What does it mean to be an adult?

By Richard Raya

I’ve been thinking about something a lot recently. As college students, the majority of us are over eighteen; we are legally considered adults and as such are part of a new, larger community gifted with greater privileges and, in turn, more serious duties. Now, this may just be my ever-present inner Spider-Man fanboy speaking, but as I reflect on the intellectual and moral capacity of myself and my peers, I find myself coming back to this time-tried adage: “With great power comes great responsibility.” One thing I’ve noticed is that some of us claim and flaunt our “adulthood” the second we turn eighteen, citing our age as an indicator of new-found independence, which I find somewhat ridiculous. Obviously one should be excited about their transition into legal adulthood, and eager to claim their new role in society, but honestly, becoming a real-life “grown up” is not the type of transformation denoted by a number, and can’t happen overnight. True adulthood entails a willingness and ability to take responsibility for one’s own actions and situation. Readiness for independence is commendable, but an adult also needs to have the maturity to recognize the lunacy of being a college student who attempts to claim full autonomy. As eighteen-to-twenty-two year olds whose parents still fund (or at least help to fund) most of our full time college experiences we are still very much on the proverbial teat (in other words, dependent on parents/guardians for education and survival). Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with remaining dependent at all–I would personally prefer as much assistance as possible as I transition into being a self sufficient adult. It’s just annoying when a freshly minted eighteen or nineteen year old overstates their independence. If we are to assume, and act under the power of the title “adult,” we need to be able to maturely and critically examine ourselves and our role in our personal and social communities. As teenagers, I’m sure many of us have come to the realization that there are few things more infuriating than being subject to the rule of an infantile or immature adult, be they a teacher, parent, or other authority figure. When us college students fail to recognize both our own capabilities and our own limitations as fledgling legitimate members of society, we also fail to recognize how this behavior contributes to this infuriating phenomenon of bratty grown-ups. Being a true adult is a state of mind in addition to the financial responsibility component (I would contend that the mindset is even more important than the financial aspect–are poor or unemployed yet principled adults any less “adult” or mature?). I feel that teenagers and young adults overplay the significance of certain events and severely downplay the gravity of others, especially concerning personal friendships and relationships, and tend to have a “someone else will clean up the mess” attitude. With the prospect of changing schools in a few short years, and the notion that mistakes made in youth rarely affect the rest of one’s life, young people like us can be rather irresponsible when dealing with other people and emotions. Being an adult requires being more conscious of others and their needs. Not every rejection, break up or verbal slight against us is cause for high school levels of tears and “depression,” used here to dramatically express simple sadness. We do, however, need to be aware that many of the people we know currently may end up becoming a part of our lives forever, and that we should treat each other with as much respect, integrity, realness and maturity as we can muster.