The age at which we’re properly deemed adults is vague at best.



How old do you have to be to be considered an adult? Legally, in NZ, it’s probably around about 18. But in other areas of life, like school, it seems like we’re told “you’re an adult now” every other year – with enough conviction to make you wonder how to do your taxes before next March.  


In the age of the #Internet, markers for adulthood in contemporary society have become watery compared to previous generations. In a study conducted by Sharon (2016), she highlights the extended period of time we Millenials (and Gen X) have for exploration, whether this be further study or in the workplace. She writes: “it appears that emerging adults construct personal conceptualizations of adulthood adaptively.” What she means, essentially, is that “exploration time” hasn’t been given a cut off age, and is pretty much up to us. Terrifying, really. 


For the sake of understanding adulthood though, we’ve broken this down into a process, characterised by a gradual increase in autonomy and responsibility until it’s socially unacceptable to go to a children’s film on your own.


As a disclaimer: there’s no right or wrong progression of the things we discuss. Everyone develops in their own time – part of what makes adulthood so difficult to conceptualise these days is its variability. Factors such as culture, gender identity, religion, and family influences this heavily so bear this in mind.



Beginning high school


Consider high school the tutorial level of adulthood.


High school entrance is pretty low risk, now’s the time to make mistakes without the crushing pressure of it being life-changing.


You’ll start being told that you’re an adult now but it’s still socially acceptable to look at your mum to explain what’s wrong with you at the doctors.


At the beginning of high school, you’ll be introduced to all sorts of wonderful things such as self directed deadlines and the knowledge that New Zealand history isn’t as bright and shiny as we once thought (read: Springbok Tour).


Our education will begin to broaden beyond just Maths and English. Junior high school is a chance to explore our interests and to try things not available to us in intermediate.


We’ll begin deciding extra subjects that take our interest like Business Studies, Media Studies, Art, Art History and other practical subjects such as hard technology, soft technology, and food technology. Whatever we decide to take, we do so with the knowledge that it might or might not play heavily into our future decisions of both high school and beyond.


It’s during the first few years of high school that we gain enough knowledge to engage in somewhat serious conversation with our parents, but we’ll still probably be sent to the kids table at a family event.


Our school and social experiences will begin to take a slightly more serious tone, as we navigate high school and all of the awkward experiences that accompany it. We’ll meet lots of new people, most of which will be a part of our high school journey (for better or worse) until graduation.


~Adulthood rating: 2/5 existential crises~



Senior school


Around this time, we’re likely to get our first part-time job, become far more self-reliant in our work and start thinking about what we’re going to do once we get out of high school, all while still being able to rely on mum to make our dinner.


We begin to move into financial independence, whereby our parents relinquish co-ownership of our bank accounts and we realise we can actually go and buy a McFlurry at 2am like we’ve always dreamed of.


Around this time, we’ll be introduced to things such as tax codes, promptly accompanied by the realisation that earning $16.50 per hour does not mean you will be receiving $16.50 per hour.


In deciding what we want to do in the future, we’re likely to consult our parents and mentors within our schools, but ultimately the decision is our own. The results of this can make huge impacts on our later life, a fact that can be a little overwhelming at first but ultimately liberating.


The opportunities that senior high school provides can be compared to your relationship with your family pet. You enjoy all the benefits of having a pet, without the stress of having to keep it alive.This is the time to enjoy a lot of the freedoms associated with being an adult, without the ever-present pressure of financial stability. Ultimately, a very good time.


~Adulthood rating: 6/10 coffee shots~



Uni and beyond


This period of time usually goes one of two ways:


  1. Meet a partner, get married and adopt dogs together, or
  2. Break personal record for amount of microwave mac n cheese dinners in a row


It’s still socially acceptable to live at home but a good chunk of us will dabble in moving around, whether this be a different country, city, or suburb. Here, we’ll have our first exposure with setting up power and WiFi, and full financial independence in that we have to pay rent both on time, and consistently.


This is the time that Sharon (2016) would consider exploratory time, where we begin to become more concrete in our beliefs and really begin to develop strong opinions about things outside of our immediate spheres, such as current events and politics.


Quite often, this period of time is also characterised by a shift in the people we surround ourselves with, especially as we begin to work out who we are as people and what is important to us. This often comes as a result of moving away or having a lot of people you know move away where we’re forced to meet new people or accept our new fate as a hermit.


This is also the time we’ll be hitting the 21st milestone, if you were in denial about 18 marking adulthood, 21 will come around with a vengeance of responsibility and family queries about what you’re planning on doing for the rest of your life.


21st season can also be a rather nostalgic experience, where you’re old enough to reminisce about high school while at the same time refusing to accept that you’re old enough to do things like reminisce.


In terms of adulthood, this is more or less it. If you’re still not feeling grown at this point (which is very likely) you’ll then come to the realisation that adults also don’t consider themselves adults either.  


~ Adulthood rating: ???/???? ~ 




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