Terrible news, everybody: According to science — or at least the parts of it that aren’t trying to figure out how to drive around Miami when it’s fully submerged in eight years — the process of adolescence, of growing up, of the changes coming ‘round real soon that make us women and men, doesn’t technically end until you’re about 24 years old. Twenty-four! That’s nearly a quarter-century, a few years after you’re out of college, and about the average age of the Cubs’ World Series-winning infield in 2016 (Ed. note: Just kidding, that was 17 ½.) It’s also about six years longer than you were led to believe by the videos/filmstrips in health class, the ones run by a grown professional teacher who, seven times a day, had to actually pause his job while we all giggled like idiots at the word “sperm.”
This, of course, is awful, as adolescence is generally agreed to be the worst part of your life span. It is worse than old age, because in old age you don’t give a damn about anything. It is worse than middle age, because at least in middle age you get to drive a minivan whose doors open automatically, which trust me is super-convenient in the kindergarten drop-off line. It is worse than being a toddler, because that’s when you get all the applesauce your heart could possibly desire. It is the time of acne and floppy limbs, of stupid music tastes and gym-class shuttle runs, of commanding your stupid brain to come up with something to say to the gorgeous brunette in biology but failing to invent anything better than “Nice worm you got there.” And now it’s like six years longer than it was. On the plus side, if you know any 24-year-olds who haven’t got a job but are super into Assassin’s Creed, they’re no longer an increasingly uncomfortable pothead, they're basically right on schedule.
Indeed, according to the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal (it’s the one with Rob Gronkowski on the cover), adolescence, like the universe and Leon, is getting larger. “Rather than age 10–19 years, a definition of 10–24 years corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase and would facilitate extended investments across a broader range of settings,” say the study’s four authors in a thoughtful and professionally researched analysis of sociocultural norms that is accompanied, at least on one website, by a photo of the four guys from American Pie. (Most Ph.D candidates go into their field dreaming of having their work accompanied by a photo of Seann William Scott.)
The change, according to the study, comes not from genetic markers or some sort of mutation, sadly. Rather, it’s due to “social role transitions.” Much like pornography, free will and Lindsey Graham, adolescence is notoriously difficult to properly define, and shifting cultural norms aren’t making things easier.
Earlier puberty is hitting across nearly all populations — which is great, because if you have a teenager you definitely want that shit to start as soon as possible. But basically, young adults are doing everything later: They’re getting married later, completing school later, moving out of the basement later, starting families later. (My sweet grandmother had three baby girls by age 23; I can name a half-dozen 30-year-olds right now who haven’t quite locked down full-time jobs yet.) Social media is apparently f**king this up too: According to the study, “The transition period from childhood to adulthood now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and wellbeing across these years.” So yeah, your teen basically adds a few months of adolescence for every fake Instagram account s/he owns.
In short, it’s taking us all longer to grow up, which may or may not explain our enthusiasm for trolling strangers from the anonymous comfort of the internet, electing a reality-TV gumball president, failing to keep our government operational, letting sex scandal-plagued football programs run the institutions we formerly called “colleges,” writing quote-fingers think pieces on how Luke Skywalker Isn’t The Luke Skywalker He Was When We Were 8, occasionally telling Hawaii it’s about to be blown out of the Pacific, ignoring the parts of science that would require us to do some work and having a job where you make fun of science findings on the internet. We all knew it, but it’s nice that science has finally caught up, I guess. Jeez guys, this is depressing, let’s get some weed and go watch American Pie.