“All children, except one, grow up.”
Thus begins J.M. Barrie’s famous novel, Peter Pan. But while this statement was once exceedingly true, popular trends seem to be calling it into question, and if nothing else, it seems that children mature much later than was once the case.
Evidence of this can be seen in the Obamacare stipulation that young people can stay on their parents’ health care plan until age 26, or the fact that the number of driver’s licenses is declining among the young.
But now it seems that the push to delay adulthood has extended to medical professionals. Writing in the medical journal Lancet, Dr. Susan Sawyer and other researchers opine that biological information and social trends suggest a need for adolescence to continue into an individual’s mid-twenties:
“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.”
But others believe extending adolescence can be detrimental. Speaking to the BBC, sociologist Dr. Jan Macvarish suggests that just because young people are getting married later or spending more time on schooling does not mean they should be coddled. According to her, “‘Society should maintain the highest possible expectations of the next generation.’”
So how exactly can society maintain these high expectations of its young people? The life of George Washington offers a clue.
In the well-researched biography of America’s first president, The Making of George Washington*, author William Wilbur recounts how George became a recognized specimen of maturity at the age of sixteen – nearly a decade younger than the age at which today’s experts want to receive young people into adulthood.
There were two primary factors which led to Washington’s early maturity. The first and most important was his father’s influence. August Washington, a business man and judge, took much time to educate and train his son to be a diligent worker and an honest man.
But the second factor leading to Washington’s maturity was the fact that he placed more emphasis on listening than speaking. This was a trait also acquired from his father, who “had learned that if he found himself uncertain as to a course of action, the solution was to seek more information.”
As Washington’s biographer goes on to note, these factors of maturity were the leading causes of Washington’s great success not only in business, but also later in life as general and president.
We all want today’s young adults to enjoy that same success. The trouble is, we seem to believe that such success will only come if we smooth the way for them by giving them the extended benefits of adolescence. In the process, we often push the parents – particularly fathers – aside, along with any discipline or instruction they have to offer, teaching young people to form their own opinions and ideas without having had the opportunity to listen to the ideas of those older and wiser.
Would America’s youth be more successful if we fostered early maturity, instead of simply extending the official period of adolescence?
*Courtesy of the Internet Archive Library
[Image Credit: Zara J (CC BY-SA 2.0)]
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.