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Bamidbar. When Does Adulthood Begin?

At what age does a child become an adult? The classic Barmitzva speech used to be “Today I am a man!” but, really? Do you know any 13-year old who is an adult?

Our parsha counts Jewish males “from 20-years old and upwards, from when one enters the army.” So is twenty-years the time at which we become adults? Why is the age of twenty chosen?

Some years ago, David Brooks, the NYTimes columnist, wrote about a new period of development in the lives of young people; he coined it “The Odyssey Years”:

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives.[1]