We used to consider adolescence ending at age 19, but now scientists in the UK think we should consider the period of development as lasting from ages 10 to 24.
BBC reports there’s currently a movement of social scientists who are pushing to extend our framework for adolescence as a society so that you’re technically still considered an adolescent until you’re 24 years old, whereas our past understanding was that the milestone for adulthood fell somewhere between the ages of 18 and 21 — aka, far too soon for many of us actually living those years right now.
That’s right: According to these researchers, if you’re under 24 years old, you’re basically still a teenager, not a full-blown adult — not yet, at least. And if you’re in your late 20s, you’ve basically only been an adult for a few years, and you really can’t be held fully accountable for your actions. OK fine, that’s not totally true, but still.
The reason behind this movement to extend adolescence primarily has to do with the ways in which our culture is participating differently in social norms than generations before us.
Case in point: In England (where this movement derives from), the average age for marriage is 32 for a man, and 30 for a woman, both of which are approximately eight years older, on average, than the standard ages at which people got married back in the 1970s. This delay in marriage radically changes the way that we, as a generation, approach adulthood.
This, at least, is the argument made in the “The Age of Adolescence,” an article recently published in the research journal The Lancet. Professor Susan Sawyer, lead author on the study and director of the Center for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, wrote,
Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later.
In other words, we aren’t taking on the traditional obligations (parenting, buying homes, and investing in the future) that our parents did, and therefore we currently exist in a state of “semi-dependency,” as Sawyer puts it.
This might translate to still living at home with your parents, or it might just mean you go home more often to do laundry and hang out, since you don’t have a family of your own yet. Sound familiar at all?
Either way, the argument is that we need to adjust our social norms and practices to fit this new definition of adolescence. For example, social care for children with special educational needs now goes up to 24 years of age in the UK.
Although the UK might be making some moves to embrace this new universe, I wouldn’t expect a warm welcome in the U.S. anytime soon. Many people worry that changing the limits of adolescence will only work to further infantilize what some say is already an overly dependent generation of millennials.
Of course, the United States also has to factor in things like the massive weight of student loans, something that more than two in five millennials currently have to deal with.
Either way, the push to extend adolescence to 24 years old seems like a pretty stellar idea — unless that means pushing back the age at which it’s legal to drive or drink alcohol, in which case I’m definitely not for it.