What’s an Adult?

by Dave Schuler on April 18, 2014

and what’s a child? The notions have changed over the years.

My grandfather ran away from home at age 12 and went into show business. Given what I know of my Great-grandfather Schuler, there is no doubt whatever in my mind that my Grandfather Schuler was working from age 12 as well. Neither of them completed grade school let alone high school. My mother’s mother was working full time in her teens, eventually running away and joining a vaudeville troupe. My father’s mother worked making artificial flowers when she was in her teens.

My dad was working, delivering meals for prisoners in the City Jail, from the time he was six. My mom, quite literally born in a trunk, was working from birth. I still have the first dollar she ever earned (and her first “contract”). Unlike their parents, not only did they both complete grade school but high school, college, and received post-graduate degrees.

None of my ancestors going back at least four generations married and had children at very young ages. They were city people, town people. I think that was a country thing.

My mom believed that the secret of happiness was undertaking responsibility. I don’t know if that’s true but I certainly think it’s what marks the difference between being an adult and being a child.

Nowadays almost 40% of young people aged 18-25 are still living with their parents, a larger percent than has been the case for generations. About half are working full time. The percent of young people who are married has reached a record low.

There’s certainly one responsibility that today’s young people are undertaking in record numbers, too: debt.

Note that nothing I’ve written about is normative. The only observation I can make is that the way that today’s young people experience their lives is bound to be a lot different from the way I or those in my age cohort have. Maybe more than my life has been than that of my grandparents.

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