In America it goes something like this: after turning 21, a person is an adult, by law. Of course, the main reward of this newfound maturity is found at the bottom of a beer can, for now alcohol consumption is legal. This individual was unwise and unfit to lead, a child, barely capable of feeding and cleaning himself. But now, with the celebration of his 21st birthday, he is a responsible member of society, ready to provide for his family. His maturity has peaked.
Of course I exaggerate, but only to mock our legal system. 21 year olds are no more adult than they were 24 hours ago. The 21st birthday is an artificial, arbitrary, and irrational rite of passage. (Ever wonder why people ‘celebrate’ by downing 21 shots on their 21st birthday?) The question I explore is this: How does a person truly know, in their heart, they are an adult? Is there ever a dawning moment? Or are you an adult once college students look the way children in middle school do – small, stupid, and emotionally insecure?
I sense, as I transition to adulthood, that adulthood comes like a snake’s second skin. See snakes, just like humans, shed their skin. Snakes leave all of their skin behind once it becomes too small whereas humans shed their skin in bits and flakes over time. Only rarely do humans shed all their skin at once.
Children, teenagers, and young-almost-adults all go through skin sheddings. I myself have gone through my child skin, my teenager skin, and am now in the process of molting my college skin. It is peculiar that I cannot exactly say how this process occurs. It just does. There has been no single moment of definite, irreversible change but over countless moments, change has occurred. What ultimately marks skin shedding, I argue, is a change in identity. Physical maturity, social interactions, and age do not denote a skin change. That is, no one ever became an adult simply because they had a 21st birthday. Some people are mature physically, are treated like adults, are old enough to be adults, and are called adults, but still unconsciously identify as a child. Deep down, they haven’t grown up.
I think physical maturity, social interactions, and age (and innumerable other things) combine to form a sense of adulthood which the person then identifies with, but in order to be considered a true adult, a true grown-up one has to be mature.