A blessing or a curse?

by Branwyn Wilkinson

Opinion Contributor

Childhood keeps getting longer and longer. In the United States, it extends even past when we reach the legal “age of majority.” We get to vote, and drive after dark, and we can begin making our own decisions, but we aren’t full-fledged adults. We have all the legal privileges to be able to take care of ourselves, but society tends to hold us back from exercising them.

Independence. In the most ideal sense of the word, that’s what adulthood is all about. So it might stand to reason that by the time someone reaches the age society considers “grown up,” they would be completely independent, but in the U.S., 18 is the age kids take the first major steps towards independence, not the last.

Many of us go away for college, so we get to live on our own, but it’s not quite the same as moving out of your parents’ house. For most, we’re far from financially independent, though we do take on our own financial debt. These are baby steps.

It is nice to have the reassurance of our childhood homes to fall back on during college years. College offers a great place to adjust to the adult world and practice taking care of and managing ourselves. I’m just not sure why we have to wait until we’re 18 to get there.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the days of one room school houses, public schooling ended at a much younger age. Afterwards, kids got jobs to support themselves, or went away for higher education. And they did this during their early to mid teenage years. It was not uncommon to get married and start a family by the age of 18. And in ancient times, girls were married almost as soon as they were capable of having children! Today, that is inconceivable.

Today, even 18 and 19 year olds aren’t perceived as having the maturity to manage both their own lives and somebody else’s. But is this always the case? Clearly it didn’t use to be.

This perception is true to the extent that a young adult believes it to be. That’s right, in the U.S., we get a choice of when to grow up. We can choose to hang on to dependence through college, or we can try to become as financially and emotionally independent as possible.

Many of us realize years before we go to college that we would be capable of taking care of ourselves if need be. The luxury is that we don’t need to.

The United States extended version of childhood is more of a blessing than a curse. The only major problem is that extended childhood has also extended perceived immaturity. Especially when first starting out in college, adults don’t always take us seriously. But sometimes the beginning of college is when we ourselves realize that we deserve to be taken seriously.

We become much more in charge of our own lives, and we realize that we can actually handle the responsibility. This disconnect is what can lead us to feeling like adults trapped into childhood.

There are a lot of good things about extended childhood in the U.S. We have ample time to grow-up. As we mature, we can make mistakes in a safe environment, and learn from them before we have to enter the adult world. We can rely on our parents for financial help as we learn to manage our own money and prepare to start our own careers. Our parents still expect and want to give us emotional support, even for the little things.

However, adults, please realize that we’re anxious to establish our independence. We face challenges, and we have opinions, and we want you to take us seriously. So listen to us. That’s the best help you can give us as we navigate out of childhood, and into the adult world.

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