Real adulthood happens when a person is closer to 25 years old, according to a psychiatrist from the University of Pittsburgh. Traditionally, a child transitions to being an adult when they are 18 years old, but neurological changes may still be occurring, continuing until an individual is in their mid-20s.
As a result, a person cannot be considered an adult until their brain becomes more stable and reliable. Beatriz Luna, a psychology and psychiatry professor from the University of Pittsburgh, attributes the delay in the onset of adulthood as related to more and more people putting off settling down. Without an acceptance of responsibilities, the brain is encouraged to stay in what could be considered an adolescent state, which leads to adolescent-like behavior.
"I guess the implication is that when the environmental demands are those that require you become a responsible adult, meaning you have a lot of responsibilities to take over, that might be signaling the brain to stop a certain type of plasticity because now you really need stability and reliability," explained Luna.
This gray area between being a child and an adult has been referred to as "kidulthood." Unfortunately, as the term is associated with irresponsibility in young adults, it carries a negative connotation.
This shouldn't be the case, argues Luna, as behavior cannot sometimes be helped since it is controlled by what happens in the brain. And because the brain is still developing until a person is about 25 years old, it may be unfair to hold people to their actions as it would appear they don't have complete control over them yet.
Parents are aware how difficult teenagers can be but Luna wants them to understand that their children are not deliberately making their life miserable. Young brains have reached a point in their development where their owners can act like sensible adults but the ability to control impulses is mostly overridden by signals encouraging risk-taking.
This is evident in research done by Luna and her colleagues where they showed that the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and planning, the prefrontal cortex, is already active in adolescents but the hormone dopamine overrides it as feelings of excitement and happiness arise when taking risks.
"You have this mixture of newly gained executive control plus extra reward that is pulling the teenager toward immediate gratification," added Luna.
She and her colleagues presented the results of their study Feb. 14 at a session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif.