The Quintessence of Adolescence


After reading a recent BBC article it was intriguing to learn that scientists have deemed the ages of 10 to 24 to be the age of adolescence.

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, the definition of adolescence is “the time in a person’s life when he or she develops from a child into an adult”. 

Although the article focused on recent studies on extending the age of adolescence to 24, what was more fascinating was that somehow it has been determined that adolescence begins at 10. Whether this is based on mere conjecture or has been deliberated upon on biological grounds, the fact remains that scientists say, as the BBC puts it, “Young people continuing their education for longer, as well as delayed marriage and parenthood, has pushed back popular perceptions of when adulthood begins.”

So, society defines when childhood ends, when maturity kicks in and when adulthood begins. If that is the case, then it is surely fascinating that people are quick to judge those who marry younger partners with the consent of both parties. Under this definition, many marriages of the past all become legal. 

The fact is that marriages out of the model and average age of marriage is looked upon as cruel and harsh among progressive modernists due to  appearing uncommon and out of the standards of the contemporary world and the so-called modern-day progressive minds. 

Further in the article, the BBC states, “[Puberty] used to happen around the age of 14 but has dropped with improved health and nutrition in much of the developed world to around the age of 10. As a consequence, in industrialised countries such as the UK the average age for a girl’s first menstruation has dropped by four years in the past 150 years.”

Environment matters! The type of atmosphere you live in, the air you breathe, the food you eat, the general health in your area all have an effect on when children will biologically begin to take adult forms. 

“Age definitions are always arbitrary”, writes Prof Susan Sawyer, director of the centre for adolescent health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, but “our current definition of adolescence is overly restricted”. She adds, “The ages of 10-24 years are a better fit with the development of adolescents nowadays.” 

At this point, the BBC’s integrity must be appreciated for they have presented the facts as they are before us. Puberty, adolescence and maturity are not all the same. One of those is a biological result which can be affected by the environment around us while the other two are subjective and can have a multitude of variations in any part of the  world, since it came into being. 

Among the Romans it was common for girls to marry before puberty. The famous French Latinist, Marcel Durry, has suggested in his research that Roman girls would marry before the age of puberty; that puberty was not considered a determining factor for the age of marriage and that such early marriages were consummated before puberty.

Professor M K Hopkins, University of Leicester, researched on the age of Roman girls at marriage. He stated, “As late as A.D. 530 and at least as far back as the reign of Augustus, the legal minimum age of marriage for girls was 12 and for boys 14… Octavia, daughter of the emperor Claudium, married at 11… Of 145 inscriptions, from which the age of marriage of pagan girls under 25 can be calculated, 12 (or 8 per cent) married at the ages of 10 and 11.”

He further added, “Surely Romans, and especially aristocratic Romans at the height of Roman culture, were similar to modern (or eighteenth-century) gentlemen, and they therefore could not have behaved like savages. But early marriage is not confined to savages; it is practiced among high-caste Indians. Civilization and early marriage can, and do, go hand in hand. It is quite unhistorical and quite unnecessary to eulogize the Romans in terms of ourselves or our ideals.” 

He concludes, “Thus some caution is needed, and it would be naïve to generalize on the basis of the recognized similarity of the institutions without first examining the cultural setting.” 

Modern science suggests that society and the environment affect the definitions of regional adulthood. Where health and nutrition affect the growth of children, aspects today such as education and marriage have also now begun affecting the social norms. If the definition of adolescence today is based on when people leave fulltime education and when, on average, they get married, then the modern day still has a lot to answer about definitions it supports. And that must be answered before orientalists comment on Prophet Muhammad’ssa marriage to Aishara.

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