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One of the best arguments to me that emerging adulthood, like adolescence, is its own phase (which means it’s not just a Millennial thing or just a recession thing) is what’s happening in the brain. Just like adolescents might go through their “identity exploration” by turning to promiscuity and excessive drug use, or by locking themselves in the basement playing video games and never so much as touching a beer or a boob, “emerging adults,” too, can take a number of forms. But one thing that bonds adolescents across the board is what happens with their hormones. And scientists are seeing similar physical manifestations of “emerging adulthood,” with the new realization that the brain does not fully mature until age 25 or so. There’s definitely a cultural element to these phases (and, as you mentioned Jess, an economic one), but it looks like there’s a physical one, too.

The other interesting question to me is why all this matters, beyond the level of “Well now I can send this article to my parents and get them off my back.” (Unless your parent wrote the article, in which case she already sort of gets it.) On a policy level, we offer protections to children and to adolescents: They have a separate criminal justice system; they can be declared as dependents on taxes and covered by their parents’ health insurance; they are guaranteed a free education. If we do come to accept this new period between adolescence and adulthood as its own stage, what policy implications should that have? This is, of course, an age group that often enters the workplace laden with student debt. If a 22-year-old doesn’t even have a fully mature brain yet, should we really expect him to be on top of paying off his loans, managing his health care plan, and all the other hassles that come with full-on adulthood?

Samantha Henig (the daughter of the woman who wrote the highly popular and talked about New York Times article)

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