How to balance age with maturity

Alina Ostrovsky

Peter Pan, a Disney fairy tale, has been children’s all-time favourite character. Ironically, it has been, however, particularly comforting and reassuring to millennial adults (1977-1995) to embody, quite in literal terms. Being Peter Pan has many attractive features—one of them is living in a space of timelessness that transcends itself through a series of never-ending moments, characterised by the refusal to confront the consequences of the past and perpetual avoidance of looming thoughts of the future.

A Peter-Panian lifestyle is an emulated form of existence devoid of consequential responsibilities. We are widely known to be the Peter Pan generation largely due to our fears of embracing adulthood as we practice a conscious decision to postpone meeting life-milestones on a daily basis. In this digital age, there are many factors that put us at a disadvantage to Generation X (1965-1976) and the Baby-Boomers (1946-1964), which turn on the mode of stagnation in our lives as far as developing maturity is concerned.

Jumping to adulthood

The beauty of milestones in a person’s life is that it exhibits a state of progression to something better in a smooth-sailing manner without any drastic changes. Moving towards something better always means attaining something bigger, something worthy to be called an achievement, which most naturally entails an increased set of responsibilities, but that’s the point of it. Meeting milestones endows the feeling of success as we climb the social ladder which, in turn, grants the feeling of self-fulfillment and satisfaction. However, in today’s era, that ‘social ladder’ has been cracked into ruin due to a culture that exposes children to information beyond their years. “It can easily be said that in popular music, for example, children are increasingly exposed to the adult-themed material, with various entertainers, whose videos and music appeal to vulgar and overly eroticised imagery which, in an earlier era, would have been scandalously inappropriate to young audiences but now have become normalised.”

This exposure to inappropriate content forces young kids to grow up faster and skip an essential developmental stage of childhood. They attempt to skip to a stage that seems to be “adulthood”—only it is a mirage of some sort, because believing and behaving as an adult are two different contradictory states of mind. Once adulthood really strikes physically, the subconscious tries to fill in the cracks of childhood, which creeps out of a person’s psyche in a way that encapsulates childhood tendencies throughout adulthood, affecting behaviour and ways of rationalization. This way of existence creates a never-ending resistance to fly out of our chickadee’s nest.

Convenience of denial of age

Jacobo Bernardini, from the University of Perugia in Italy, expertly explained this awkward developmental growth of today: “The traditional stages of the life cycle, to which the social sciences still refer [has been] progressively postponed and altered. The age of childhood has been shortened; adolescence today begins long before puberty and, for many, seems to last forever; the boundaries of adulthood seem, by now, indefinable; and seniority, as a phase of life, is likely to become an individual concept”. In other words, it emerges as a ‘concept’ that is utterly abhorred, instead of admired, and defined by the fear of ageism. People are in denial of their age in a way that manifests itself through an incessant preoccupation of maintaining a youthful appearance. Therefore, while youth has been traditionally seen merely as the carrier of potential—an uncertain but, nevertheless, transitory period of time—it is now something accessible at any point as people appear to inhabit a timeless existence.

This stagnant existence can be partly blamed on the consumerist culture that interminably promotes hedonist impulses, starting from tethering addictions, such as playing video games, smoking substances that take you into a dimension of stupor and carelessness, and the ever-clinging pursuit after adrenaline-pumping thrillers. All these preoccupations nourish the mass-produced [economy propelled by the] soft entertainment [that is a] best fit for a globalized culture of perpetual adolescence. [This culture is] slavishly going from one fad to another without purpose or end in sight in an aimless search for the next thrill—the more bizarre the better. All these help to avoid facing life headstrong—avoid thinking about creating financial security, developing long-standing careers, or settling down in a way of creating a family.

Burden of freedom

The anxiety to grow up is centred on the issue of having a sea of opportunities that generations preceding us never have had, which invokes an extremely unsettling and stormy feeling within us as we feel suffocated by choice, responsibility and self-doubt. Since our culture moved far astray of what is perceived to be traditional, the decisions on whether to marry or not marry, start a family or not, travel or stay put, stick in your existing job or find a new one, can [altogether] make us overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. In other words, too much freedom, being unshackled by societal pressures, believe it or not, works against us—works against us in a way that it delays maturity.

There are many dimensions of maturity and the one we are greatly lacking is moral maturity in the avenue known as “respecting others”. According to Kieran Mathieson of Oakland University, a morally mature person “can interact with others without feeling that his or her own worldview is threatened, [which is an interaction practised by] listening carefully, encouraging, exploring ideas, posing questions, arguing, speculating and sharing”. The key concept here is sharing ideas with others without having one’s ‘worldview threatened’—being strong in one’s own convictions even if someone else’s is contradictory to one’s own. However, college campuses, nowadays, are functioning in a way that caters to the sensitivities of the millennial generations, which moulds them into easily upset overgrown children.

Victims of emotional immaturity

Because of this dysfunctional system of pedagogy, professors and educators have to be wary of exposing them to realities of the world, such as bigotry, racism, violence, and even disagreement, lest they break down in tears having found out that people can be evil, have different opinions, or that harsh things happen out there. Seriously? But there’s more to this: The mollycoddling of the fragile little things is also innovatively pervasive and insistent. That treatment is largely about ‘emotional well-being’…to elevate the goal of [so-called] protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems is to turn campuses into ‘safe-spaces’ (like high-schools) where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.

This is why we are a generation that can get easily offended, without the intention of the party that is ‘offending’. All of this, like chain-reaction, contributes to our ‘emotional immaturity’. When our lives do not go according to plan, we unleash temper-tantrums. When someone says something we don’t like, we emotionally break down and cry a river. This is why we are called the “Snowflakes, the Generation Confused of the new millennium”. In more concrete terminology, all of this throws us off-track, makes us weak and creates us into a generation that is disoriented, wandering into pathless destinations, thus, rendering us completely directionless.

Self-fulfilling attitude

Not to mention that millennials have become non-accommodating in their corresponding field of employment, which creates us into being a generation full of entitlements. To put that concept in a greater application, it is important to understand what entitlement is, which is “a human condition…[that is] selfish by nature. [This is why] we have to work hard and intentionally to overcome or suppress our selfish behaviours”. The way entitlement is inhibited is by practising the ability to see and act on behalf of others, while entitlement does not allow you to see things from someone else’s point of view.

What promoted the over-indulgent entrenchment of one’s own view are the manifestations of the [more] connected world, which empowered us to take too much ownership over every aspect of our lives. For example, Glassdoor and LinkedIn allow ownership of one’s career. YouTube allows ownership of one’s content. Instagram and Snapchat allow ownership of one’s personal brand. Netflix allows ownership of one’s content consumption. All of these, collectively, offer us excessive amounts of personalisation and customisation at every turn of [our] lives. Therefore, we expect the same control that we practice in our social-media at work, which creates an intense amount of distrust between us, being the employees, and our employers as we demand promotions, certain salaries, and senseless accommodations that other employees of different generations don’t even think of asking.

Upon experiential observation, however, this problem of overbearing immaturity seems to be exclusively pervasive over Western civilizations and is less of a problem in Asian and Middle-Eastern civilizations. It particularly seems to be less of a problem in India, because, since birth, children are pressured by family members to fit into their model of an ideal son or daughter, while we are running around completely untamed. We finally need to practice what Paul, the apostle, had said:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things…”