What Makes an Adult?
January 11, 2023
Turning up the radio in her car, sophomore Jenny Wang blasts the music while driving around town at night with her friends. Making the most out of the time she has left in high school, Wang takes every opportunity to make memories without the concern of adult responsibilities.
“Most days after school, I go home, eat and take a nap, which are pretty normal teenage things,” Wang said. “But, almost every night I make time to go out with my friends too. I want to make the most of the time I have and have fun. I try to make memories with my friends and enjoy the high school experience while it lasts.”
In high school, it can seem like everyone is on their own. Students running around desperate to succeed on tests, in classes and most importantly, in life. Teenagers are in their own bubbles focused on preparing for the rest of their lives. The natural progression through the ages is the only thing everyone has in common. One second, children are learning how to read, and the next they are moving away to college. Society considers people adults the second they turn eighteen. However, this concept of adulthood draws a rigid line in the sand.
“I feel like there are so many strict deadlines coming up when I have only recently begun to enjoy my teenage years,” Wang said. “I feel like the second we get the hang of everything, things have to change again. It feels like there is no extra time for us to enjoy the age we are at because we are always scared of the next.”
But what does it mean to become an adult? Is it simply an age marker, a checkpoint on the ladder toward death? Or is it something deeper, a level of maturity to reach before being considered “independent” or “responsible?” And, do some people ever reach adulthood? The path to adulthood is complex and complicated, as opposed to how society makes it seem.
Maturity Knows no Age
High school is a turning point for young adults when it comes to maturity. Spending four years learning how to become an “adult” results in varying levels of sophistication. While some embrace the grown-up role with poise, others seem to fall behind.
“I think maturity has a lot to do with confidence and how you treat others,” Freshman Studies teacher Kimberly Caipa said. “Having confidence in yourself and staying true to your own beliefs is a clear sign of maturity. Also, decision-making is a big part, such as responding to situations rather than reacting.”
While confidence in oneself grows naturally over time, maturity can also vary between ages and each individual. To some, maturity is defined by self-representation and one’s actions.
“Maturity looks very different for everyone,” senior Liban Tuni said. “But generally, the way that people hold themselves I would say, and choosing to be the better person in situations where ego and pride are involved are signs of adulthood. Those who have a lot of maturity do not let little things affect them.”
Tuni agrees that confidence plays a major role in stepping into adulthood, however, Wang believes that maturity is better characterized by being serious and attentive.
“I don’t think I am mature at all,” Wang said. “I would categorize myself as an immature person because I don’t take anything seriously when it’s supposed to be. Right now I think that’s just how I am, my best friend is like that too. In some ways, it is a peer pressure situation, but I also consciously choose to be like that. Some kids are always focused; they always do their work and they don’t mess around, but to me, it just seems boring.”
There is no scientific measure of a person’s maturity and no concrete sign to show when an individual is fully mature. Instead, it is found that biological improvements and increased maturity are heavily dependent on life experience. Maturity is not a one-size fits all characteristic, as Tuni has found that there is a slightly immature side to everyone.
“I don’t think we ever really reach maturity perse because we all still have parts of us that lean towards an immature side,” Tuni said. “Maturity is merely something that grounds you and allows you to assume responsibilities. The more responsibilities that you have, the more maturity you’ll acquire and the more adult-like you’ll be.”
After working in a high school environment for years and witnessing the growth in maturity that occurs in students, Caipa believes that adulthood really is more than simply an age.
“I really think age is just a number,” Caipa said. “I think that there are so many eighteen-year-olds that are not ready to take on the responsibilities of adults. Maybe they don’t have the life experience or maybe they don’t have the competence that they need to make those wise decisions and respond rather than react to important situations. And then I think that there are a lot of younger people that are naturally wise, those of which I would trust to make adult decisions.”
Whether one is childish, wise, young, or old, they can choose to assume whatever level of maturity is most fitting for them. Being an adult is not a question of age, but a question of priorities.
“I think everybody has some maturity, you just have to find it,” sophomore Demetrios West said. “By really reflecting and figuring out your priorities, you can learn to be serious in those important situations. It is interesting to look back and see what you did at a younger age and throughout the years. Seeing my level of maturity, or lack thereof, helps me to improve upon it.”
Independence- learned or experienced?
Cooking, doing your own laundry, and handling finances – all basic life skills necessary for living on your own. As these skills are not commonly taught in class students must learn at home by themselves. But because it is not guaranteed they learn at home, there is a great divide on just how prepared students feel when it’s time to move out on their own.
“I don’t think half the people here are [prepared],” senior Sebastian Garcia said. “I mean, there are classes you can take that will prepare you for that, but not many people know about the classes. There is a class that teaches you how to do taxes, but I didn’t retain any of that. But it’s really important to be able to learn how to save money. You don’t notice how expensive things can get and most people I know just spend money to spend it.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wang is not only ready, but eager to move out.
“I’m just like, excited for something new and I’m ready to move onto something new and start something else by myself,” Wang said. “I already feel independent enough because there’s a lot of things that I could use help with but I choose to do it by myself. It’s just a part of growing up. I’m growing up and I feel like as everyone gets older and older, becoming independent is just something that just comes naturally.”
One class on campus teaches independent living skills, focusing on four separate skill sets students might need in the future. The teacher rotates each quarter, allowing students to focus on a more balanced perspective of different life skills.
“My particular part is mostly digital literacy and one of the reasons is because we’re tied to our devices constantly,” Engineering and Independent Living teacher Wayne Davies said. “So knowing how to use them and how to use them correctly [is important], [and] I also throw in a little bit of cybersecurity and so knowing how to protect yourself while using those devices as well. Personal finance is [also] a really big one. I think those are vital skills that are definitely necessary.”
ON THE TOPIC OF: by Rhamil Aloysius Taguba [STUDENT]
Often, students enter high school with the expectation that it will teach them everything they need to survive in the real world, but are left confused and without a sense of direction. Students are often sidelined by other priorities, such as grades and deadlines, that they aren’t retaining any important life skills.
“The school system rewards students for a simple A and standardized testing rather than actual learning,” junior Hermiogne Sarmiento said. “We are meant to learn useless knowledge we don’t need in the future and regenerate it on a test. It’s not helpful or effective for the future and totally ruins students’ mental health. [We’ve] learned that getting high scores or an ‘A’ is better than actually [learning] the work, because of this, our work ethic is wrecked.”
There is an expectation around the idea that schools must teach students everything there is to know about “the real world.” But sometimes, the best teacher is just a real experience.
“I just remember all of my teachers saying ‘when you get older you’re gonna use this stuff’, and then at 17, I joined the military and went to boot camp. I realized absolutely nothing I was doing in class made me ready for life, leadership and making decisions,” Teaching and Training and Independent Living teacher Vincent Thur said. “I got put in charge of 80 men. [I was] 17, there are 80 people I’d never met before, and we had specific goals to reach – nobody had ever trained me on that. so [now] I’m in a position where for ten weeks I can look back and approach it with my students.”
Although public education may not provide real-world application thoroughly, taking independent steps to transition as a young adult, like getting a job or taking financial literacy courses, will certainly prepare for what is to come.
“I think being an older sibling has definitely made me more independent,” junior Aleyah Hilario said. “I think that it’s just the small things like simple chores and knowing how to cook are great life skills that everyone should know how to do regardless of school. Knowing how to do these things, even if it’s seemingly an everyday task like putting away dishes, establishes a sense of responsibility and self-reliance that I feel like a lot of people don’t recognize but is more powerful than you realize.”
Was Growing up a Choice?
Editorial Warning: Mature Content
Many times people are forced to “grow up,” embracing a mature and distinct perspective on their experiences. It may stem from a singular traumatic experience, or a series of them, or simply facing the hardships that reality and the “real world” have to offer at a young age.
“As an immigrant, coming into the United States completely changed how the environment around me was,” senior Zielle Poselero said. “I was separated from my family, and it was just me and my mom. From a very young age, I had to know about the challenges and sacrifices my mom made, and I already felt like a burden. Understanding that so young made me feel like my childhood was cut off really abruptly.”
As teenagers step into high school, earn driver’s licenses, start their first jobs and begin their path of self-discovery, growing older inevitably results in some form of separation. Emotional and financial dependencies fade away, leaving children to form their own viewpoints and morals.
“Being the kid of a parent who is a teacher, it feels like there are a lot of expectations,” junior Arcade Encarnacion said “Its hard because she feels like there’s a lot of potential in me, but on the other hand I’m struggling to stay afloat. We come at a clash because she expects me to be able to do certain things. She raised me to be better than other kids, but I wish she had more empathy or understanding. It builds a distance because I feel like she doesn’t see me, rather the person she wants me to be.”
The disconnect children experience with their parents could put them into a situation where expectations are heightened. This could potentially lead to a set of responsibilities that they may not necessarily be ready to handle.
“Teaching my younger brother life lessons and helping him with schoolwork was something I enjoyed, but eventually I got tired of being a second mother,” senior Mikayla Day said. “When my second brother was born, my responsibilities were heightened having to take care of another sibling. My mom took care of us, but I was there to help when she needed it. I tend to have more patience than she does, so I’m the one who has to teach them and calm her down when she gets mad.”
While a parent may be mostly, or entirely, absent, young people are tasked with the responsibilities to take complete care of themselves with little direction.
“For the last couple of years, my mom has dropped me off at home after school before going back to work,” Poselero said. “I remember feeling very overwhelmed and staying up for hours trying to figure out my Algebra homework. I was really struggling, but I couldn’t ask for help. A lot of the time I ate instant ramen and fried eggs for dinner, and it was really lonely eating meals by myself when my mom was still working, or maybe too tired to eat with me. I’m grateful my mom is working to keep us afloat, but I miss spending time with her.”
On the other hand, some may choose to present or act in a manner that is deemed “older” by society. Whether it’s wearing makeup, dressing older or using adult language, it may be a defense mechanism to blend in, or seem more valuable to others.
“Growing up around my older sister and cousins brought me to want to grow up a little faster so I could feel more included,” freshman Allyana Abao said. “With social media and my friends, I feel like I could grow and learn about being older and what I should prepare for the future. Because I’m friends with older people, I want to do what they do and have the freedoms they have, and just be more responsible like them.”
Much of this stems from the need to conform to today’s trends. This behavior has changed how many view the labels “child,” “teenager,” or “adult.” Though, these issues are rooted in standards and culture, sparking questions on what should, or should not be normalized.
“I’m not your standard millennial teacher, I am one that believes in letting individuals express themselves the way that they want to,” Communications teacher Henry Evans said. “Social media can be an alternative for students to express themselves where they can’t in school. The over-sexualization aspect of Instagram is not necessarily great, but at the same time, I don’t want to shame people. You can restrict how a student or minor presents themselves, but we have to look at the consequences of what happens when we restrain people.”
Wang chooses to embrace the idea of growing up by understanding the support around her.
“I feel that when you’re forced to grow up, it’s because you’re not as privileged as others might be,” Wang said. “You have to learn to fight for yourself, but when you choose to grow up you know that you’ll always have your parents [or another guardian figure].”
In hopes of creating a seamless transition to life after high school, students may be motivated to take AP, honors or dual credit courses to prepare for an adult workload. This rush to understand greater responsibilities may prevent some from fully cherishing their teenage years.
“Being a student-athlete, there are 25 to 30 hours of training every week, and with five-hour practices a day and AP classes with high standards, it’s a lot to catch up on and I constantly feel like there’s something that needs to be done,” junior Jasmin Wenger said. “A lot of my friends have jobs and do extracurriculars, but they don’t take as hard of classes or aren’t as busy in general. I see them having so much fun, and it makes me wonder if I shouldn’t have done this. I’ve been trying to focus more on being social and ‘living.’ I cut down on gym hours, and now I have time to hang out on the weekends and give myself an off day.”
As students continue to discover who they are and become closer to the title of “adult,” it takes time and reflection to understand their own upbringings.
“I wish that I lived in the little fantasy bubble of being a child longer, and that I didn’t have to ‘grow up,’” Poselero said. “Even though I’ve just become a legal adult, I think that my young adulthood has been going on for a lot longer than it actually has. As a twelve year old I was already in the mindset of thinking about my future, and since then I’ve had to constantly worry about it.”
Legally, people may be considered an “adult” on their eighteenth birthday, however, it takes more than that to actually be one. At any age, people can act like children, and at any age, people can act like adults.
Maturity and responsibility are things we learn over time, not just magically gain when we reach a certain age. Some may learn these skills faster than others and some may never learn them at all. It is how we interact with others, the world around us and most importantly, ourselves, that truly shows what it means to be an adult.
“The more time I spend thinking about growing up, I realize how important it is to never lose yourself,” Wang said. “I don’t think I will ever be fully mature according to other people’s standards, but I will grow up eventually on my own terms.”