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Adolescence begins at age 10, doesn't end until age 24—and society needs to get on board, op-ed says

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Experts are trumpeting what many parents likely have been fearing for a while: Adolescence extends not until age 19 as previously believed — but all the way until age 24. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Experts are trumpeting what many parents likely have been fearing for a while: Adolescence extends not until age 19 as previously believed — but all the way until age 24.

The authors of an op-ed for The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal argue that "the transition period from childhood to adulthood now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and well-being across these years."

What's the conclusion?

"Rather than age 10-19 years," the authors added, "a definition of 10-24 years corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase and would facilitate extended investments across a broader range of settings."

What are the reasons for the age-range expansion?

"Earlier puberty has accelerated the onset of adolescence in nearly all populations," the authors noted, "while understanding of continued growth has lifted its endpoint age well into the 20s."

But the endpoint of adolescence has been affected by society's "delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of education, marriage, and parenthood," the op-ed added.

The op-ed's lead author Susan M. Sawyer, a medical doctor and professor, noted: "Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later," the BBC reported.

Sawyer — who directs the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia — added that "our current definition of adolescence is overly restricted," the BBC said, and that "the ages of 10-24 years are a better fit with the development of adolescents nowadays."

What are the implications?

As people begin to understand and accept the age-range expansion of adolescence, then laws and social policies and service systems can be framed in "developmentally appropriate" ways, the authors said.

Is there any pushback from experts?

Jan Macvarish, a parenting sociologist at the University of Kent in England, told the BBC it isn't wise for society to extend adolescence.

"Older children and young people are shaped far more significantly by society's expectations of them than by their intrinsic biological growth," she told the outlet. "There is nothing inevitably infantilizing about spending your early 20s in higher education or experimenting in the world of work."

Macvarish added to the BBC that society shouldn't risk "pathologizing their desire for independence" but by all means "should maintain the highest possible expectations of the next generation."

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