How Many Candles Does It Take to Make A Grown Up?


At 18 year old, you can be drafted to go to war through the Selective Service, vote for the next president, buy the winning lottery ticket, or become the governor of California. All of these responsibilities have “adult” written all over them. Actually feeling the freedoms one would expect as a grownup, however, is more difficult than blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

New adults turning 18 who remain within safe distance of their parents often feel underwhelmed because they do not receive as much “adult responsibility” as they first thought they would. 

“I was just expecting to have a lot more privileges and opportunities to do more things,” said Abigail Grohs ‘20. “I don’t have a legal guardian and I can gamble, kind of. I can donate blood without permission, but I was hoping for more freedom…” Grohs turned 18 in her senior year of high school—a situation that she says constrained her from feeling different.

“It’s kind of the same, nothing has really changed,” Grohs said. “It’s as if I’m in pre-adulthood.”

Even when passing milestones such as graduating high school or college, getting your first job, or having dependents, the concept of “adulting” remains elusive for many young people. In fact, the definition of adulthood seems to be more nuanced than it was once perceived.

According to Jeffery Jensen Arnett Ph.D., a research psychologist, the “tumultuous period through the 20s where you’re not quite independent, but most of the way there” is called “emerging adulthood,” a definition he wrote in his book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens to through the Twenties

Legally, an 18-year-old is fully responsible for their person and any illegal actions they take will bring along full legal consequences. They are required to be responsible for themselves on paper, but often these pre-adults do not have the means or knowledge to care for themselves in daily life. The most important aspect of this pre-adult stage is the process of answering these questions that arise and using mistakes to find answers. 

“College was a big turning point for me when it came to growing up,” said Mr. Phil Velasco, the Technical Theatre teacher at Mayfield. 

“I had to manage my own time, and mom and dad weren’t looking over my shoulder making sure my homework got done and that I was going to classes,” Velasco said.

“It seemed like all these things we take for granted growing up with our parents at home suddenly shattered…there is no excuse for not upholding your responsibilities when you’re on your own and there is no way to avoid them,” Velasco said.

Taking on life’s challenges and growing from them often goes far beyond your 18th birthday. 

“It is very difficult to be independent because you have to rely on yourself a lot,” said Ms. Maryanne Householder, Mayfield’s Theater Director. “My biggest advice would be to listen to others when they give you advice about becoming an adult and to learn from their experiences.”