Agency is the best way to determine social maturity (testimonial)


Graphic used with permission of Janelle Weaver on Wikimedia Commons

A child’s experiences and the way they respond to those experiences cause them to respond to the world differently than their peers.

Social maturity is not a number. It can measured, but not in any absolute terms.

I am sure most people know all those statistics about teenagers – the ones that say things like “the rational part of a teenager’s brain does not fully develop until age 25,” or the data showing that most long-term mental illnesses develop during teenage years.

Those statistics have always irritated me, not because I question their validity, but because they seem to take away my agency. Whenever I make a stupid mistake, I find myself questioning how much my age really factors into it. I question whether or not I should hold myself, or my peers, fully responsible. After all, each one of us is still learning. I think to a flaw, we use our gaps in experience to judge our decision-making skills more than anything else. For example, probability dictates that Person A who has dated throughout high school has a better idea of a healthy relationship than Person B, who is the same age but just had their first date, even if Person B goes on to have a healthier marriage than Person A. Then again, maybe relationships just come naturaly to Person B.

This Psychology Today article says that being exposed to sensitive or obscene material actually damages a child’s maturity, but I honestly think that is only half of the truth. My mother is a child therapist, so I have met some of the biggest problem children in the state. Yes, some of them certainly had experiences that made them lash out and do things most children their age know not to do. Right at their side, I have also met some of the most wise and mature children in my life. The tools each child used to understand and cope with their experiences almost certainly made that difference. The ones who had enough agency to turn their bad experiences into strength are the ones who blew their peers out of the water when it came to maturity.

My most recent experiences have given me a clear indicator of where my own maturity currently rests. It happened on the second day of senior assassin, when I got eliminated. I had waited three hours outside of my target’s house, doing nothing but anticipating the moment he would return from wrestling practice. Then I realized I still had yet to pick up a prescription at the drug store which closed in fifteen minutes, and I booked it to get there in time. When I returned, there was a new car in the driveway and the target was in his house, meaning that my whole afternoon had just gone down the drain.

Yeah, I know – what a minor and forgettable inconvenience, but that moment felt like it differentiated my past and present selves. One year ago, I probably would have stayed there until 1 am if need be. I would have spun some excuse to my parents and found a way to get it done. Nothing else mattered, as long as I got my target and completed the challenge. Instead, I stopped being some kid who stops at nothing to squirt another kid in the face with a toy water gun and turned into a young adult who drives around picking up prescriptions with a health insurance card, stopping to buy milk and bread on the way home.

I am at a point where immature actions are still my brain’s default, and mature actions come as something of a delayed reconsideration. Right now, my instinct is to drive away after hitting someone’s car in a parking lot, then to swerve around and leave a note like an actual human being.

Maybe maturity really can be measured, but it really should be measured with agency and self-reflection. It is way too complex to be judged at a single point in time, because to speak from experience, even mature people are capable of wildly immature things.