What age makes you an adult in America?
I asked this question last night in youth and got many different answers: 16 because a license, 17-18 because of graduation, 18 because of legal abilities, 21 because of more legal abilities, the age when you have to care for someone else, and list goes on. One even said 92! (I think it is safe to say that you’re an adult before 92!) Though this does present a problem that most cultures in history didn’t have–we don’t know when we’re adults.
An article called 13 Amazing Coming of Age Traditions from Around the World lays out when and how some other cultures define adulthood. I won’t share them all; though a few are interesting. There are some, like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and the Amish Rumspringa at age 15, that we know about. Though there are some other…more interesting ones…that we may not know about.
In the Sateré-Mawé tribe, when the boys turn 13 they have to wear a glove with bullet ants weaved into it for ten minutes without crying. The Vanuatu tribe’s coming of age tradition is for the boy to climb a 98-foot tower, tie a braided vine around their legs, and then jump off, trusting that the vine is short enough and strong enough to not let them hit the ground. While they do this, the mother holds a childhood memorabilia of the child. Once the child has completed the jump, the memorabilia is thrown away, representing that the child is now an adult and childish things are behind them. They start training for this at age 7-8!
FUN FACT: On this list, America’s coming of age tradition is the Sweet 16. While other cultures have significant ceremonies where the child, the family, and the community all come to an understanding that the child is putting childish things behind, completing a series of task to prove their readiness, and becoming an adult, America has the Sweet 16, where the stereotype is that we enable all of the 16-years old childish and selfish motives and give them a car.
I actually disagree with the Sweet 16 being a coming of age tradition in America for a few reasons. 1) I did not have a Sweet 16, nor do I know of hardly anyone who did. 2) The coming of age tradition is meant to communicate to everyone that this person is no longer a child and is now an adult. I know of very few people who consider and treat 16-year olds like adults (and that includes the 16-year olds themselves!).
No, I believe that America generally accepts that people are adults at around 18 (because they have graduated high school and have legal abilities). The problem is that this age is vastly higher than other coming of age times. Outside of the Sweet 16, the highest age for the coming of age tradition was 15, while most of them were 11-13. Why is America’s so much higher? One word–adolescence.
Around the 1900s, the theory of adolescence started to pick up in the psychology world and eventually affected the very way we view teenagers. If you do not know, adolescence is time in which a child begins puberty and starts developing into an adult. Everyone generally agrees that the ages are 13-19 (11 on the low, 21 on the high). Simon Sinek says it this way, “Adolescence is where the person goes from needing the love and acceptance of their parents [or leaders/teachers] to needing the love and acceptance of their community [peers].”
I saw this first hand when I taught (5th-12th grade) at a private school for a couple of years. 5th graders (age 11) where a great group of kids to work with. They were sweet, would bring presents, and would listen. 6th graders (age 12) would start out the year like that. Then as the year progressed, they would either turn into good kids or spawns of satan! Why is this? Because at 11-years old, their need is to be accepted by their parents and leaders; so they are sweet and bring gifts. At 12-years old, their need is to be accepted by their peers; so they begin to not listen to the teacher or parents and talked/act out with their peers.
I believe that adolescence is a very real thing and do not disagree with it. Though, I do disagree with the culture mindset that we need to delay adulthood responsibilities in the name of adolescence. In America, we do not treat a person like an adult until around age 18. Five or six years AFTER adolescence begins!
If a child at the age of 12-13 begins this significant process where they develop into who they’re going to be and we continue treating them like a child, enabling bad habits, allowing them to be lazy, etc., then how hard is it going to be for them to act like an adult at age 18, with 5 or 6 years of bad habits formed? We ask these students to flip a switch at age 18 and then scratch our heads when they can’t do it.
No, we need to begin treating 12-13-year olds like adults so that they begin to develop and build habits that an adult would have, not ones that a child would have. If they do this for 5 or 6 years then all of a sudden it is much easier for them to enter into the world after they graduate.
While this is important to understand in our physical growth, why is this important to Philippians and Christianity? Because culture ideology and philosophy always work its way into our theology. The culture tells us that teenagers aren’t adults yet and they are developing to one day be adults. We take that thought and think that we are going through a spiritual adolescence (which is basically saying that I’m going to delay my spiritual growth and responsibilities in the name of development [spiritual adolescence]). The problem is that the Bible knows nothing about this. Physically, the Bible says that you are either a child or an adult; and spiritually, the Bible says that you are either a slave to the world or child of God. There is no developmental period where you delay responsibility.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.” -Philippians 1:3-5 (emphasis mine)
If you are a partner in the Gospel, meaning that you have given your life to Jesus and have His Spirit in you, then you are in God. Your day of salvation was your Bar Mitzvah, your coming of age ceremony. This means that you have given up childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11). There is no longer any, “I’ll work on my relationship with God later,” or “I’ll serve in ministry, tithe, share the Gospel, etc. later when I’ve developed more.” NO! Doing these things is how you develop!
This study through Philippians is going to challenge us to see if we are acting like adults, being made pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Phil. 1:10b), or acting like children delaying adult responsibilities in the name of spiritual adolescence.
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