Stop using maturity as praise. Here’s why.



Introduction

One of the things which has interested me most growing up is the power balance between adults and children. Most importantly, how it can result in the abuse of children, who are incredibly vulnerable. Part of this is the idea of maturity, which is used as praise to shape behaviour. This article will define what maturity is, and why it is a highly damaging praise to use.


What is maturity?

Defining maturity is difficult due to trying to pinpoint its use within situations; something which can be different depending on the individual. However, there must be something which connects everyone’s experience of maturity, otherwise we could not identify specific instances of maturity. Therefore, a definition must be flexible enough to apply to all individuals but still enraptured the characteristics of maturity.
A slightly naive idea of maturity would be to link it to age and experience. This would suggest that someone is more mature with a greater amount of age and experience. This has benefits because we would traditionally link maturity with those who are older. However, this is a rediculous stance to take. For instance, when would we describe someone as mature? Would it be at the age of 50 or 60 or even 61? If so would this mean someone who was a month younger was immature? Making such bold claims would seem nonsensical. On top of this, a 21 year old who works a full time job to take care of his grand-parents would seem more mature than a 40 year old who fails to pay child support and parties instead. Upon this reflection, the age of someone and the link to age is non-existent.
A stronger attempt at defining maturity would be to suggest that it is a mindset. This has some strengths to it. For instance, maturity is something we ascribe so must be attatched to the person in some way. However, it is non-physical – we can’t find maturity in a field. Therefore, it must be some kind of virtue that is linked to the internal mind (whether that is a physical or non-physical mind, which is a seperate debate.)
However, the issue with defining maturity as an internal mind set is that we can’t directly experience someone else’s internal mind. The mind is an internal experience to us. We cannot crack someone else’s head open and see what they desire, think or feel. This is a problem because maturity is something that we can view and identify. Therefore, maturity cannot be merely a state of the mind, it must be something which links to the mind which we can physically observe.
This is behaviour. When we describe someone as mature, it is often because they have acted in a certain way or demonstrated a set behaviour. If we believe there is a causal interaction between the mind and the body ( which is a completely different argument which I’m not going to enter into in this post) then this would make sense as it is the mind set which controls the behaviour which allows us to identify the mind set.
However, behaviour is a vague spectrum. What type of behaviour would suggest a mature mind set? This is a difficult question. However, it does not require a complete answer. This is because what counts as maturity varies from person to person (which is one of the problems with maturity which will be explained later). As a result it is not necessary to describe specific behaviour to fulfil the definition of maturity. Despite this, there are some key characteristics of maturity which need to be demonstrated from behaviour. 
Firstly, it has to be desirable. This seems to be a natural logical leap, otherwise it would not be used as praise. Therefore, there must be something about it which we are trying to achieve or gain. Secondly, it sometimes, but not always, involves some kind of martyrism – to put aside our own needs in turn for what is considered a greater good. Often when we praise children for maturity, it is because they have done this. For instance, when a child offers to clear up a mess that they haven’t created.
Therefore, maturity can be defined as;
The expression of a mind set via behaviours which would be considered by the individual complementing someone else as good or praise worthy.

Why is maturity bad?
Critics may disagree with this definition of maturity due to not defining what is good. However, that is the exact issue with maturity as what is good behaviour varies between individuals; they vary on the moral code they use. In fact, they may not even abide by a moral code when using maturity. As a result, someone using maturity as praise may in fact be calling the behaviour “good” for no other reason than for the behaviour benefiting themselves.
This can be a highly damaging issue, as it can lead to the control of children, who are a vulnerable minority. Children tend not to have an understanding of what is acceptable behaviour and depend on adults to teach them this. Therefore, they cannot question the teaching that adults are giving. Even if they did, this would not be approved, who would not deem it “mature behaviour” as it would be challenging the power of the majority. Therefore, children do not have the ability to challenge the behaviour being impressed on them, leading to the ultimate control by adults towards children. This can have some very negative consequences.

What are the consequences of using maturity for praise?

Suppression of Emotions
The whole idea of maturity is to cultivate correct behaviour which then cultivates a good mind set. However, as a reverse of this, it attempts to squash incorrect behaviour and therefore mindset which is deemed “immature”. However, this can lead to the suppression of emotions, due to the incorrect behaviour they lead to, such as anger or sadness. This can create issues for children, as it makes it unacceptable to be upset, leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with it in order to be “mature”. As a result, it leads to mental health conditions, partially aiding the mental health crisis. Therefore, maturity cannot be used as a valid form of praise. 
Undermining of Self Worth
Behaviours which are deemed “mature” are those which do not value the preference of the individual which can lead to preference being undermined. This can be witnessed in schools. For example, children allowing teachers to move them without complaint in order to split up two people who are exhibiting challenging behaviours. This may move a child away from their friends, or put them into a position where they are now isolated or attacked by the new people around them. However, they are not allowed to object as it is deemed “immature”. This teaches children that it is expected their preferences are treated second to anyone else’s. This can lead to children allowing others to treat them poorly in order to acheive being “mature”, as this has been the example displayed to them by adults.

It could be argued that working with people who we don’t necessarily get along with is a part of life. However, there is a difference between working with people who we don’t like and working with those who demean us. Maturity asks children to sometimes put up with people who attack their self esteem and self worth. If they do not, then they are deemed to be immature which is seen as bad, putting them in an impossible position. Therefore, maturity is not a valid form of praise due to it leading to the undermining of a child’s self-worth.

Underrepresentation
There is a tendency by adults to deem all children under 18 and some adults under 25 as immature. As a result, it is seen that they are not mature enough to have their opinions valued. This has severe consequences. For example, people have to be 18 to vote. This seems ridiculous. As we saw above, age is not a reliable way of judging maturity as 18 year olds who pay their own rent and are parents can be far more mature than a 55 year old who parties all the time and lives with their parents. However, because of this attitude, politicians do not cater to those under 18, and the issues that under 18s are uniquely facing are not dealt with. These include the mental health crisis, experiences of schools and the juvenile punishment system. These are pressing issues which 18 year olds face daily, but are not dealt with due to being underrepresented due to being “immature”. Therefore, maturity stands in the way of those deemed immature from having a valid opinion. 
Avoidance of Problems
Adults aren’t perfect. This is nothing to be ashamed of because no one is. However, it does not mean we should not try to deal with these imperfections as children can suffer because of these imperfections. Despite this, because of maturity, adults can find it easier to blame it on the child’s immaturity than deal with the greater issue. For example, one of my friends was replaced at work by her boss and she strongly objected. It is clear in this case that this was indeed immoral – it is unacceptable to suddenly replace someone without consultation or a reason (she did her job adequately. However, instead of the incident being a debate about whether it is moral to replace someone in their work place, the boss deemed her reaction as “immature”, despite it being a very valid response, which led to the dismissing of the issue. This is not moral, and it is clear that people can suffer from the use of maturity. Therefore, maturity should not be used, as it leads to the avoidance of greater issues.

Conclusion

To conclude, maturity is being inappropriately used by society as a method to control the behaviour of children. This can have a negative impact on a vulnerable part of society, with no real voice to counteract it. As a result, we must stop using maturity as praise in order to aid the prevention of suppression of children.

Published by Philosopher Ad Absurdum

Student studying MA Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham; First Class BA Philosophy and History from the University of Southampton.

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