A woman doing laundry.

When does someone truly become an adult? Is it when they graduate from high school? The first time they pay their own rent? Or maybe it’s an emotional shift that happens after the death of a loved one? We discuss what it means to be an adult and how it’s being redefined in the Bay Area, where CEOs wear hoodies and employees go to work on skateboards. We want to hear from you: When do you feel you became an adult … or are you not there yet?

Julie Beck, journalist, The Atlantic; wrote the article "When Are You Really An Adult?"
Betty Reid Soskin, park ranger, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California; National Park Service
Michelle Tea, author and poet; author of "How To Grow Up: A Memoir"
Marcus Shelby, Jazz bassist, composer and teacher; member of the San Francisco Arts Commission

  • Rob

    I grew up suburban in the Bay Area with a naturally liberal lean. I didn’t grow up when I went to college to learn about the injustices, poverty and hunger in the world. I didn’t grow up when I worked in the halls of Congress in Washington, DC. I grew up after all of that during my first months of policing the streets of San Francisco. This is when I realized the adult thing to do is to take personal responsibility for one’s actions, both on my end and the people I came across. This action would solve many problems for those who seem to believe that their own struggles are rarely, if ever, their own fault. People should spend some time to reflect on their current struggles to take an honest step back to determine if they could be their own worst enemies by lying to themselves. That is a very grown-up thing to do!

    • limn

      An essential ingredient is realizing that the vast majority of law enforcement are congenital liars who do what they’re told, the law be damned, for money power and a free reign to bully.

      • Robert Thomas

        How does one gain power and free reign by doing what one’s been told?

        • limn

          I didn’t articulate that very well there but I included that phrase so as to implicate the lawmakers and administrative staff as well. I hope you get what I was going for.

          • JuniorWoodpecker

            Limn is correct. Law enforcement’s higher brass are implicated to the extent that they’re often ‘looking the other way,” tacitly if not explicitly condoning behaviors, etc., and of course there’s the omerta in which no cop rats on another. In the larger picture cops “do what they’re told,” in certain areas, and on the street if their reign isn’t entirely free, it’s broad enough to permit violence and, as we’ve seen all too often, the killing of unarmed citizens.

          • Robert Thomas

            I don’t know about all that but limn is certainly correct in admitting that limn’s original comment wasn’t very well articulated.

      • A Different Perspective

        Ditto (as above).

    • Robert Thomas

      How does steroid abuse among peace officers affect onset of their adult behavior?

      • A Different Perspective

        It’s a sure sign of adolescence to insinuate personal attacks and project stereotypes on someone without even knowing them!

        • Robert Thomas

          I insinuated nothing. Who better to ask about aberrant behavior of a group than one among them who’s achieved self-assurance of his or her own thoughtful maturity?

    • geraldfnord

      Don’t go too far in this direction:you may easily fall into the trap of estimating your, or worse others’, power and hence responsibility. We are not powerless, but neither are we totally free to do and to be as we would. Consider that it were unlikely that those who self-sabotage freely chose to be so, and that one might not be able to consciously escape a choice not consciously made….

    • Kurt Stiles

      Well said. Providing ones own leadership is hard to do and many struggle with it. Self responsibility today is so important!

  • Jackie

    I’m 26, and I feel like I became a grown up when I was 24 and was given the responsibility of my first classroom and 12 kindergarten and 1st grade students with special needs. During that year, I kept having waves of panic that people were actually trusting me to keep their kids safe and teach them something. Two years later, I’m a lot more confident in myself. We had a real emergency at our school this year that lead to a lock down and emergency evacuation. Keeping my students safe and calm during that day also made me feel pretty grown up.

    • Robert Thomas

      This seems a sober self examination.

  • Robert Thomas

    Several decades after my own entrée, I think in retrospect that in my culture, in the modern era, within a single sigma, it’s

    For females: 24 years, +/- 2 years

    For males: 27 years, +/- 3 years

    For any individual, the information whether one any longer requires one’s mother to fill out form 1040 may be dispositive.

  • limn

    Another essential ingredient would be when you understand that the legal definition of Adult is a construct created to get whoever raised you off the hook. The better question would be how do you prune for the best of neoteny. Being able to dance with relative abandon to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcR_LvorN_0 is also essential.

  • Robert

    I’m 49 and there are times when I feel I have not yet fully reached adulthood based on the degree to which I behave responsibly or emotionally in certain situations. On the other hand I also feel that at age 12, when I became the man of the house, I was thrust into adulthood when, out of necessity, I had to take on more responsibility (which I did very well). For me I’m not sure I’ll ever feel completely adult as there will always be a part of me trying to hold on to my childhood.

    • BillMontreal

      Quite similar to my experiences. Man of the house at ten years old and started watching over my three younger brothers, 9, 7, and 5. Lived on my own since 17. But since I never had kids to raise I never felt like a full time adult.

  • Reverend Lurlean Tucker

    For most of us it happens in stages, with milestones at high school graduation, college graduation, getting a first positive performance review at work, getting married, and then seeing similar milestones in your children’s lives (if you have any). In some ways the process continues after that. After you’ve lived a few years as an adult, patterns of change become apparent both in your life and in the lives of others. Since these changes in education, career, family continue, your level of maturity — and for many of us genuine wisdom — continue to happen, adulthood flowers in much the same way. Many have a rebellious stage in their youth, some of us when they get older.

  • limn

    I’m including some tunes to help spark ideas; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rqnNI5HItc

  • geraldfnord

    One becomes an adult when one understands that reality is not directly affected by what one wishes, hopes, believes, or desires to be so.

    (All those, when prompts to action, but this is very different to [e.g.] believing that one has immortal life because one wants it.)

  • kimbav

    I have always operated with a fairly youthful mentality, but I was 38, and my father was in a hospital dying. He had blood clots blocking his urinary tract, and the nurse asked me to help by holding his penis as he tried to painfully pass them into a receptacle. I remember thinking at the time that if I had never been an adult before, I was now.

  • Marcos

    It’s a difficult thing to grasp, but I feel adulthood is when you feel that you alone are responsible for your actions.

    Not that you can’t be supported by family or community,but knowing that you as an individual are in charge of yourself

  • Jesse Hammer

    I became an adult at 11 when my mother passed from cancer. My father was mostly absent and I became responsible for my own upbringing for the most part. I have since spent my “adult” years chasing the childhood I lost through obsessively collecting nostalgic items like toys and records. I am turning 40 this year and are just now starting to feel somewhat grown up.

  • Katie

    This seems appropriate here. I remember feeling very adult when I went away to college and paid my first KQED membership on my own dime. I felt so independent and responsible. 🙂 this was back around 1990 and I think the student membership was like $10 per year!

  • Joshua Drew

    I became an adult when I began to parent myself. For instance, when I’m sick I used to let my girlfriend cook soup for me, but I let her play the role of my mom. Now I cook my own damn soup. That’s adulting.

  • Janet Prochazka

    When I was 17 and moved out of my parents house. Bought 1st car, with payments

  • David

    I became an adult when I got married and realized there are completely irrational solutions to perfectly rational problems and all sense of independence and freedom was lost. Going on 7 years

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Psychologically and emotionally, I remember vividly the moment i became an adult, and it was early. (Although not necessarily relative to everyone else?) I was in 7th or early 8th grade. Looking back in the light of today’s knowledge, I’m guessing it was when my young brain became capable of apprehending the impending responsibilities of adulthood.

    I was lying in bed preparing for sleep one night when I envisioned my childhood receding as if from a small boat, parting shore, never to return. I felt an indescribable, poignant mix of appreciation for the beauty of the sweet childhood innocence I was irrevocably leaving — and the expanded social awareness I was now taking on. I wept myself to sleep, because I knew at that moment I was no longer a child and never ever would be, or could be, again.

    It makes particular sense in the times: that I would experience this so vividly. Only months later, our great United States President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. The unspeakable, and largely unspoken nuclear arms race was silently getting into full swing. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War were gathering momentum in their different ways, and short years later both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy would be assassinated, too.

    In my twenties, exposed to the genuine hope of the Transcendental Meditation Movement — and energized to the unprecedented, global-existential urgency of the nuclear arms threat — the sense of opportunity and responsibility to do something about it set in heavily, and I wondered why everyone else in my family and society-at-large didn’t “get it” — that this was a priority superseding all others. When would they “grow up” and get it, too?

  • Sonal

    I am 31 and I became an adult couple of years back when I started to think about having kids. I asked myself why do I want children and what kind of mother would I be? That is when I started to feel responsible for raising another human being who is completely dependent on you and who has no choice but to trust you in how you bring them up and what you inspire them to be.

  • maristeph

    I think emotional maturity (feeling like an adult–growing up mentally) and being an adult are two separate things. I would say I grew up when my mother died many years ago, when I was 14 years old, but I think that you are not really an adult until you have to live on your own, pay your bills (food, utilities, etc.). Once you are paying for electricity and paying off student loans and you realize taking care of yourself is not a party (which is what college often felt like), you’re in the adult world (yay?).

    • JJ

      Totally agree.

  • Tara

    Even though I became entirely responsible for myself at 16, I don’t agree with the opinion that young people are delaying their transition into adulthood to their or society’s detriment. Humans compared to many other species invest a great deal of time into the rearing of their children. The long period of time individuals are protected and cared for – where they’re allowed to learn, grow and explore – contributes to our ability as a species to achieve more than just survival.

    If staying “too long” in the nest results in more concerned, conscientious, educated and effective adults enabled and empowered to make thoughtful rather than reactive choices, I believe that’s an asset to our society.

  • JuniorWoodpecker

    The basic flaw in, “When did you become an adult?” is that human development is a lifelong process. It seems naïve to me to say that one became an adult at a certain moment, or “two years ago,” or when I did this or that thing. There may be significant learning experiences or turning points but the idea that one day a person is not an adult and the next he or she is just isn’t the way life works.

    • JJ

      True & insightful. I just think I was very different from what I had been at one point in my life.

  • Robin Hager

    When both of my parents died. I’m still not secure about my future even though I am 58 years old. I fear being alone and not having anyone to take care of me. I guess that’s not being an adult either.

  • Carla Fabiola Nieves Rodríguez

    When I was a freshman in college having financial issues. I was hungry, alone, having to take public transportation for the first time and just realizing that no one had the obligation to worry about me; if I was well fed, if I had bought all me text books, if I had enough change to get home. Now I’m a senior and I’ll hopefully graduate this semester. I have a job and I pay rent. It’s going well now.

  • Kurt Stiles

    When my wife and I had our first son Erik. In that first year when you are charged as a new parent but you are clueless as to what to do. That is when I became a real adult.
    My wife worked evenings as a RN and at that time, I was a soldier. On night during that first year my son Erik became acutely sick. He was throwing up and had nasty poop…diarrhea. I too became sick the same way. I called my wife to come home from work….but she was in the middle of helping mothers giving birth and could not be reached. I then called my own mother who lived 3 hrs away in another town. All she said was “I have to take care of your father….you’re on your own”.
    Right then in there I realized I had transcended into adulthood. No one was going to help me…I had to sort it out by my self.
    Life was changed for me from then on…

  • Patricia Gardner

    When my mother died I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, so I have to be an adult now. I’m going to have to start wearing lipstick and being a grown up because my mother is gone and I no longer have a home” – I hadn’t slept for 4 days at that point (hence the odd lipstick thought) but that was the turning point for me. I was 30 and already a very responsible adult but this was a mind shift, I felt like I’d lost my safety net that could always make things better and pick me up when I fell. I realized that I had no-one but myself to rely on, it was scary.

  • Paula Osborne

    I felt like I became an adult when I graduated and left home, then had to get a place to live,a job and start paying my way…..

  • Sylvia

    I became an adult at about 10. Even earlier, I was thinking about how to survive. How to help. That’s the way it used to be with poor kids. They had to find ways to earn money, help the family, make their own way. There’s no traditional childhood for many kids.

  • Elizabeth Jean Sullivan

    Sometimes it seems to me that my 10 year old daughter is more mature than I am.

  • Jennifer Gray

    I am 36 years old, married with 2 sons, one of whom is a full time college student and legally an “adult” in his own right. I still don’t feel completely like an adult. However, I do feel like the realization that none of us are really “adults” in the way that we all idealized as children is the closest I will ever get to it. That came when a friend of mine died suddenly when I was 14 and seeing how people my age and the adults around us reacted and coped. That week I cried for my friend, but I also cried because I remember being viscerally aware that my eyes had been opened to the fact that we are all just doing the best we can in this life. Sometimes the people we least expect handle things like “adults” come through and hold everyone and everything together. And sometimes the people we think can handle things, that we look to as the example, that we look to for help getting through are an absolute mess.

  • Fay Hattie

    At the age of 42. It was the year my mother passed and my husband decided he was leaving making me the only day to day care for our grammar school aged son.

  • Inchworm

    When I was 27 I had to make a life-changing decision. Even though I was married and had a child, it was a moment that felt very adult-like. But even since then I don’t always feel “grown up.” Then this year, I realized that the only place that feels like “home for the holidays” is the home I own and share with my own husband and kids. Until this year, I’d always thought of that home as somewhere else. It feels very adult to feel this way, and since my kids are 14, 17, and 20, I wish I hadn’t waited so long to reach this feeling.

  • Liz Fox

    the day I realized I was an adult, was when I realized all the lessons my parents taught me , were how not to be a bad parent.
    the day I realized I was an adult , was the day I had no one to call for help, so I sat there and waited til I realized I need to get up and help myself.
    the day I realized I was an adult, the man of my dreams went to prison and I realized I can’t depend on anyone for happiness and that I needed to do what makes me happy.

  • Cynthia Andrews

    For myself, it happened with the birth of my first child. That wonderful event, cemented my attitude that I was responsible for someone other than myself.

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