The Age of Maturity

While reading Imago in Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, the concept of emerging into adulthood is portrayed in ways that are different from our world. When Jodahs is asked to explain how old he is, he replies that he is still a child, despite his numerical age:

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Good god! When will you be considered an adult?”

“After metamorphosis.” I smiled to myself. Soon. “I have a brother who went through it at twenty-one, and a sister who didn’t reach it until she was thirty-three. People change when their bodies are ready, not at some specific age.” (Lilith’s Brood, 528)

This scene in the novel really stuck with me. It made me reconsider our society’s definition of what it truly means to be an adult. For us, certain ages yield increases in responsibility. Typically around 18 is when we are considered to be “adults.” But how can simply surviving 18 years of life be enough to achieve the status of an adult?

I remember when I was a child, I imagined that when I turned 18 that I would be very mature. In my young brain, 18 was the the age where I thought my life would be figured out. Upon actually turning 18, I realized that I was still so young and had so much more life to live. An individual’s perception of their own maturity in the future is often one that includes hope of maturity and clarity. We all hope to be a better, smarter, and wiser version of ourselves one day; but when that day will come varies among people.

Today, I am 20 years old and think about how much I have grown since the age I became an “adult.” If only two years can encompass massive amounts of growth in the areas of emotional intelligence and maturity, then how can we have a specific numerical age that implies this level of maturity? Will I ever actually reach the status of being an “adult?” Or will I continue to grow as a human being, simply becoming less and less similar to the child I once was? It is hard to say when I will become an adult considering the fact that this type of change is gradual. The gradual build of maturity sneaks up on you and this will not happen suddenly to an individual when they turn the arbitrary age of 18.  

The manner in which the Oankali approach the concept of maturity is very different from our society. They do not stress about having a set age at which they will reach metamorphosis. They simply live their lives knowing that when they are absolutely ready, they will mature. This made me question why our society does not function in this way. At age 18, no matter what an individual’s mental maturity is, they will be considered an adult. This does not take into account the unique life experiences that people will have leading up to their 18th year. With the Oankali, their age does not indicate levels of maturity. They acknowledge that every individual is different, and they will be able to change when they are ready.

This is an important idea to keep in mind when considering how we treat young adults in our society. Often times immense responsibility is placed on individuals who are not ready for it. Not every 18 year old has the ability to achieve what other 18 year olds can, yet both individuals are considered to be adults. These assumptions that link age to one’s capabilities can result in individuals feeling overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them by others. To avoid these unnecessary stresses, as a society we should take some advice from the Oankali and let people change when they are ready.

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