What Does It Means To Be An Adult?

Incomplete collection of thoughts on exploring the meanings of being adult under different angles.

2021 brought up a myriad of reactions in society in regards to the governments' containment measures due to COVID-19 and it got me thinking more than ever: what is an adult? You look at your parents: they are adults. Look at a person holding their child's hand: an adult, right? The rulers of nations. All adults, correct?

What is it to be an adult?

To be serious? To be responsible? To pay for a mortgage? Be older than 16, 18, 21? Being held accountable for your actions? Being jailed for misbehaving?

Some cultures have coming of age ceremonies — rites — where a child becomes adult via some arbitrary action, at some seemingly arbitrary age. Boys and girls become perform some action and pouf! Men and women.

So am I an adult? What is the common denominator rite of passage for humans where we "become an adult"?When you finish college? Become financially autonomous? Pay rent? Have children? Surely these things are all too actual to be indicators of a passage. Historically, was it to kill your first pray? Loose your virginity? Leave your parent's protection? So many stories can be told for any of those examples — from hunter gatherers or farmers to boy-emperors and teenage soldiers — and yet, I don't think any could captures an accurate interpretation of being adult.

On Accountability

I've read that adults are responsible for their actions. But aren't children in a way responsible for their actions too? If the child decides to chase a pigeon, in a way, they have decided to do so, no? Even if that choice wasn't 100% conscious?

No wait. It's not responsible. It's actually being held accountable. At some point, you are considered accountable for what you do. Your actions and choices have consequences.

Young children taking their parent's gun and killing their siblings aren't treated as adults that would do the same. Children and teens are not considered to be fully conscious of the consequences of their actions and therefore be held accountable to the same extent as an adult. It is assumed you knew of the consequences of X and still, you chose to do it.

An autistic 38 years old person killing someone wouldn't be charged the same way as a "fully conscious" adult, whatever that means. Same thing for a small child. If you sort of know that saying, doing or behaving in some specific way can cause harm in any form, you're held accountable more strongly than if you didn't know. The difference between murder and manslaughter.

It seems useful err on the side of legal interpretations for this exercise as it's where the distinction between accountable and non-accountable people has the strongest implications.


So in a way, if you're an adult, you have some sort of consciousness of yourself and your actions repercussions towards the physical world and others. And others hold you accountable for your bad actions..

Yet leaders of totalitarian regimes are seldom held accountable, no matter how horrible their actions may be. And even when they are and are punished, does it means that they weren't adults before and now are? Does the collective notion of accountability then determines the perception of adulthood? Also, isn't it funny to believe punishment is reserved for children when in fact it exists throughout our lives under many forms?

So having others hold you accountable can't be used reliably as an indicator of adulthood. But maybe holding yourself accountable?

On Discipline

Controlling emotions. Physical and mental habits.

On Morality

Distinguishing good and evil. Choosing good over evil.