidance and money, live with roommates we didn’t choose, depend on grades for validation from our professors and base our eating patterns off of cafeteria menu rotations. We sound like a bunch of kids.

Yet, the minute we turned 18, we could vote for our next president, die for our country, get married without parental consent (in 48 states) and be selected for jury duty. Doesn’t seem like the best system, does it? As a college student stuck in the middle of this paradox, I can’t help but wonder when I’ll stop being a kid and magically transition into adulthood.

Looking back at my childhood, I remember seeing my parents as individuals who could do no wrong. How many times have you heard the phrase: “Listen to your parents, they know best?” I even remember seeing university students as independent adults, studying and living alone, knowing what’s best, just like my parents. But some short years later, as a university student studying and living independently, I’m not sure what to call myself. I’m still stuck in a place where I’m constantly running around trying to avoid doing laundry and praying that by graduation taxes will be obsolete, jobs will be unlimited, and rent in Manhattan will be free. When will I become the adult I saw in my parents?

Maybe the answer to adulthood lies in science. Is there a moment when our adolescent brains finally mature into adult ones? A recent New York Times article seems to suggest otherwise, stating that the age restrictions that college students know so well are largely arbitrary and rarely based on scientific fact. Cognitive maturity is only loosely related to laws allowing us to drive and drink on a specific birthday. Some of us may simply have brains that are quicker to develop into know-it-all adults, while others may have brains that fancy themselves the Peter Pans of neuroscience.

Maybe it has more to do with personal experience and social context. The individual who is forced to care for his or her family at a young age is bound to mature faster than individuals who haven’t experienced a similar burden. This case makes a similar point that laws that dictate our maturity at certain ages are arbitrary because they have no way to account for the millions of diverse stories associated with the individual behind the wheel or at the bar.

Maybe the real problem is that our definition of maturity is incomplete or simply inadequate. Merriam-Webster defines an adult as an individual that is fully grown and developed. But these words are incredibly vague. Aren’t we constantly developing as human beings? Some of us may always be children at heart, regardless of what our bodies and brains have decided for us.

It’s clear that we cannot pinpoint the exact moment we become adults. Was it the day we stopped conversing about cartoon characters and started debating philosophical questions? Will it be the day when we no longer depend on our parents for financial support? Or is it the day we stop asking for permission to do things? How about the day we have our own children who turn to us for answers and explanations? Will we know what’s best by then?

Assigning an age to adulthood is largely arbitrary, and adulthood itself is inherently individualized. In my experience, being a university student has been a welcome niche in my life journey, as I am neither expected to be an adult, nor am I treated as a child. Perhaps if we as a society accepted looser definitions of adulthood, we would be able to enjoy the stage of our life that we are currently in without getting caught up in semantics. 

I remember a time when all I wanted to do was grow up already. My parents could choose to have desert before dinner, but I was forced to eat my vegetables in silent resentment. As a college student staring down the barrel of lifelong responsibility, eating some broccoli doesn’t seem like the highest price to pay for a care-free existence. But then again, having desert before dinner on my university campus sure beats preschool.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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