Why should we grow up? To another adulthood

As the boundaries of adolescence and therefore youth continue to expand, adulthood is pushed further and further. The start of puberty marks the beginning of adolescence. The end of adolescence is less clear-cut, because it is culturally determined and defined as ‘being able to stand on your own two feet’ and for that you need an education, a job, a house. Not always easy to reach these days. That is why, on average, young people stay at home longer and therefore become independent later and therefore mature later. But do young people want to grow up? Do adults even want to be adults themselves? And what exactly is adult?

  • Peter Pan culture
  • Growing up means letting go. But not from the future, right?
  • Better young than old
  • The separation between young and old
  • Greed
  • Where is the hope?
  • Why grow up?
  • To another adulthood
  • How can we be adults in a good way?


Peter Pan culture

The American philosopher Susan Neiman (1955) argues in her book Why grow up? (2016) that we live in a Peter Pan culture. Peter Pan is a fictional character created in 1902 by Scottish writer JM Barrie. He is the boy who didn’t want to grow up and therefore represents youthful innocence and escapism. Many people want to be young forever, just like Peter Pan. Maturity is associated with boring. The adult with authority and wisdom of the past has degenerated into a boring human being, who is pitiful and outdated. ,Growing up is giving up,, that is the current idea behind growing up, says Neiman. Or worse, “Giving in,” as Peter Pan sees it. This partly explains the difficulty people can have with growing up.

Growing up means letting go. But not from the future, right?

You let go of the ideals and dreams of your youth and become disillusioned and extinguished. That’s how adulthood is often viewed these days. Then the saying ‘Youth have the future’ suddenly becomes a lot more cynical. This is also evident from a quote from the article in The New York Times (18-02-2019) about Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist: It is sometimes annoying when people say, Oh you children, you young people are the hope. You will save the world she said, after several grown-ups had told her just that. I think it would be helpful if you could help us just a little bit.. (In translation: It annoys me sometimes when people say ,Oh you, children, you young people are the hope. You will save the world,, she said , after several adults told her exactly that. ,I think it would be helpful if you could help us out a little bit with that.,)

Better young than old

Although young people have difficulty with being young (among other things), many adults are also dissatisfied and unhappy. For many adults, youth is the highest good. They want to be young (again). They measure themselves against young people. Do their best to appear as young as possible. Through clothing, lifestyle, diets, exercises and/or plastic surgery. Do you also feel a sigh of relief and pride when people tell you that you look younger? Then you are probably over thirty. And you are not aware of the trap you are falling into by going along with the suggestion that we can only be attractive if we appear to be what we are not, namely: young. And what are we actually saying to the youth? That everything that comes after is downhill and that real life is over? No wonder no one wants to be ‘old’.

We prefer to seek out temptation, or rather distraction. Many adults lose themselves in the issues of the day, the hypes of the moment, the gadgets, the latest types, updates and upgrades. This distracts them from what it is actually about. This leaves them in a feeling of powerlessness, because they do not use the power they have within them. Instead, they live in the world as it is and look no further. All hope is gone, lost. This suits those in power: keep people calm by meeting their superficial needs (,Give the people bread and circuses,; an expression of the Roman poet Juvenal) or promise them the afterlife (as Immanuel Kant said: ,Religion is the opium of the people.,). Commerce is also responding to this. There is simply more to be made from dissatisfied people than from satisfied people.

The separation between young and old

A society in which so much distinction is made between young and old also undermines solidarity between generations. By letting young people leave with their idealism and painting a picture of adulthood in which people are mainly focused on themselves and their immediate environment, you give them a license for egocentrism, argues Susan Neiman. In this way, a political party like 50PLUS, which specifically promotes the interests of people over fifty in the Netherlands, completely misses the point.

By not taking responsibility as an adult for the world as it is and should or could be, you are leaving today’s youth out in the cold. In her study ‘Old Age’, Simone de Be auvoir convincingly demonstrated that there is a connection between the way a culture treats children and the way the elderly are treated. The better off the youth are, the better off the elderly are. There are cultures in which the elderly are left to fend for themselves or are murdered if they cannot keep up with the (nomad) group, as can also be read in Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2017). But a good bond between children and adults, between children and their parents, ensures that older people also retain their place in society. Now, for the majority of the elderly, this place sometimes still seems to be by the grace of the youth, but that once also applied to women compared to men. Important developments are taking place in this regard due to greater equality between men and women. This can also be the case for young and old. But then it is important not to leave young people to their fate in their idealism and activism, and not only to teach them, but also to show them that you live together in a society and that you take care of each other and stand up for each other. everyone’s interests.


In today’s neoliberal capitalist society we are all focused on having. Greed is deeply rooted in our society. In a way, that’s childish behavior: no impulse control; we want it all and we want it now. We are seduced by things and toys, from IKEA furniture to iPhones, from designer clothing to perfume. We think it makes sense to buy new things. While Hannah Arendt emphasized that the pursuit of creating something that has existed longer than we have is a valuable pursuit, we have now completely abandoned this idea by embracing the product life cycle. An almost natural name for an unnatural fact. Everything needs to be replaced after a number of years, or sometimes even immediately after purchase. Either because it is broken or because it is out of fashion. And this is happening at an increasingly rapid pace under the influence of commerce. Apparently it touches something in us, which allows us to be greedy and greedy at the same time, but also to condemn it. In ourselves and in others. On the one hand as disguised jealousy, on the other hand as a deep moral realization that it is actually or should be about something else. We allow ourselves to be distracted from a deeper meaning in favor of commercial gain. Greed confirms the current status quo. We are in a vicious circle of making money to spend money. Producers and consumers are always busy buying or selling things. Unfortunately, we now know what this does for our planet.

Where is the hope?

In this way, we jointly create a society that makes us happy, but at the same time keeps us unhappy and dissatisfied. There is always the pursuit of more. To what has been and what could have been. But we feel trapped by this. Powerless to change it. Actually, we are all like underage children in this. We want to be young because we think that this equals carefreeness and happiness, while at the same time we cannot bear to be only serious and responsible in our adulthood and certainly not to waste time dreaming. Realism over idealism. As a result, we lose ourselves. After all, dreams provide hope. And with hope we set things in motion. But looking back on the loss of youth or a lost youth does not help to give meaning to an adult life. That means we need a new definition of adulthood.

Why grow up?

Growing up is harder than you think. You can’t just focus on your own life and leave idealism to the youth. Sometimes you will have to go to the barricades yourself. Maybe in a yellow vest.

Being an adult is not only difficult but also very valuable. In fact, it is a sign of rebellion to be an adult. You no longer let yourself be distracted by everything that is not (so) important. You don’t accept the status quo. You see the importance for yourself, for all people and animals; for the whole world, now and in the future, to dare to be adults. Whether you have children or not, you are passing yourself on to future generations. After all, what is DNA more than information? Information about life and how we relate to each other? This information also adapts to the life we lead, the so-called epigenetic variation. And we also decide that together.

It takes courage to become aware of the world around you in a mature way and to dare to see it for what it is. But also for what he can be. And your role in this. This offers endless possibilities and opportunities. If that’s not a reason to want to be an adult!

To another adulthood

A true adult, according to Neiman’s definition, is one who lives in the world as it is, but at the same time strives for the world to be as it should be. He or she does not give up his morality, but places it next to and beyond the actual world. Fully aware that these ideals are not easy to achieve. The world as it is and as it should be presents a permanent struggle. There is never a standstill, because there is always a constant tension. That also makes immaturity easier in a way. Then you only have to concern yourself with the world as it is or as it should or could be. A child lives in the world as he is. For example, children who were seriously abused in their youth do not know any better and later often wonder that the world is actually different from what they thought it was. Adolescents can actually see the world as it should be. They can be idealistic because they do not yet feel limited by the realism of everyday life.

By being aware as an adult of the world as it is, but also thinking about how the world could be, adulthood becomes a pursuit of an autonomous, critical and rational self. This is also an ideal in itself, which we may never be able to achieve, but which we can dream of. Even or especially if we don’t achieve it completely or at all.

How can we be adults in a good way?

Tolerate what is no longer there

By looking at what you have and not just what you don’t have, you can experience the richness of life. Growing up comes with loss. Loss because of people who die or disappear from your life for some other reason. Loss of possibilities and choices. Loss of beauty and strength. But if you dare to look further, there is so much in return. The older people are, the happier they are on average. However, this is not an increase in a straight line. Around the age of 46 is the absolute low point when it comes to experiencing happiness. But once you get through this ‘midlife crisis’, things will only get better. Whether this is because older people have learned to deal better with their emotions or are better able to put things into perspective and tolerate feelings of loss. The fact is that even the loss of all kinds of things that seem most important in our youth ultimately matter surprisingly little. Would you like to try to anticipate that? Numerous studies show that writing down three things you are grateful for every day contributes to a feeling of satisfaction and happiness.


You don’t have to know or be able to do everything. You are allowed to ask questions. Always. Gladly even. However childish or naive it may be. When you analyze a question it is rarely simple. You don’t have to be afraid of the reaction to it. Every question has added value, because every answer adds something to the world. This way you allow yourself to continuously learn and develop.


Cherish the playful child within you. By continuing to look for wonder you keep the child in you alive. Discovering and experiencing go hand in hand. Many people draw up a bucket list of things they want to do (again). If this helps you, make a list like this and start working on it. New experiences enable you to look at (personal) life and the world in a new way. New insights can bring change.


It’s okay to be idealistic. Dream, be hopeful and brave. No matter how gloomy or unruly the reality is. As long as there is hope for improvement, there is a chance for improvement.

Have a conversation with yourself and others

Ask yourself: Would you like to live the life you are living again (as Nietzsche once suggested)? For example, if your answer is: ‘Yes, but the last ten years have been less fun, so I hope the next few years will be better.’ then there is work to be done. Enter into dialogue with yourself, as you are now, or with your younger self. Or have a (virtual) conversation with important others. How do they view your life and do they see openings, however small, for change? If another job is really not possible because you need the money, you could perhaps take up a study, hobby or volunteer work on the side or adjust the tasks or collaboration at work in such a way that more of your qualities come to the fore (job crafting). ? Try not to think of it and solve it alone, but ask for help from the people around you.

Let sadness be there too

It is good to keep the hope and playfulness alive in you, but at the same time the sadness and feelings of loss do not have to go away. These feelings may also be there. When you learn to deal with them, they also give you a chance to grow up in a good way. Ben Schomakers also argues for this in his book ‘The beginning of melancholy’. Loss of a loved one or other loved one causes us to lose our self-evident view of the world. We have to adapt our form of being to the new reality so that it becomes meaningful again, and that takes time. Loss is not only loss, but also in a certain way ‘gain’, because it emphasizes the uniqueness of the other. Melancholy is the feeling in which you look back on your old self and the reality left behind. Its shine makes you melancholic, but rather than covering everything with unfathomable darkness, the trick is to see that the brilliance of past feelings and experiences can still make the world shine, even now, from any distance in time and place. This way we can find comfort and hope in feelings of sadness and longing, if we dare to admit them. We are who we are because of all our feelings and experiences.

Set a good example

By leading by example, you show others, adults and children, how to live well. How to live together.

Think big, act small

Today’s times require a way of thinking that is adapted to the scale in which we live: think globally, but act locally. Or keep the world in your head, and the neighborhood in your heart.

Commit to good in the world

Feed your hope. Find something you are for and give it attention. This is how you make it bigger. You can do this by committing yourself to something that you find important and that you believe in. By paying attention to what has value to you, you make life valuable and therefore meaningful. If we all do that, the world will become even more beautiful.

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