Framing questions

The two questions that run through all the units in the Transitions to Adulthood program are:

  1. What is an adult?
  2. How (and when) do you become an adult?

I like to put those questions early on to the group as a way of placing on the table early on many of the major points that will surface over the course of the program. In addition to these two questions, I also asked the group where they got their ideas about adulthood, since for some reason they were reluctant to mention it during the ice breaker/word association exercise.

The image is a little blurry, but you might be able to decipher that the top third is devoted to the question of where young people get their ideas about adulthood. The majority answered that it was mainly from their parents, though we also talked about the influence of other people in their lives (both adults and peers) as well as the media in shaping their views on adulthood.

In response to when, everyone seemed to agree that the process of becoming an adult was “different for everyone,” and that it also depended on how you were measuring adulthood (in legal terms, mental/emotional terms, etc.). They also believed that mental and emotional maturity was more significant than physical maturity. One person brought up the topic of brain maturation, and said that she learned in a college class that the brain finishes maturing at eighteen years of age (which just isn’t true).

The how of adulthood elicited some very nice answers from the group. Being responsible for yourself and others was a popular response, and I liked how they emphasized that caring for others entailed not just parenting a child, but also being responsible for a younger sibling or caring for elderly relatives. They also mentioned many of the traditional markers of adulthood: finishing college, moving out, getting a job, having a child. Interestingly enough, marriage did not come up in this discussion at all. Some of the most sophisticated answers had to do with emotional maturity: “learning from experience” and “gaining perspective.” And I especially loved how when someone offered “overcoming obstacles independently” as a way of becoming an adult, another was followed up with “knowing when to reach out for help” as an equally valid marker of adulthood.

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