We’re all adults here, right? Whether we still feel like we’re 16, we must do those adult things – earn a living, pay the bills, leave the planet better than we found it, etc. But lately, I’ve had several experiences that make me wonder what it really means to be an adult and how we, as individuals and a society, can do better.

1. If you’re a grown man, act like one.

On Friday evening, I found myself in a crowded line at the airport. Across from me was a man with his wife and two young children. The man wasn’t following the mandatory mask policy – leaving said mask draped around his chin. After hearing the complaints of others, I spoke up. “Can you please put your mask on, for everyone’s safety,” I asked. He snarled back, “I’ve been vaccinated three times and just got tested yesterday. Nothings gonna happen, lady.” (*Or whatever he said…) I kept my calm, he remained impossible. It ended with this man-child ripping off his mask and throwing it at me! Yes, really. If only he was capable of the shame his wife and kids clearly felt in that moment. 

Unfortunately, age doesn’t always equal maturity.

2. Legal adults, but mentally?

At the age of 18 we can legally purchase tobacco, get married in the state of New York, vote in elections and be drafted into the military. At the age of 21, we can legally drink alcohol. But when do our brains catch up? Scientific research says that our prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that is responsible for executive function, impulse control, cognitive flexibility, etc.) is fully developed by the age of 25. But what about experience? 

In the latest episode of the I Weigh podcast, host Jameela Jamill and guest Evan Rachel Wood have a brief conversation about the fact that our 18-year-old “adult” brains only have the experiences of a child to refer back on. So, when are we really adults? How many years of adult experiences do we need for our brain to respond to situations with the knowledge and maturity of an adult?

3. Owning your truth.

Thanks to a recent trip down the Facebook rabbit hole, I stumbled across a video interview with a young mom who struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. I watched the entire 20 minutes, captivated by her honesty and willingness to share her story in the hopes she will help others and reduce the stigma surrounding schizophrenia. She’s an intelligent, well-spoken individual who has taken the very adult responsibility of caring for a complex mental health condition and the life of an innocent child. I applaud her, and I hope you set aside the time to “meet” someone successfully managing her schizophrenia. The more you know…

4. ADHD and adulthood.

I’m an adult with ADHD combined type. That means I display symptoms of hyperactivity and inattentiveness. It’s a neurological condition that has, and will, always impact my life. People don’t grow out of ADHD as they become adults, they simply develop coping mechanisms – some work well, some don’t. If you’re lucky enough to work with an ADHD coach and willingly accept medical intervention, you can learn how to do those adult things that are hard for people with ADHD. But so many adults with ADHD simply cannot do the things – they can’t pay their bills on time, brush their teeth or do their laundry regularly, manage time (something I continue to struggle with), follow a schedule, etc. – the list goes on. Without the proper training and support, it’s truly debilitating. 

And, unlike many other neurological conditions that impact an adult’s ability to function in society, there’s little to no government support for adults (or children – but that’s another post) with ADHD. Why?

5. Money doesn’t buy maturity.

I can’t end this post without mentioning Elon Musk’s recent attempt to buy Twitter. Whether it was to give him free reign to be as obnoxious as he wants without being removed (I don’t buy the “free speech” claim) or was just another publicity stunt, I think it’s an abhorrent way to flaunt the wealth he’s accumulated. 

Last October, Musk tweeted that he’d sell his Tesla stock and donate the proceeds to the UN if they could demonstrate exactly how his money would be spent. They explained how he could help end world hunger (and it would only take a small percentage of his fortune). Since that time, reports have surfaced that Musk sold some of his stock, but he has not said where the proceeds have gone, and the U.N. says they have not received a donation. 

Should adults with great wealth (I’m looking at you, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Musk, the Waltons, etc.) follow the lead of peers like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? Should they give back? Is that the responsibility of an adult with great wealth?

Website | + posts

Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and content writer who lives in Katonah. Her work has appeared in Parents, The Washington Post, Healthline, Well + Good, Psych Central, SheKnows, SELF and more.