Why It Matters: Early Adulthood

Why learn about development changes during early adulthood?

Graduates are seen moving their tassels from right to left during a ceremony
Figure 1. Age or another key milestone, such as graduation, may signify  the transition to adulthood, but becoming an adult is a process that varies widely across cultures and individuals.

When we are children and teens, we eagerly anticipate each and every birthday, waiting for the next big one…when we’ll finally be grown up and have all the freedoms and rights enjoyed by those who are older than us. Indeed, there are opportunities to drive, buy a car, vote, go to college, join the military, drink, move out on our own, date, live together, get married, work, have children, buy a house, and more. This can be an awesome time in our lives, as we tend to be physically and cognitively strong and healthy, we dream and make plans for the future, find people to share our experiences, and try out new roles. It can also be challenging, stressful, and scary as we realize that a lot of responsibility comes with such freedom. We have probably all seen the coffee mugs that proclaim, “Adulting is hard,” or the t-shirts that announce, “I can’t adult today” (typically worn by young adults!).

Development is a process, and we aren’t suddenly adults at a certain age. In fact, we may even take longer to grow up these days. In this module, we’ll learn about norms, trends, and theories about why certain patterns are forming. It’s even been proposed that there is a new stage of development between adolescence and early adulthood, called “emerging adulthood,” when young people don’t quite feel like they are adults yet and wait longer to join the workforce, move out on their own, get married, and have children. Yet by the end of early adulthood, most of us will have accomplished the important developmental tasks of becoming more autonomous, taking care of ourselves and even others, committing to relationships and jobs/careers, getting married, raising families, and becoming part of our communities. There are, of course, many individual and cultural differences.

Think of your own life. When will you feel like an adult? Or do you already feel like an adult? Why or why not? Did your parents become adults earlier or later in their lives, compared to you?

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Lifespan Development by Lumen Learning 2019 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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