By Mark Salamon, May 1, 2018
Few stages of human development have been researched more thoroughly than puberty and adolescence, and this tradition of scientific study has payed off with proven strategies and techniques that make these some of the most enjoyable years of parenting. And now we have great news from the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal. They’re lengthening adolescence!
That’s right, if the author’s recommendations are accepted, adolescence will no longer end at nineteen, but continue on until a whopping twenty-four. (1)
To appreciate the magnitude of this decision, a little background is in order. Adolescence starts with puberty, which is when a part of the brain called the hypothalamus “starts releasing a hormone that activates the body's pituitary and gonadal glands”. (2) Many years ago, puberty began at age fourteen, but this has dropped to age ten as a result of improved health, nutrition, and enough anabolic steroids in our food products to supply the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Puberty causes females to begin menstruation, which happens once a month until middle age, and males to get their first erection, which lasts nine years. Deviation from this standard length of time is cause for concern, as can be seen by watching the many public service announcements on TV warning men to seek medical attention if they have an erection that only lasts four hours.
The end point of adolescence was set at nineteen because this corresponded to the time when that first erection finally came to an end. This is also the age where, as everyone knows, males and females alike suddenly become physically, mentally, and emotionally mature enough to enter the world of responsible adulthood. I fondly remember celebrating my own transformation to this new phase of life by doing nineteen shots of vodka.
But recent research has called into question that magic age of nineteen. For starters, we now know that physical development does not stop at age nineteen, especially in men, because the end of the nine-year erection provides a sudden increase in available blood flow that is used to further develop the brain and do other things like grow wisdom teeth, which sometimes don’t come in until age twenty-five. And there are other things to consider besides physical development, like emotional and social behavior. Even some famous “role models” have been known to do things like tweet out incoherent rants at three in the morning well into their seventies, so even the new age of twenty-four seems way too young. In fact, I think we could simplify the whole “stages of development” chart as follows:
Infant, child, puberty, adolescent, death.