How to be an adult

Being a grown-up used to be the glorified “someday” of our childish imaginations. Now it seems like the older we get, the less glorious it seems. Perhaps we’re afraid that growing up involves a bridle, reins and a wagonload of responsibility. Or perhaps we resist because we don’t know how to be adults.

According to Brandie To, a third-year sociology major, adulthood is a process of socialization. To her, it’s a phase that people spend their childhoods preparing for, and that through socialization, can be reached. Roxana Reyes, a marriage family therapist who works with CAPS in the Community Advising Network, also stated that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is different for everyone, based largely on culture, gender and economic status.

However, to Allyn Alves, a fourth-year transfer student double-majoring in managerial economics and psychology, there are certain personal responsibilities that can be used to identify new independence.

“For me being an adult means taking care of certain personal responsibilities, making a positive impact in the world and being able to support yourself financially and emotionally,” Alves said. “[It means] having respect for your family, friends and peers, helping those around you and making life decisions that will make you a better person and prepare you for a better future.”

Alves also noted that when she was younger, she thought being an adult was the final stage of “growing up.” Older now, she stated that it’s actually a continuous process, but that having a sense of stability is one of the best “adult” feelings, and that being a student at UC Davis helps to develop that.

Instant Adulthood

UC Davis students’ early exit from university dorms creates a student lifestyle closer to adulthood than our peers at other colleges are likely to be living. Students sign apartment leases, do their own grocery shopping and cooking and pay bills every month.

However, Reyes stated that though students are separated from their families, they aren’t all necessarily independent. Though it is a process that Reyes believes all students achieve by the time they graduate, they each do it at their own pace.

“I have so many people here who just don’t know how to write a check,” said Ray Ortiz, Sycamore Lane Apartments leasing agent. “[With apartment life] there’s going to be some impact, like — how do I cook? How do I pay the water bill? The PG&E bill? How do I even set it up?”

Ortiz suggested that the unknown always scares us, and that there is plenty that Davis students don’t know when they move into an apartment for the first time. As a leasing agent, he’s privy to student lifestyles and the changes that individuals undergo through their college years.

“There’s a pattern that we see regularly,” Ortiz said. “Straight from the dorms they’re almost always in a big group, and then in their third year, when school’s gotten harder, they start figuring things out, and start saying ‘I can’t be with roommates, I’ve got to study.’ So in their fourth year, they might move to a one-bedroom [unit]. Then they’re more focused, more driven and we see a lot [fewer] of them.”

The Financial Checklist

Home lifestyle is hardly the only thing adolescents have to learn when they grow into adulthood, however. With the exception of paying bills every month, Davis students often have very little financial experience.

“I think many students have limited experience financially,” said Hilary Hoynes, economics professor and co-editor of the American Economic Review. “If you have not had a job or had to stay within a budget, then your experiences are limited.”

Hoynes also said that American adults in general have very poor financial literacy, and she provided a short checklist of things adults should be financially aware of.

Paying taxes were the first on her list. Anyone with an income has to pay taxes to the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to their state. Employers will give their employees a W2 tax form around the end of the year, which states how much the employee earned and how much is being withheld as tax money.

With that information, employees can then fill out federal and state tax returns, and either pay more to meet their taxes or, if too much was withheld, get a refund.

Budgeting was next on Hoynes’ list.

“I think that the most important thing is to plan for spending given your income,” Hoynes said. “In order words, make a realistic budget and stick with it. This means you’ll avoid consumer debt, which has huge financial implications.”

Ortiz agreed that debt is a huge issue for new adults.

“I think the biggest problem is the student loan issue. That and credit card debt,” Ortiz said. “They make it very easy to get into debt. Money is so easy to get, and then suddenly you owe a lot. We can’t even think about 401ks and 403bs and Roth IRAs if we’re swimming in debt.”

Last on Hoynes’ list was longer-term financial planning, or planning for retirement. Though retirement seems a long way off when students are just moving out own their own, earlier is better when it comes to saving money. Through the power of compounding, the money young adults earn through interest or investments will make even more with time.

The Transition

Ortiz stated that maturity kicks in when people figure out what they want and find direction in life.

“No doubt, there is a turning point,” Ortiz said. “I think it happens for everyone at some point, but it sometimes doesn’t happen in adolescence — we wish it did!”

According to To, however, there’s some misunderstanding about the nature of this turning point.

“I think in American culture we kind of overemphasize it. We think once you’re 18 you’re an adult. Conceptually, we think of it as a very technical and dramatic change, but from actual experience, I think that’s it’s very gradual and it happens without you even knowing it. One day you’ll think, ‘Wow, I have matured so much,’ but you can only tell by looking back and comparing things to previous experiences. So it’s not like you’re going to wake up and be like, ‘Yep, I’m an adult today.’”

Managerial economics fourth-year Iris Quiroga had more of a situational transition from adolescence to adulthood.

“When I got to college, I decided that [now that I was] on my own and having to support myself financially, now would naturally be a good time to take those steps and really soak in everything that I learned and apply it to my life,” she said.

Quiroga stated that it was a natural transition for her, since she had thought about it and prepared for it ahead of time. She also said that though her first year was a lot of fun, she had to be aware that being on her own meant she had to live with the consequences of her own decisions.

Alongside mental realization and situational responsibility, personal development is also part of the trek toward adulthood.

“One of the most difficult parts of adulthood for me was when I first realized I had developed quite different values and spiritual and political beliefs from the vast majority of my family,” Alves said. “This has been hard over the years, but standing up for and acting on what you believe, while still respecting your family’s views, is important for growing as a person.”

Alves said that the most difficult and important aspect of becoming an adult is learning how to self-regulate; to change in a healthy manner, learning from experiences, and ultimately developing one’s consciousness.

Adulthood and Family Relationships

Though the transition out of adolescence can be stressful, it does not just affect the growing adult. Family relationships between parents and children are also affected, and changed, by this growth.

To begin with, according to Reyes, families can determine how quickly adolescents have to become independent.

“Some families require their son or daughter to live their lives as if they never left home,” Reyes said. “They may be expected to call every day and ask for permission to attend events. They may have a curfew or not be allowed to spend nights at their friends’ apartments.”

In contrast, Reyes stated that other families may be less involved, immediately trusting their children and giving their children the chance to experience total freedom while balancing classes, work, relationships and self-care.

According to To, the family aspect of aging can be depicted as a cycle.

“When we become adults, we’re socialized into a stage of life,” To said. “For example, 10 years ago I was a child. Now I’m a young adult, and 10 years from now I’ll be a full adult. Part of that stage of adulthood means having a family and having children of my own. That brings someone else into this stage of live, and then they begin the process of socialization where they learn about adulthood.”

According to Alves, one of the most striking changes that this stage brings about is the understanding that no one else is taking care of you anymore. She used housing as an example, stating that as an adolescent, she had a distinct feeling, knowing that her room in her parents’ house would alway be there for her. As an adult, she had to earn that feeling for herself.

“I developed a lot more respect for what my parents had done for me while I was growing up,” Alves said. “It is difficult just supporting myself, and I couldn’t imagine doing so with multiple children to take care for. My relationships with my mother and father got better when I moved out and became independent; I was able to relate to them better.”

NAOMI NISHIHARA can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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