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As a grown-up people after the end of adolescence called. Biological synonym is adult and refers to sexual maturity. It is generally assumed that the adult has acquired the necessary skills and knowledge that enable him to make the decisions necessary for his life and advancement independently and on his own responsibility. In addition to the date of maturity, as the central means of demarcation between children and adults, sexuality also represents an important demarcation line between these two phases of life . Maturity is one of the most important criteria with which one identifies adulthood.

Conceptions of maturity

Even if the term initially appears to be a biological fact, it conceals different attributions that define the degree of maturity differently. In this respect, it makes sense to speak of various adult constructions that can then be described and compared. So v. a. Biological-medical, legal and political degrees of maturity differ from one another, but also philosophical, sociological and educational. So what exactly is understood by an adult always depends on the perspective from which the adult is viewed. The adult age is therefore a time and context-dependent term, which is also derived from its relationship to other ages, v. a. Defined childhood and youth. Just as childhood has changed in the course of history, so does adult status also have a historical genesis.

Adult story

There have probably been age-related differences in the status of people at all times. However, these were by no means always so clearly related to childhood vs. Adults oriented, as it sometimes seems today. According to Norbert Elias v. a. a product of the Middle Ages and the civilization that began there. Elias sees the introduction and spread of table manners as the initial beginning of western civilization. The appropriate educational resources, e.g. B. in the form of style fonts, are aimed initially at all people, no matter whether big or small. This changed around 1530 with the “De civilitate morum puerilium” written by Erasmus von Rotterdam , which now focuses on a new target group: His writing is dedicated to a noble boy and written for the instruction of boys. Suddenly the child is considered to have to be brought up with regard to his manners, in contrast to the already civilized adult. The uncivilized behavior of the child is more and more socially devalued. Drive regulation is increasingly becoming an educational tool. The social discrimination of infantile behavior is still expressed today in the term “little peasant”, the child still burps at the table, just as the supposedly uncivilized peasant does, according to popular and discriminatory language usage.

With increasing civilization , the bodies separate more and more from each other. Children no longer sleep in their parents' bed, strangers in inns no longer in a camp. Civilization also heralds the process of individualization. The modern adult is a social individual who is aware of his loneliness and overcomes it through his capacity for romantic love .

Legal definition

Compared to adolescents, adults have more rights and responsibilities . Given their age, it is generally believed that they can take care of themselves. When you reach adulthood or, depending on the law , sooner or later, you may have the right to drive, drink alcohol , smoke , travel abroad, vote , have sex or get married .

Contrary to popular belief, however, in Germany you do not automatically grow up when you reach the age of majority . It is true that the most important sign of a person's development to adulthood occurs at the age of 18, namely full legal capacity , as well as some other important rights such as the free determination of one's own whereabouts and the unrestricted right to vote.

However, it is evident not only there, but especially in criminal law , that under 21-year-olds are not always seen as adults, that their maturation process does not have to be completed. For up to the age of 21 years is tested there, whether they are equivalent to a still young according to their development, so juvenile justice on the application must come, or if they already have the maturity of an adult, that adult criminal law to apply must come. A person who has turned 18 but not yet 21 is called an adolescent .

In social law (SGB VIII), a further limit is only drawn at the age of 27, a young adult is “who is 18 but not yet 27 years old” (Section 7 (1) No. 3 SGB VIII).

See also: List of age groups in German law


  • Norbert Elias : About the process of civilization . 2 volumes, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1969.
  • Toni Faltermaier (Ed.): Developmental Psychology of Adulthood , 3rd Edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-17-020858-2 .
  • Klaus Harney: Adult , in: Dictionary for adult education, ed. R. Arnold, S. Nolda, E. Nuissl, Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 2001, p. 98 f, ISBN 3-7815-1117-0 .
  • Gertrud Wolf: On the construction of the adult - basics of an adult educational learning theory. 2nd edition, Springer, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-03955-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: adult  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations