The Timetable for Adulthood from a Teen’s Perspective

When teenagers enter high school, they begin a journey of preparation that may lead them to college, a career, and the responsibilities of adulthood. How these young people view that process and the timetable for achieving life milestones varies from child to child. Although some evidence exists suggesting that most adolescents adhere to societal expectations of anticipated college completion, work, marriage, and parenthood, little research has examined each of these transitions separately. To get a glimpse into future expectations of teens, Lisa J. Crockett of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska recently led a study comparing the expected time frame for goal achievement of 411 high school students to the actual attainment of specific adult roles.

Crockett found that for the most part, the teens entered into adult roles at roughly the same age they had predicted they would. However, there were some differences. In particular, the participants delayed their college completion date as they progressed through high school. This resulted in anticipated postponement of marriage and parenthood. For the girls, although there were delays, they expected to be married at a younger age than the boys, but they had longer delays in parenting. Perhaps because the girls who were focused on college and career goals realized the conflict that could occur with parenting, they chose to delay that aspect of adulthood. The boys did not delay parenting. This could be the result of male ideals, which could influence boys to place emphasis on making a living to support their families.

Despite the fact the students’ anticipated dates changed during their high school experience, their final predictions were very close to the ages they were when they transitioned into those adult roles. Crockett believes this research provides valuable information about what expectations teens put on themselves. The process of maturing from adolescent to adult requires more than making decisions and taking certain actions. It appears that this process is heavily influenced by societal norms and an individual’s personal aspirations. “Indeed,” Crocket added, “this process may capture one aspect of identity development, where young people align socially and culturally based opportunities with their own interests and abilities to construct their personal plans.”

Crockett, Lisa J., and Sarah J. Beal. The life course in the making: Gender and the development of adolescents’ expected timing of adult role transitions. Developmental Psychology 48.6 (2012): 1727-738. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • James


    November 30th, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    I did not realize this until I was recently in an adult Sunday school class at my church, but most people now say that kids are in a prolonged adolescence from maybe 13 til 30? And it used to only be for a few years and how it is this extended process of 15 years or more! I think that we are doing these children a huge disservice for allowing them this kind of time to become an adult. I don’t think that we should go back to the days of child brides or anything like that, but there does come a time when we need them to grow up. Sometimes I think that the biggest problem with all of this though is that the parents aren’t allowing them to grow up. So maybe we are the ones who are putting the determination of adult roles on them and when they should start those roles?

  • Tamara


    November 30th, 2012 at 6:25 AM

    The combined forces of societal expectations,peer direction,personal aspirations and also your location is what determines these expectations for a youngster.When I was in high school,getting married and having children was given a lot more importance,especially for the girls.I would have thought it would be very different now but seems like the difference is not much,considering the observation in the study which says getting married and having children is still up there in the list of priorities for girls.

  • Jim N

    Jim N

    November 30th, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    Having a teenager myself, I find this article quite interesting. I am always wondering if my teen puts any forethought into anything he does. I suppose if he is the typical teen, he really does. But, if this is the case, why is his follow-through so poor?

  • sue


    November 30th, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Jim n, the impulsive nature of the teen does often show up before the actually filling of adult roles! LOL! Just because they are thinking about acting responsibly doesn’t mean their brains are ready to do it yet. Just be patient-he’ll get there!

  • Rose


    November 30th, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    So glad to hear girls are thinking of putting off having children for awhile!

  • simone


    November 30th, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    whatever the adolescent choose or has things planned out,just let it be.we already have enough societal pressure and the pressure to excel.we don’t need parents or anybody else telling us to mature or take up adult roles quicker than we want to.

  • Gabriel


    December 1st, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    While its a fact that different teens will enter adult life roles at different times,I think the set up we currently have in our society puts excessive pressure on those whop are not able to do that at an ‘appropriate’ age.If a teenager is ‘behind’ his/her peers in taking up responsibility and adult roles,he/she will definitely feel the pressure and that can in turn bring in problems in other areas of life as well.Not to mention such pressure would definitely hinder the very thing they are trying to overcome.

    The best way to deal with it is to give the teens their own time and support them in whatever capacity we can – whether as parents or teachers or even someone who is just trying to put them out of the misery that they feel.There’s nothing like a helping hand when even your inner self says you have messed things up.

  • Hannah


    December 3rd, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    I find that more teens feel so much pressure to grow up that many of them begin making grown up decisions and taking actions that are adult oriented far earlier than they should because they think that this is what society expects of them.
    And I think that as times we do give off mixed signals. We tell them over and over that they need to grow up, but then on the other hand we might tell them that the actions that they are considering should be reserved for adults only.
    I think that as a whole we need to be more mindful of the messages that we are sending and determine how they should act based on the individual and not as the group as a whole.

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