Tell Us: When Did You Become an Adult?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Or, for all you young readers like Trent, when do you think you ​will​ feel like a grown-up? In almost every part of the United States, Americans are legally adults when they turn 18, but that’s a fairly arbitrary cutoff, especially since they can’t legally drink until 21. Your body is mature after puberty, but that happens at different times for everyone, and your body keeps changing after that, of course. The brain continues to develop throughout life, so there’s no point at which it stops and you stabilize.

Are you an adult when you’ve got a job? Children as young as seven used to work in factories before the advent of child labor laws, and even now plenty of high schoolers have part-time jobs. Is it when you’re financially independent, or when you feel like you’ve figured out “who you are?” Some psychologists have begun to study the new life stage of “emerging adulthood,” which lasts from 18 to 25 or so. Are emerging adults not truly adults?

So when do you become an adult? No, I’m really asking. I’m asking in an article I’m working on (forthcoming!) and I’m also asking you, our readers. In a time when the traditional markers of Leave It To Beaver adulthood—employment, marriage, kids, home ownership—are not reliable guides, what are the milestones we make for ourselves? When did you really start to feel like a grown-up? Is there a moment or achievement you can pinpoint? Was it sudden or gradual?

I want to hear your stories. Send them to and please let me know if you are willing to have your name attached to your story in the article, or if you prefer to be anonymous.