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Coming of Age

By Shannan Dower


Truthfully, what does it mean? An obscure term for an equally obscure concept.


Throughout history, age has been a consistent indicator of the expected maturity and capabilities of a person. The term ‘coming of age’ has weight in a diversity of ways, bringing forth ideas of graduations, celebrations, birthdays, and above all, growing up. Getting older allows people to go new places or do things, but also new responsibilities are expected. Although, in a sense, we are always ‘coming of age’, in that with new experience, people will grow.

Within Australia (or in some cases, NSW), our laws help to define this idea of growing up. The age of consent, and the ability to learn to drive. The right – and obligation – to vote at 18 is the marker of child versus adult. But it is not merely the fact that you are ‘old’ that you gain these rights, but experience giving you the ability to discern. So, yes, age is ‘just a number’ but an important one.

Whilst enshrined in law, there are traditions across cultures commemorating the reaching of certain ages. In Judaism, at 13, a boy is believed to be responsible enough to be held accountable for his actions, which is celebrated through a bar mitzvah. The celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday largely celebrated in the Americas – Quinceañera. There are some that are so widely known that their role as a coming of age celebration is less recognised, for a ‘Sweet 16th’ and the significance of turning 21 in nations across the world. These celebrations are important, and universal. A simple fact of life.

Similarly, milestones and goals, cementing themselves in notable moments, come to define our lives. The end of high school and the age of 18 is one such highlight of these milestones and so-called ‘important’ ages. Moving out of one period of your life, which has lasted 13 years, and into the next with a lot less guidance.

Back to the question these ideas stem from – what does ‘coming of age’ mean? Essentially, growing up. Regardless of the traditions, laws, or labels we use, we’re always learning and growing, and with experience we are allowed to evolve into better versions of ourselves. Age is just a rough indicator of how far on our journey we are.

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