Comment: The stats of what it means to be an adult keep shifting

LONDON: What is an adult? When I was 18, I rolled my eyes when my father confessed that he sometimes felt too immature to have an adult child. What was he talking about? He was old (over 50), with two children, a career, owning a flat and a car. What greater proof of maturity did he need?

Little did I know then that one day, or even many days, I would feel this way. Like the time a friend bounced my son, then a baby, on her knee until his gummy smile evaporated and he started to cry. “He wants his mother,” my friend said. For a moment I scanned the room for his mother, until I remembered it was me.

The law does not take feelings into account when it comes to maturity. In most of the world, adulthood comes on your 18th birthday, when a minor comes of age and becomes responsible for his actions and contracts.

But different countries have different views on certain risks. There is no legal drinking age in Togo, while most US states don’t allow you to drink until you are 21. Sixteen-year-olds can enlist in the British army with parental consent, but they cannot fight on the front lines. They also wouldn’t be able to watch Ricky Gervais’ latest Netflix comedy stand-up SuperNature because the age rating is 18.


This week, a government-commissioned report raised the bar for adulthood by recommending that the age at which cigarettes can be bought in England, currently set at 18, should increase by a year each year. The paper is part of a proposal to phase out smoking, following a similar plan in New Zealand.

Such a move would be an outlier in the UK. A government spokesman said that as a “general principle the view has always been that 18 is generally recognized as the age of maturity”.