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The term adult describes any mature organism, but normally it refers to a human: one that is no longer a child / minor and is now either a man or a woman. Coming of age is the event of becoming an adult, i.e. of entering adulthood. Historically, adulthood has been determined by puberty, which is physical or biological adulthood; passing a series of tests to demonstrate the child is prepared for adulthood; or reaching a specified age, sometimes in conjunction with demonstrating preparation. Most modern societies determine legal adulthood based on reaching a legally-specified age without requiring a demonstration of physical maturity or preparation for adulthood.
"Adult" also means "not considered suitable for children", in particular as a euphemism for being related to sexual behaviour, such as adult entertainment, adult video, adult magazine, adult bookstore. However, adult education simply means education for adults, not particularly sex education.
Legally it means that one can engage in a contract. The same or a different minimum age may be applicable to, for example, parents losing parenting rights and duties regarding the person concerned, parents losing financial responsibility, marriage, voting, having a job, being a soldier, buying/possessing firearms (if legal at all), driving, travelling abroad, smoking, sex, gambling (both lottery and casino) being a prostitute (if legal at all), being a client of a prostitute, being a model or actor in pornography, etc. Admission of a young person to a place may be restricted because of danger for that person, and/or because of the risk that the young person causes damage (for example, at an exhibition of fragile items).
One can distinguish the legality of acts of a young person, and of enabling a young person to carry out that act, by selling, renting out, showing, permitting entrance, participating, etc. There may be distinction between commercially and socially enabling. Sometimes there is the requirement of supervision by a legal guardian, or just by an adult. Sometimes there is no requirement, but just a recommendation.
With regard to pornography one can distinguish:
- being allowed inside an adult establishment
- being allowed to purchase pornography
- being allowed to possess pornography
- another person being allowed to sell, rent out, or show the young person pornography, see
- being a model or actor in pornography: rules for the young person, and for other people, regarding production, possession, etc. (see child pornography)
With regard to movies with violence, etc.:
- another person being allowed to sell, rent out, or show the young person the movie, a cinema being allowed to let the young person (under age 17 or 18) enter
The legal definition of entering adulthood usually varies between ages 16-21, depending on the region in question. Some cultures in Africa define adult at age 13, and the Indians of Guatemala consider adulthood at age 10, according to Nobel Peace Price winner Rigoberta Menchú in her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala.
According to Jewish tradition, adulthood is reached at age 13 for boys and 12 for girls (although this was orginally not automatic; Jewish boys, for example, were expected to demonstrate preparation for adulthood by learning the Torah and other Jewish practices). The Christian Bible and Jewish scripture has no age requirement for adulthood or marrying, which includes engaging in sexual activity. According to The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, the Christian Church of the Middle Ages considered the age of accountability, when a person could be tried and even executed as an adult, to be age 7.
In the modern world, often the age is 18. Exceptions:
- 16: Scotland
- 17: Indonesia
- 19: South Korea
- 20: Japan
There are some qualities that symbolize adultness in most cultures. Not always is there a concordance between the qualities and the physical age of the person.
The adult character is comprised of:
- Self-control - restraint, emotional control.
- Stability - stable personality, strength.
- Independence - ability to self-regulate.
- Seriousness - ability to deal with life in a serious manner.
- Responsibility - accountability, commitment and reliability.
- Method/Tact - ability to think ahead and plan for the future, patience.
- Endurance - ability and willingness to cope with difficulties that present themselves.
- Experience - breadth of mind, understanding.
- Objectivity - perspective and realism.
- watershed (television)
- age of consent
- motion picture rating system
- Table 8. Age of Independence US and UK legal age guide.
- "The Myth of the Adulthood Fairy" is a modern allegory examining the concept of determining adulthood based solely on age.
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