What Does It Mean to Become an Adult?

High school student smiling at camera as an adult.

Becoming an adult is different for everyone. For some young people, it means living on your own or going away to college. For others, it means starting your first real job and becoming financially independent. No matter what the circumstances are, becoming an adult means taking responsibility for your life.

Becoming a Self-Advocate

In other words, becoming an adult means becoming a self-advocate. This involves taking responsibility for your own actions and understanding how they affect the rest of the world. It also means understanding how your surroundings affect you. If you are a self-advocate, then you know how to make choices based on your preferences, beliefs, and abilities—choices that allow you to succeed in the world.

To become a self-advocate, you need maturity and experience—and certain knowledge and skills—but there’s more to it than that. You need a certain perspective as well.

The Five Types of Real-Life Literacy

One way to measure your student’s world-readiness is to gauge his or her types of literacy. Although literacy usually refers to the ability to read and write, the term can also be used to describe other competencies. The five types of literacy that young adults need to become self-advocates are health, civic, global, environmental, and financial (which includes economic, business, and entrepreneurial).

Health literacy means understanding how to access the health resources and services you need to make good decisions regarding your health. Here are some basic ways in which your high school student can build his or her health literacy by the time he or she graduates.

High school student reading a book and taking notes

Civic literacy means understanding your role in the community and your responsibilities as a citizen. As a citizen, you need to be aware of the issues that impact your life and also make an effort to support those issues.

Some ways to advocate on your own behalf or that of others are to:

Important community and government issues regarding health, education, and social welfare affect everyone—and improving the quality of life starts with you.

Global awareness means understanding cultural diversity. Learning how we share resources and resolve conflicts across the globe allows us to contribute to world peace. A few ways for students to build their global awareness are to:

Environmental literacy means understanding how we affect the environment and how the environment affects our health, technology, economy, living conditions, and more. As with global and civic literacy, young adults need to understand their role in using and protecting the environment.

Taking responsibility for the environment is easier than you think. Some simple ways to promote it include the following:

Financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy means understanding how the economy affects your quality of life, how to manage your money responsibly, how to behave appropriately in professional settings, and how your decisions and actions affect your success. Essentially, it means taking control and making the right choices for your future.

A few ways young adults can start becoming professionally literate are to:

Male high school student maps out plans for college financial aid as an adult.

The 21st century literacies(opens in a new tab) work in conjunction, describing the big picture young adults need to see. Ultimately, each high school graduate needs to have an in-depth understanding of how his or her actions affect the world—and how the world affects his or her life.

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