Puberty. It’s probably the most challenging, confusing and fraught time in a young person’s life, and now a new controversial opinion piece laid out in the esteemed Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal suggests that we should be extending the time of adolescence from the ages of 10 years old to 24 to reflect changing social and biological norms. Adolescence used to be classified by the ages of 13-18 but a number of factors in modern life taken into account by scientists, including longer periods of education, delayed marriages and parenthood has extended the definition of what it means to be an adolescent.
Our bodies go through immense change through the process of puberty; hormones are sent flying when a part of the brain called the hypothalamus begins to activate the pituitary and gonadal glands. This kickstart used to happen at around the age of 14, but because of our on the whole improvement in health and lifestyle, the production of hormones is now seen in children as young as 10. As a result, girls are starting menstruation younger also, with over 50% now having their first period at the age of 12/13. The changes in our brain don’t stop at 19 either; it’s now known that the brain continues to mature into our 20s, with more speed and efficiency.
Several experts believe that the delayed onset of adult responsibilities, such as child rearing and home-owning, means that the law and social policy should reflect the reality of a 24-year-old’s situation; according to Professor Russell Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health talking to the BBC, “In the UK, the average age for leaving home is now around 25 years for both men and women.”
Dr Jan Macvarish, a parenting sociologist at the University of Kent, however, does warn that we could in effect end up babying young adults by classifying them as adolescents, stating that “older children and young people are shaped far more significantly by society’s expectations of them than by their intrinsic biological growth.”