‘Coming of age’ in the modern era

Different moments and events combine across lifetimes to create maturity and knowledge

Perks isn’t just one of the best coming of age stories we’ve seen, but also one of the best all around movies.”

The Spectacular Now…is one of those rare and nuanced coming of age stories that realistically depicts teenagers doing stupid things, making short-sighted decisions, but also thinking and feeling deeply and falling hopelessly in love.”

Reviews of different films centered around the teenage years that have come out over the years, such as the ones above, all sport the phrase “coming of age” at least once. While movie-goers as well as critics are not unfamiliar with the phrase, putting a definition to it is a much more difficult task.

Just because said films focus on teenage characters, it doesn’t mean growing up only occurs during that stage of life. It can come earlier or later. It can be a question of life experiences as well as brain chemistry. And maturity, many teachers and students agree, is a large portion of what it means to “come of age.”

Maturity comes in stages, and the progression through those stages is often referred to as “coming of age.” There are legal and biological definitions of what becoming an adult means, but pushing deeper, many find that advancing in levels of maturity depends on one’s ability to be responsible — responsible enough to sustain themselves, their beliefs, and perhaps even sustain others. It’s a mixture of both age and self-examination that lead people through “coming of age.”

Turning 18 and turning 25 

According to a 1999 National Institutes of Health study recorded in National Geographic, including over 100 young people subjects, massive brain development happens between the ages of 12 and 25.

Ninety percent of the actual physical brain structure is formed by the time someone is six years old, so the brain development that occurs between 12 and 25 is mainly regarded as “extensive remodeling” in which the neurons in the brain rewire and grow.

By science’s view, one is fully of age at 25 years, the time which that rewiring is complete and a person is able to achieve high cognitive function. By legal standards, one comes of age in the United States at 18 years, when individuals are able to make decisions regarding their own personal health, like deciding whether to smoke or not and obtaining medical treatment without parental consent.

They are able to have a say in who runs their country and the right to decide to perhaps defend their country. They are considered an adult and are held accountable for any actions they take and decisions they make.

The question from all this is whether, regardless if one’s rewiring of neurons is complete or can legally make their own decisions, those choices “adults” make are wise ones. The question is whether coming of age can count as becoming a truly mature person.

Being responsible 

Math teacher Rich Enderton’s definition of maturity varies from his definition of becoming an adult. He saw that becoming an adult ran in two stages.

“The first step was going off to college which was kind of an intermediate step in that direction because you’re on your own in that you have to take care of your own laundry and you have to get to places on time and such,” Enderton said. “But economically you’re not independent. So I’d say that’s half-way coming of age. But the real coming of age is when you can step out and fully become responsible for yourself and not be dependent on anyone else.”

Being responsible for yourself, of course, means more than being able to do laundry or get to places on time or pay for your own meals. It means also determining which are the best choices for yourself, and making them.

“It’s not just having freedom,” said senior Gunnar Nelson about coming of age. “‘Coming of age’ for me, instead of going out and choosing to get drunk or selling drugs or whatever, you make the better decision. [It’s] is being able to make that better decision.”

That better decision may be to work on yourself, figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Another level of maturity would be to grow as a person.

Investing in yourself

Film and theater teacher Nicholas Freeman quoted Billy Joel when he said, “do what’s good for you or you’re no good for anybody.” Freeman agreed that one part of maturing is to invest in oneself.

“I believe that on a certain level you need to invest in yourself to become richer in life, and I don’t mean rich as in financially, I mean rich as in reaching your maximum potential,” he said. “You are investing in yourself, and at a young age that’s really important.”

Sacred studies teacher Jeffrey Crafton agrees that for each person the “task of thinking and discussing and considering and choosing what they believe is at the center of their lives” is essential in becoming mature.

Decisions and choices, as Nelson and Crafton both said, impact people’s maturity on a personal level. But those choices can also impact them on a relational level.

Relationships

Freeman said that one of the steps he took in “coming of age” was meeting his wife and marrying her.

“She helped me realize that there’s more to life than just looking out for myself all the time,” he said. “And, for me, it was that first moment that I realized I wanted to devote my life to her, and she decided she wanted to devote her life to me. That was a huge moment for me that was like, ‘alright, now I’m a mature adult and have new responsibilities, emotionally, financially, all that fun stuff.’”

Crafton agrees that marriage changed him to see the maturity in looking out for another person.

“I got married very young, one year out of college, and that changed me profoundly,” said Crafton. “Having to realize it’s one thing to say life is not about me, and it’s another thing to live it. When I got married, I had to live it.”

But this level of maturity isn’t just reached by marrying someone.

“[To me, maturity means] having respect and treating others like how you want to be treated,” said freshman Hannah Pope.

Being able to interact with others in a mature way, as Pope put it, comes down to the Golden Rule. In loving and caring for other people, whether in friendship or courtship, you’re able to grow as a person. This concept of relational maturity doesn’t hinge only on the physical. It also has an impact in spiritual maturity.

Knowing what you believe 

At a certain moment in life, one has a choice of religion, whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Islam or no religion at all. That choice, much like investing in yourself, starts with discovery.

Junior Kitra Katz attended her cousins’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and viewed them as celebrations of knowledge of their religion.

“I think that [it’s an acknowledgement] that you’ve grown in what you know for the culture, for the tradition,” said Katz. “You could easily compare it to a confirmation or a baptism.  It’s an acknowledgement of faith.”

But that acknowledgment can carry one only so far when figuring out what they believe. It may be the concept of a borrowed religion.

“Part of [spiritual ‘coming of age’] is just making the transition from a faith that is borrowed from others,” said Crafton, “a faith that’s there because of your parents, because of your school, because of your friends, or because of other things beside your own personal commitment. But there comes a point when you have to want it and choose it and make it important to yourself.”

This may or may not include doubting the faith you grew up in or questioning another faith or being questioned about your own faith, which can be pretty terrifying. But being sure of what you belief is essential.

“Questioning in the sense of making sure that it is what you want, what you choose for yourself, is essential in coming of age spiritually,” continued Crafton.

In his own classes, Crafton wants students to see that questioning isn’t something to be feared.

“Questioning should also and choose to also lead to a much more profound and deep faith, because it’s something you’ve actually thought through, considered, and decided on. It’s a commitment. Faith is a commitment we make.”

And that commitment can be translated across all religions and all cultures. As well as all stages of growing in maturity, it’s a commitment to oneself and a commitment to others.

There are levels of maturity and therefore many steps to take in “coming of age.” They go beyond law and biology. There are steps of becoming responsible, investing in who you are, caring for others and choosing what to believe. At each level, we have the opportunity to mature as we gain experience, face dilemmas and make choices, and that process of learning, analyzing and deciding never ends.

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