I remember when I was growing up that people used to occasionally say "act your age!" I find myself wondering what that phrase really means in this day and age. Does anyone still use it? Does the phrase even apply anymore?
I have my doubts.
I was reading two articles today on two widely divergent topics (college "study abroad" programs and Britney Spears) that both present pictures of expected behavior for people of college age. In the first article, Colleges Tell Students the Overseas Party's Over", Greg Winters explores how colleges are now attaching "good behavior" contracts to study abroad programs to help weed out students simply looking for an extended vacation abroad to "par-tay". At the same time, Rebecca Traister's Salon.com article Don't do it, Britney puts Ms. Spears' relationship with Kevin Federline in the context of the sort of first "adult" relationship that many young people initiate; namely it is doomed to failure and excellent fodder for the old Saturday Night Live ad for "Bad Idea Jeans."
The subject matter of both articles makes me want to ask "when does acting your age mean acting like an adult anymore?" I begin to think that its definitely not between the ages of 18 and 21, where the college experience is merely an extended form of adolescence where the toys are bigger and better, the underwear is skimpier and sexier, and real beer instead of root beer rules the day. There is a part of me who looks at a man like my great-uncle, who went to work in the coal mines at 12, and thinks he would see 18-21 year olds as lazy dilettantes if he was alive today.
Yet, I should be fair about this. I was, at 20, someone who was banned for a time from attending parties at an apartment inhabited by "five" housemates (four guys and a keg) for drinking too much... a feat one described by a friend as akin to "getting thrown out of a hockey game for fighting too much." As I have also hinted in this diary, some of my early romantic entanglements were more than a little questionable from my current point of view. If other 18-21 year olds today are black kettles, I was definitely a black pot... who kept it together well enough to make Dean's list and get into a decent second tier graduate school.
I suppose that acting like an adult was easier in ages past, as well. Looking back to 1904, I imagine that most people lived in small towns, horse and steam powered transport ruled the day, and a lot of folks never travelled more that 50 miles from where they were born. When you've seen a majority of what you are likely to see by the time you are fifteen, eighteen must feel old and "acting your age" is not a problem.
I cannot help but be suspicious of the importance attached to youth by society today, however. It is seen as the ideal state by many -- innocent, pert, shiny, and new. We all seem to wonder how long the party can last. We also admire those celebrities who can make it last longer than the rest of us. Does the wisdom and maturity of age offer nothing to us anymore?
Ultimately, I think there is a fine line to walk here. It is the difference between pointing in a direction and forcing people to be a certain way at a certain time. As the Buddha once observed, we are all like waterlilies in a pond; some of use are still working our way out of the pond bottom into the water, some are lurking in the water just below the surface, and some are at the surface, in bloom. We'll all bloom eventually. It's just a matter of time.
on 2004-08-23 at 2:08 p.m.
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