Discussion: What Makes an Adult?

There’s a term that’s been floating around the Internet for a few years now that’s become a very popular term among my generation.  According to urbandictionary.com, that oh-so-erudite resource, the word is:

Adulting (v): to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.

I’ve been thinking about this term a bit lately, mostly because I see it so much online.  Many bloggers I follow use it, since a lot of them are around my age, and I see it all the time on Facebook and Twitter.  Even my actual, real-life friends use it sometimes when speaking with their actual mouths.  I’ve been guilty of using it.

The other day, for reasons I can’t remember, my mom and I had a brief discussion about the word.  She had heard a poll on NPR about what makes an adult, and the top picks were, as they are in the quote above, owning a home, having a permanent job, and getting married.

However, we agreed that that’s not exactly right.  Anybody with a bit of money and the ability to set an alarm can have a job or a house or a spouse.  So what makes a real adult?

My definition was the ability to prioritize.  I think a child becomes an adult when he or she realizes what is important in life and can prioritize based on that.  For example, knowing that family continues after jobs are over should hopefully cause an adult to make time for his or her family, even when he or she could — and maybe even wants to — stay late at the office in order to make an impression or achieve a work goal.  Of course, that is not to say that work goals aren’t important — quite the contrary.  It’s learning to balance all goals and knowing which ones to cut back on if needed that really makes a mature adult.

My mom agreed, but had her own spin.  She said that a person is an adult when they can take responsibility for their decisions and actions.  Many college students, for example, rent their own apartments or even houses, but not all of them make responsible decisions in other areas, such as health or relationships.  She also added that this doesn’t mean adults have all the answers — it simply means adults know how to take care of themselves and whoever they may be responsible for.  It means putting their own and their families’ best interests at heart.

At this point in my life, I don’t quite feel like an adult.  I pay for my own expenses during the school year, like rent and food, but my parents still pay for my cell phone, car insurance, and many other things.  I’m extremely glad both that I am able to support myself to the extent I am and that my parents are able and willing to help me out on things I can’t pay for.  However, I personally will feel like much more of an adult when I am able to pay for all of my own expenses (and hopefully buy my parents some nice things too!).  For me, monetarily supporting myself will be a big and wonderful step.  (Although I know I might not think that after a few months’ worth of bills.)

However, even though I still have that step to take, I also feel like I and many of my friends are more of adults than many “adults” I know.  Most of the people I hang out with really have their priorities straight — they know what is important in life and their words and actions show it.  They don’t put anyone down or exclude them based on appearance or opinion and they know how to disagree respectfully — at least most of the time.

We all have our flaws, of course.  I’m not always good at prioritizing my family or friends, I tend to have a negative attitude and consequently don’t try as hard as I should sometimes, and I judge people more than I ought to.  However, I know that I tend to do these things, and I (usually) try to combat them.  I think that’s another thing that makes an adult — knowing you have flaws and taking steps to better yourself.

I’ve really come to love the community of bloggers I follow and that follow me.  If you liked this post or it made you think, please don’t hesitate to comment!  I would love to know others’ thoughts on this topic.  Thanks for reading!


  1. This is such an interesting topic! My 18th birthday is coming up pretty soon and I definitely agree with the concept of responsibility. I can’t wait to take ownership of certain aspects of my life that I haven’t been able to because of my age.

    Somehow I feel like the Great Balancing Act is something I’d struggle with forever! :)

    • Balance is so hard to achieve! I think about that all the time. I’ll definitely be having a look at your blog when I get the time! Thanks for chatting!

  2. I love this post! I also notice that people start treating you like an adult, not when you have your own car or house but when you start taking responsibility and yes prioritising. Of course I’m still not over 18 so I’m not called a grown up legally but I’m often the one adults trust when I’m in a group. All because I take responsibility for my homework, have a job and prioritise what I want out of life.

  3. Nobody is perfect — and I know plenty of adults that don’t make the best decisions all of the time. Everyone’s human, so even the adultiest of adults do it wrong sometimes. ;) But your advice about trying to combat those faults is spot-on. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Well I’m 24 and far from an adult! I’m unemployed, still live with my parents and any meal I make for myself includes the instructions ‘microwave for three minutes’!

  5. Meanwhile, there are others whose ideas of adulthood include golf polos and Dockers khakis, mid-sized sedans, and turning beige. With that metric, I’ll never become an adult, which I think is fine by me. What’s life without flavor?

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