To Be or Not to Be (an Adult): That is the Question

“Adult”: the word you keep hearing repeatedly now that you’re 18, the word your parents threaten you with when you make a lowsy decision, the word that sums up what your future should look like. But what does it mean to be an “adult”? According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, an adult is defined as someone that is “mature and sensible, fully grown and developed.” One definition refers to the mental factors of being an adult, and the other refers to the physical factors of being an adult. Which one is it? Does it have to mean both?

Definitely not. The legal interpretation of “adult” should not be correlated with the actual aspects of being an adult. According to the law, once one is 18, one can be legally defined as an adult; this means having the ability to vote, being legally allowed to be independent of guardians, and even having the freedom to go to the doctor and signing waivers without the permission of a parent. Is this really what adulthood means? Physically being alive for 18 years? What about the social implications, the mental requirements, the moral responsibility that has to be obtained? These things are not given once a child turns 18; they must be learned and developed through a lifetime, and 18 years may not be enough to develop these skills.

Our grandparents believe that becoming an adult means getting a steady job, marrying a lifelong partner, having children, and contributing economically to the economy. Our parents believe that becoming an adult means getting an education, having a reasonable career, and eventually getting married and raising a family; however, our generation has completely switched things up. We don’t believe that getting married is a necessity to adulthood, living independently in someone’s 20’s is completely acceptable. We believe that one doesn’t have to have a steady job and that changing careers is completely acceptable. Some of us don’t even want to have kids! This just proves that society’s views of “adulthood” are forever changing, and should not be attributed to the physical aspects of becoming an adult but the mental ones.

These “mental” characteristics should include accepting responsibility for actions, being patient with and accepting of others, handling sticky situations in a confident and calm manner, and having the ability to differentiate between making rational decisions versus making decisions based on emotional impulse.


“Adulting” should not necessarily be attributed to “growing up”, because the word “growing” can be ambiguous. Becoming an adult is more similar in definition to the word “maturing“, because one can mature at any age, versus becoming an “adult” at the age of 18. According to multiple claims, the 21st century is now introducing the idea of “emerging adulthood“, a stage in life that takes place during the ages of 18-25, which is relatively similar to the manner that the 20th century introduced “adolescence” (ages 13-18) as a stage of life (Zacarés). This claim is completely valid considering not having a stable job or a serious marriage with another person for 20-somethings is completely acceptable.


The definition of “adulthood” is forever changing when it comes down to the physical aspects of growing up (marriage, jobs, kids, etc) which is why the definition of “adult” should correspond to the maturing characteristics of it instead of the tangible.


  1. Zacarés, Juan José, Emilia Serra, and Francisca Torres. “Becoming An Adult: A Proposed Typology Of Adult Status Based On A Study Of Spanish Youths.” Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology 56.3 (2015): 273-282. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.



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2 Responses to To Be or Not to Be (an Adult): That is the Question

  1. Steven Creech says:

    There are many different aspects of becoming an adult that you brought up in your post. Covering both the physical and mental qualities that attribute to becoming an adult, led to a strong stance. Your argument centers around the fact that the mindset of an adult is continuously changing. However, when you talk about the legal interpretation of being an adult once you are 18, and that when you become 18 you don’t automatically develop the life skills that are usually associated with being an adult. This got me thinking about why we might classify someone who is not mentally mature enough to be an adult as an adult once they reach a certain age. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with the idea that the reason we label people as a “legal” adult when they reach 18 is so that they might begin to realize that they need to mentally mature (if they have not already done so). Thus, by placing more responsibilities on people as they turn 18, they are pressured to grow up into an adult.

  2. Mingyuan Zhou says:

    Captivated by the title, “to be or not to be,” I really like the analytical style of the essay. First rigorously defining the term of “adult,” the author also presented her personal views on adults. I really appreciate her combination of her own ideas with elaborated ethos, pathos and logos.

    She first explained the definition of adult by law. Physically, I’m not an adult since I haven’t been 18 years old. I still need to depend on my guardians by signing all kinds of authorization letters or get permission by them. This is basically the key difference between a teenager and an adult.

    However, as she mentioned in her essay, the physical dependence is obviously not the most crucial distinction. We have to be mentally mature, well-developed and self-controlled as well. She mentioned several words like responsibility, patience, confidence and capability of making decisions. I can add more virtues for certain adults like resilience, order, resolution and etc. Once Benjamin Franklin discussed the 13 virtues to be successful and I think we teenagers might keep that in mind to truly become an adult.

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