Despite the fact that UK law states that our adolescent years draw to a close aged 18, scientists have revealed that teenagehood now lasts between the ages 10 to 24.
In an opinion piece published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, researchers advise that society rethinks its view on adolescence, as a consequence to the changing world we live in.
With a growing number of young people pursuing further education and with a large majority choosing to delay marriage and parenthood, our original perceptions of what it means to become an adult have become skewed.
Lead author Professor Susan Sawyer, director of the centre for adolescent health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, wrote: “Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later”.
She further explained that delayed parenting and economic independence means that ‘semi-dependency’ has transcended the traditional boundaries of adolescence.
This is further emphasised by recent statistics which indicate that the average age for men and women to get married is now eight years later than it was back in 1973.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in today’s society women are approximately 30.6 years of age while men are 32.5-years-old when planning their nuptials.
And there are social factors worth noting too, as there is a growing need to extend youth support services to the age of 25 according to Professor Russell Viner, president-elect of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health.
He explained: “In the UK, the average age for leaving home is now around 25 years for both men and women. Statutory provision in England in terms of social care for care leavers and children with special educational needs now goes up to 24 years.”
But there is the concern that changing our perceptions of adolescence could risk ‘infantilising’ young adults, warns Dr Jan Macvarish, a parenting sociologist at the University of Kent.
She argued, “Older children and young people are shaped far more significantly by society’s expectations of them than by their intrinsic biological growth.”
Dr Macvarish continued: “There is nothing inevitably infantilising about spending your early 20s in higher education or experimenting in the world of work and we should not risk pathologising their desire for independence”.
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