Growing up is a biological inevitability—animals will age regardless of what species they are are or what sort of life they have lived. Short of death, there is nothing that can halt the progression of time. In this physical sense, maturity is not something that requires any effort to achieve beyond survival, and is therefore not especially remarkable. However, in humans the act of “growing up” has taken on a meaning distinct from simple biology; it has developed into a complex set of material and psychological milestones enforced by societal norms, with exact prescriptions varying between cultures. This form of maturity is not necessarily inevitable for a given individual, and can be delayed or derailed by both external obstacles and internal doubts.
In the West, milestones of social maturity tend to be: independent employment, a living space separate from one’s family, marriage, and lastly parenthood. Some of these achievements are more or less universal across human society, while others—particularly living separately from one’s parents—are not shared by all cultures. In America, these milestones have become intertwined with patriotic notions of individuality and self-reliance, exerting even greater pressure on young adults to meet societal expectations. Unfortunately, American tradition is finding itself increasingly at odds with modern reality, as economic contractions and cultural transformations have thrown the well-worn paths of life into disarray. For many young adults financial security is elusive, leaving them unable to move out of their parents’ houses. Undermined by this economic uncertainty, marriage as an institution has become far less alluring, often being delayed until individuals are well into their thirties.
With the loss of traditional milestones, growing up has become a far more ambiguous process for this new generation of adults. While some changes have merely been the result of practical restrictions, others have stemmed from fundamental shifts in perspective. This latter category is the most intriguing, as it results not from stifled opportunity but rather from personal values no longer moored to tradition. While concern over economic obstacles is uncontroversial, criticism of an individual’s mindset is far more contentious. What do we do if those who are young do not wish to grow up in the same manner as their parents? It seems unjust to accuse them of being wrong, as personal aspirations are not a matter of factual accuracy. Instead, it seems pertinent to realize that human’s should be allowed to live the lives that they wish to live, and that traditional notions of maturity are often as overbearing as they are obsolete.