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When does adolescence end?

Adolescence in our culture means risk taking, emotional drama and various shapes of bizarre behaviour. It’s the in-between phase from puberty to adulthood, described as a transitional stage of physical and psychological human development.

But what do we consider adulthood? Is it an expectation that once we blow out our 18 candles and make a wish, this period of development instantly ends? That we are no longer adolescent? Is it a question of age or maturity?

Growing up we are reminded by our parents, by our teachers, by our bosses that once we are 18 we are an adult. That if we want to be treated like an adult, we must act like one.

During adolescence teenagers face many social and emotional changes such as becoming separate from their parents, learning independence, being accepted into peer groups, deciding on futures and figuring out who they are.

As it is now, adult realities seem to be sugar-coated until the moment schooling is over. The idea that gradual socialisation into adulthood should begin much earlier seems forgotten. “The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult doesn’t quite ring true,” says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus.

Through new guidance, psychologists are beginning to acknowledge that adolescence now effectively runs up until the age of 25. With three stages of adolescence: Early adolescence from 12-14, middle adolescence from 15-17 years and late adolescence from 18 years and over. The new guidance is to help make sure that when adolescents reach the age of 18 they do not fall through the gaps in society.

According to neuroscience, a young person’s mental development continues through to a later stage affecting self-image, judgement and emotional maturity until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has fully developed. As well as brain development, hormonal activity continues well into the early twenties. According to Antrobus, during these formative years, some adolescence may need more support during this time, and it’s important for parents to realise that not one young person develops at the same pace.

But this has sparked concerns whether we’re breeding a nation of young people reluctant to leave adolescence behind.

Sociology professor, Frank Furedi, says we have “infantilised” youth, leading to an increasing number of young people in their late 20’s still living at home. “There is a loss of the aspiration for independence and striking out on your own,” he says, adding, “We treat university students the way we used to treat school pupils, so I think it’s that type of cumulative effect of infantilisation which is responsible for this.”

According to Furedi, there’s been a cultural shift which has led to adolescence extending into the 20s and normalised immaturity and sees evidence of this culture even in our viewing preferences.

So with factors such as hormonal activity and brain development taking much longer than we previously thought, how do we know when we adolescence ends?

In a world which is constantly changing its views and opinions, it seems adolescence develops circumstantially. The moment independence feels like something you both want and can acquire appears to be the real beginning of adulthood.

Finlay Robertson
Finlay is a 20-year-old music lover from Wellington who has recently made the decision to take on Auckland City and pursue her dreams. Her passion for writing and broadcast has led to her studies at the NZ Radio Training School.
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