As parents we plant the seed of humanity and we cultivate the growth of our children’s wings for eighteen years. We nurture and guide them to maturity, and lovingly teach them to fly. As adult members of an inter-generational community, we tend the growth of the wings of youth in many ways as well. At the very least (for better or worse), we each provide a living example of what “adulthood” looks like.
But why is 18 the “magic” age in our society at which the spreading of wings is deemed appropriate and necessary? Why is 21 the age at which young adults are encouraged to finally “take flight”?
For centuries of human history, adolescence as a phase of development simply did not exist. Young people entered into apprenticeships and began their careers (and their “adulthood”) at a much earlier age than they do today. This fact leads many in our society to the conclusion that those young adults that we (collectively) are still coddling as “children”, are truly much more able to lead independent lives than we give them credit for. In many tribal cultures, by the time a youth reaches the age of 18, he or she has been considered “full grown” for several years. Individuals whom we would consider children eagerly take on (what we would consider to be) adult responsibilities, with great success.
And yet, research in the field of neuroscience tells us that the human brain is not fully developed until one reaches one’s early-to-mid-twenties. Humans are the only animal in the kingdom whose physical maturity doesn’t coincide with mental percipience. Many in our culture point to these findings as evidence that “young adults” really are still children, if not “at heart” then certainly “in mind”.
Perhaps the line is not so defined, and the threshold to adulthood is less like a doorway and more like a bridge…
Ready or not, our children are going to want to spread their wings when they reach the age of majority. How can we continue to encourage our young adults to nurture their own growth as they cross that bridge and fly into their futures?