Scientists propose changing the definition of adolescence to last until age 24


Memes about the difficulties of “adulting” make light of the many challenges recent grads and twenty-somethings face. And while they’re definitely entertaining, growing up is undeniably hard to do. Now, scientists have an explanation as to why.

New research suggests it may take longer than we originally thought for kids to become fully independent. For years, the exact definition of adolescence has been up for debate. Rather than spanning ages 10–19, Dr. Susan Sawyer, a professor of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, and her colleagues say it’s more accurate to extend this life stage to 24 years.

The Science Behind This Developmental Stage

New scanning technology has made it possible for psychologists and other doctors to track how the brain changes and processes information. They have observed that the brain continues developing through age 25. As a result, scientists think adolescence should extend through the early 20s as well.

Social factors play a role in this shifting mindset, too. Young adults are waiting longer before hitting traditional milestones. Previous generations finished their education, got married, purchased a home and started a family in their early 20s. That timing is now more the exception than the rule.

“Older children and young people are shaped far more significantly by society’s expectations of them than by their intrinsic biological growth. There is nothing inevitably infantilizing about spending your early 20s in higher education or experimenting in the world of work,” Dr. Jan Macvarish, a parenting sociologist at the University of Kent, shared with BBC News.

What Would Be The Implications Of Redefining Adolescence?

Adding a few years to adolescence may sound like a technicality, but it could have a significant impact. Previously, the end of adolescence served as a guidepost at which adults acquired certain legal privileges. For example, in the U.S., the age of consent is 18. After 18, people are allowed to make choices about their bodies, vote and serve in the military.

According to Sawyer, extending the age of adolescence is a good thing. It would improve laws meant to protect young people. It would also help them on their path to adulthood.

Do you think extending adolescence will help or hurt children?

Family & Parenting, Health

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About the Author
Jennifer Nied
Jennifer Nied is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. She focuses on beauty, wellness, and travel stories with a background covering the spa industry.

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