When do you become an adult?

When is a man grown-up? Biologically speaking, when he is full grown and capable of reproduction. But is he then also psychologically grown up? Every culture or time-period has its own idealistic vision of what an adult man or woman should fulfil. Often problems arise when someone tries to fulfil this ‘idealistic vision’ too hastily without first taking counsel with himself.

Reflecting upon himself and his position within society distinguishes man from animal. An animal does not have any notion about an ego and does not reflect upon the question of whether it makes sense that it exists. A child in the womb does not reflect either, but as soon as it is born it becomes conscious of certain feelings: cold, warmth, hunger. As it grows older, the child increasingly becomes aware of its own ego. Confirmation of its ‘ego’ strengthens its self-confidence and makes him or her more independent.

Yet an adult also needs this confirmation, because everyone now and again doubts himself or the sense of his existence. And the only ones who can provide this confirmation are other people; first the father and mother, later friends, a living-partner, colleagues, and others. Being the social animal man is, he lives at the mercy of others to confirm his own ego. One thing is for certain: the stronger a child receives this ‘basic feeling’ from its parent(s) – ‘I exist but I am not just here’ – the greater is the chance that it dares to be himself as an ‘adult’ and continues to see the sense of existence when confronted with problematic situations.

The adult -Introduction

What we call ‘adult’ is largely a social definition. All around the world, different cultures have their own concepts of what adulthood means; each has its preferred rituals of ‘coming of age’ – which may take place during the early teens in some societies – and its own rules or legislation to control the passing from adolescence to adulthood.

Biologically, adolescence ends and adulthood begins when bone growth is complete. The exact age varies between the sexes and between individuals, taking place at around age 20 in girls and 22 in boys. At the end of this final period of physical development, the individual is normally at a peak of energy and vitality. If physical maturity is easy to define, psychological and emotional maturity are less simple. Many of us fail to reach full mental or emotional maturity, remaining childish or immature in some aspect of our lives, often to our disadvantage. In another sense, however, none of us ever grows up; rather, we become more complex.

The child is present in every adult as it was in childhood, and no adult can claim to be well-balanced who has totally subdued the child in his nature. We all need to retain the childlike capacity to experience love and wonderment in relation to people and the world around us.


In the developed West, differences are identifiable between the sexes as they reach adult independence. Most young women become increasingly confident in early adulthood, tending to experience social and occupational success.

A girl’s relationship with her mother often improves, and mothers recognize their daughters’ autonomy, if they have not already done so. For many young men, when adulthood comes, stability is still not attained.

Father-son crises are not uncommon as young men begin to emerge as individuals in their own right. For both sexes, the idealism and fervour of their late teens usually mellows. With the accumulation of personal experience, individuals gradually develop a more pragmatic set of ideas. Reality dawns as the young adult discovers life’s problems, limitations and rewards; his expectations of both himself and those around him moderate accordingly. ‘Settling down’

Some time between 18 and 35 most people reach sufficient maturity to have some idea of their long-term needs and how to fulfil them. They start to find a more stable pattern of social relationships and work activities, usually seeking also a more permanent relationship with a life partner. Early adulthood is thus a time for making long-term choices. Lifestyles and habits adopted at this time may last for many years.

Couples who marry before they are 20 are statistically more likely to divorce than those who marry when older. This suggests the need for maturity in the close relationship that for many people is the focus of adult life. Once married, both partners must learn to adapt to new demands and responsibilities. The arrival of children requires an even greater adjustment. The difficulties encountered in adjusting to a marriage are sometimes never truly resolved, perhaps because of additional social or emotional pressures, which leads to the breakdown of the marriage and subsequently separation or divorce. More than 38 per cent of all first marriages end in divorce. Studies have found, however, that second marriages are generally as happy as those first marriages that last. Stable partnerships need to be based on love, tolerance and mutual respect; flexibility is important, because few couples are able to satisfy each other in every way all the time. Overdependence or excessive dominance on the part of either partner can often destroy a relationship.

Much debate surrounds the question of whether happy marriages are based on similarity of interests and temperament (’like’ attracts ‘like’) or on the fact that the two partners complement rather than replicate each other (’opposites attract’). There are studies that support each viewpoint, so no conclusive answer can be given. It is clear that no set pattern of marital relations is bound to be a recipe for a successful and happy marriage.