Do I Have to Grow Up?

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci


by Mary Beth Bonacci

When I was a kid, I remember a time when my younger sister was acting up. My father, in reprimanding her, said, "You're acting like a 2-year-old."

The irony of that particular statement was that, at the time, she was a 2-year-old. It wasn't the least bit surprising that she would act like one.

Statements like that echo throughout every childhood. "Act your age!" "Grow up!" "Stop acting like a baby!" and, perhaps the most despised statement of adolescence, "You can't do that. You're not mature enough to handle it."

In all of these statements, references are being made to maturity. But, like a lot of other terms we run into growing up, no one ever really bothers to give us a decent definition of what maturity is, so we tend to make up definitions for ourselves.

When I was in seventh grade, my best friend Val and I were told by another friend that we were "immature" because we spent our recess time jumping over the fences around the campus lawns. For several years thereafter, the word "mature" left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed to me to refer to stuffy people who never had any fun. When Val and I wanted to insult someone, we would call them "mature."

Now that I'm over twice as old as I was then, and still capable of spending my "recess" time jumping fences, I see things from a slightly different perspective. Maturity is not about giving up fun. Looking back, Val and I were fairly mature for seventh graders and our fence-jumping had very little to do with it.

John Powell, in his book, calls maturity a "process of self- revelation and self-expansion. In growing and maturing, we learn both to understand ourselves better and to live our lives beyond ourselves for others. That's maturing. No one is ever fully mature. It is a process that lasts from cradle to grave.

Immaturity is basically self-centeredness. We see it in babies and small children. Their world revolves completely around themselves. They don't really care about others as long as they get what they want. It's not such a bad trait in babies but as they get older it rapidly becomes unattractive.

Have you ever been around a child who's always screaming, "Me!" and "Mine!" or who is constantly making demands? We call kids like that "spoiled." That kind of self- centeredness is unpleasant in children but it's really ugly in adults.

Powell lists several traits of immaturity: bearing grudges and prejudices, pouting, emotionalized thinking, exaggerated feelings of inferiority, over concern about the opinions that others have of us, worrying, overdependence upon parents or family, rebellious and angry attitudes, bragging or bullying, temper tantrums, the negativism of destructive criticism, procrastination, self-indulgence, "slapstick" humor which is humiliating to others, flirtations, etc.

Sounds like either a kindergarten playground or a really bad date.

Maturity, on the other hand, is characterized by going out to others, getting along with people, exercising reasonable self-sufficiency, setting realistic goals, exercising discretion, differentiating the important and unimportant things in life, demonstrating flexibility, adaptability and emotional stability.

Not a word about jumping fences.

Did you see where Pope John Paul II told the crowds in Manila that, "The future depends on your maturity"? The description of a mature person is, in many ways, a description of a loving, responsible person. A mature person isn't so wrapped up in himself that he can't care about others. A world of mature people would be a world where people looked out for each other and conversely, where trust would exist and people could actually cooperate in building a better society. If God wants us to do His work on earth, He's going to need people who can get the job done. These people need a certain amount of maturity.

Compare that to a world of immature people. What a nightmare! Everyone out for themselves, people pouting and throwing tantrums -- how could anyone get along? How could we possibly proclaim "Peace on Earth, good will toward men"? No one would be capable of good will toward anyone but themselves. The courts would be clogged with people who tried to get more for themselves at the expense of someone else.

Everyone would be clamoring for their "rights" but no one would seem particularly interested in granting anyone else any rights.

Gee. Maybe this sounds familiar.

Just as the world's future depends on your maturity so does your personal future rest on your maturity. How far are you going to get if you're a self-centered, angry bully? Maybe to the top, if you're on Wall Street, but it will be a lonely place. What humans need is real love and community, not just a lot of money. People aren't even attracted to children who are completely self-centered. They certainly won't be going out of their way to hang around with immature adults.

So next time you find yourself losing your temper, or putting someone down, or flirting with someone you have no real interest in, don't write it off by saying, "Hey, it's just how I am, man. Deal with it." Realize that "how you are" at the moment is immature and it's not going to take you where you want to go.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the March 23, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.