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16 February 2010 @ 09:29 pm
"What is a grown-up?"  
One of my grad students came in this morning and said, "This question came up in class [Adult Ed] last night, and no one could satisfactorily define it. 'What is a grown-up?'"

My first question was, "Grown-up or adult?" and my second was, "If grad students who study this sort of thing can't answer it, why are you asking me?"

Anyway, my answer was, "A grown-up is someone who assesses risks and rewards before taking action, and acts to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards, while doing as little harm to others as possible."

So, for example, it's acceptably grown-up to put your best foot forward when applying for and interviewing for a job, even though it's almost certain that if you are hired, someone else will be harmed by not being hired. It's not acceptable or grown-up to actively sabotage another candidate. By my definition.

However, I don't study these things, and so I'm probably wrong, and so I would be interested in how you would define a grown-up.
Villiersdianavilliers on February 17th, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
How about "One who has accepted primary responsibility for their own physical, ethical and spiritual wellbeing."

This doesn't mean that those reponsibilites cannot be delegated (a disabled person, for instance, may have to), but it does mean that the grownup in question can make or has made the decision whether and how to delegate them.

Edited at 2010-02-17 10:50 am (UTC)
Xiphias Gladiusxiphias on February 17th, 2010 01:39 pm (UTC)
This is approximately what I was thinking. Asking for help is part of being a grownup; expecting people to help you WITHOUT you asking them is not.
griffen on February 17th, 2010 02:52 am (UTC)
I really, really like your definition of grown-up.
just the gurl you want: kitten burqagirlgoyle on February 17th, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
Its not about age its all about attitude
A grown up

is a person who stays in because getting up for work the next morning is more important than having fun.

is a person who takes their children to DisneyWorld because the kids would like rather than go to Vegas because they would like it.

is a person who sees the long term repercussions of a decision and weighs the pros and cons carefully.

who buys cars that are practical rather than ones that are exciting.

is a person who doesn't buy the same low cut jeans and cropped top her 14 year old daughter does even if she could fit into them.

Merrill Streep is a grown up, Madonna is not

starcat_jewelstarcat_jewel on February 17th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
To me, this reads a lot like "a grownup is someone who always puts herself and her needs at the end of the queue". I consider that expectation to be inappropriate.

I think a grownup is someone who can determine when it is appropriate to take care of her own needs before those of others vs. when it is appropriate to subordinate her own preferences in the face of necessity. Yes, that means even when children are involved, because one of the lessons a child needs to learn (when they are old enough to grasp it) is that they are NOT the center of the universe.
Adrian Turtleadrian_turtle on February 17th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of problems with defining "grown up" in terms of style. I think it's wrong, regardless of the specific style markers one uses for "grown up" or "not grown up." If you treat children and adults with respect, it might not be harmful...but it would still be wrong.

Whether you like DisneyWorld, or Vegas, or both, or neither, doesn't have anything to do with being a grown-up. They're both designed to get people to forget their usual responsibilities for an exciting vacation where they spend too much money...being a grown-up would mean things like saving up to afford it, and coming home from vacation and going back to work on time.

How fashionable your clothes are is beside the point. (So is the kind of music you like, and the kind of movies you watch, and the kind of books you read, btw.) I'm not sure what it means for a car to be "practical," beyond the fact that it should not break down.* It's very easy to confuse personal style, lifestyle, and maturity. I don't mean "lifestyle" as a code for sexual orientation. I'm talking about living in a walkable community or driving everywhere, having kids or not, traveling (often? where?), doing or watching sports (what kind?) ... you know--the style of a person's LIFE.

is a person who takes their children to DisneyWorld because the kids would like rather than go to Vegas because they would like it.

I also have a problem with the idea that acting for somebody else's happiness is always more grown-up (or better) than acting for your own. I agree with Starcat Jewel about the need for grownups to recognize when their own needs have to take priority. There's nothing childish about: Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

*Just last month, didn't we all think of those Prius owners as being so practical and sensible? When hybrid technology was brand-new, and geeks and environmentalists were all excited about buying them, were those purchases less grown-up? And do Prius owners become less practical as we discover the problems at Toyota?
Adrian Turtleadrian_turtle on February 17th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
VERY generally: grown-ups are responsible for taking care of themselves, and may also be responsible for taking care of others. One traditional marker of becoming a grown-up is to move out of your parents' home. Another is to take on the responsibility of caring for a child. One can take care of oneself well or badly...but to be a grown-up is to accept the responsibility of that work. (Taking on the whole responsibility does not mean you need to do all the work yourself. Humans work together in families and communities. But the difference between children and adults is that children are not fully responsible--they need caretakers and guardians.)
Gretchenwren08 on February 17th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
Taking responsibility freely for your actions and decisions. People who are not grown up often have responsibility forced upon them- that doesn't make them grown-ups although it may make them grow up!
siliconshaman on February 17th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
To me, your definition of grown-up sounds more like 'decent person'.

I'm not surprised that 'grown-up' is difficult to define, given that I suspect it doesn't actually exist. It's a cultural construct that has no real bearing on reality.

By any of the definitions in this thread, one can be a 'grown-up' at any age...or fail to be. Ergo, given that "grown-up" as a phrase implies an age-related process of maturation...then it's meaningless as a defining term in relation to the actual definitions.

Edited at 2010-02-17 01:48 pm (UTC)
Janet Miles, CAP-OMjanetmiles on February 17th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
Well, that's why I asked if he meant "grown-up" or "adult". Because I know legal adults who fail at grown-up, and a lot of putative children who would qualify.
Janet Miles, CAP-OM: thoughtfuljanetmiles on February 17th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
To me, your definition of grown-up sounds more like 'decent person'.

Well, no, not necessarily.

It is well known that I don't much like children. Part of the reason is that they don't act like adults. However, I don't (usually) assume that they aren't decent people just because they don't think ahead, and leap without looking, and so on.

Similarly, someone who is severely mentally disabled may not be able to take primary responsibility for his or her own life, but may still be a kind, decent human being.
fatcook: Honorfatcook on February 17th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
I define "grown-up" and "adult" differently. Being an adult means you can have ice cream for dinner if you want to and no one can tell you not to. A grown-up wants ice cream for dinner but won't because it's not "grown-up" or tells you (or themselves) not to because it's "not right".
Fictional example:
Miles Vorkosigan is an adult.
General Harouch is an grown up.
une idee fixeideealisme on February 17th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I agree with the above.

Basically, a grown-up is someone who is married with children and a mortgage.

I'm an adult.
starcat_jewelstarcat_jewel on February 18th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
An adult also won't have ice cream for dinner every night, because they know that there's more harm in the habitual than the occasional indulgence.

But yes, the realization that "should" does not have to rule every minute of your life is an important part of being an adult. I still remember what an epiphany it was to realize that I no longer needed to justify my decisions about my personal life to my parents -- that if I was happy, and able to support myself, then it didn't MATTER whether they agreed with me or not. And I'm still a little embarrassed about how long it took for me to reach that realization.
The Broad Majestic Shannonms_interpret on February 17th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
For me, grown-up is just a child's word for adult. Sometimes used by other adults to be condescending to each other.
Johnjohnpalmer on February 17th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
I think the biggest thing is part of what you describe... a (grown-up or adult -whatever you choose) is someone who understands the idea of responsibility - what you do affects you, and the world around you, and who chooses to exercise that responsibility.

Note that there's always some fuzziness here. No one *always* exercises responsibility. Everyone is occasionally blind to responsibility. It's like defining a good/evil person - no one is always good, no one is always evil. But, a person who generally considers things responsibly is grown-up/adult/acting maturely.

The other side of this is, sometimes the definition isn't meant to be right, it's just meant to define the aspect you're looking at right now. So, by defining a grown-up or adult is actually a way of saying "right now, I want to consider X or Y quality."