Adolescence used to end at nineteen – but new research suggests that, now, it lasts much longer.
An article in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests that the “transition period from childhood to adulthood now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before” – meaning we should be more inclusive when we talk about adolescence. And that involves broadening our definition to reach 24.
“An expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for developmentally appropriate framing of laws, social policies, and service systems,” the authors write. Factors like marketing and digital media are affecting our health and wellbeing – placing us in the same social categories as much younger people.
“Rather than age 10 to 19 years, a definition of 10 to 24 corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase, and would facilitate extended investments across a broader range of settings.”
Our bodies also continue to develop past nineteen, the study’s authors point out – our brain, for example, continues to develop well past the age of even twenty.
“Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later,” said lead author Prof Susan Sawyer.
“Age definitions are always arbitrary, but our current definition of adolescence is overly restrictive. The ages of 10-24 years are a better fit with the development of adolescents nowadays.”
But not everyone agrees with the proposal. Dr Jan Macvarish told the BBC that the suggestion could risk “infantilising” young people.
“Older children and young people are shaped far more significantly by society’s expectations of them than by their intrinsic biological growth,” she said. “There is nothing inevitably infantilising about spending your early 20s in higher education or experimenting in the world of work.”
“Society should maintain the highest possible expectations of the next generation.”
Images: Genessa Panainte / Jared Sluyter