If you asked a dozen people on the street what it means to be mature, you’d get a dozen different answers. Some people would tell you that someone who is mature is someone who has physically reached adulthood or old age. Some people may define maturity as an ability to listen. Others would define it as the antithesis of childishness. Still others may say that maturity is patience, graciousness, responsibility, or supportiveness. Maturity encompasses all of these things, and still more.
I didn’t ask a dozen people on the street what maturity means to them, but I did look up half a dozen quotes about maturity, and my point still holds. Everyone thinks about maturity in a slightly different way.
“Maturity is the ability to think, speak, and act your feelings within the bounds of dignity.” - Samuel Ullman, poet
“Caring—about people, about things, about life—is an act of maturity.” - Tracy McMillan, author and matchmaker
“Maturity is achieved when a person postpones immediate pleasures for long-term values.” - Joshua L. Liebman, rabbi
“Maturity: Be able to stick with a job until it is finished. Be able to bear an injustice without having to get even. Be able to carry money without spending it. Do your duty without being supervised.” - Ann Landers, advice columnist
“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.” - William Arthur Ward, poet
“I guess real maturity, which most of us never achieve, is when you realize that you’re not the center of the universe.” - Katherine Paterson, author
Broadly, maturity is the ability to respond to a situation in an age-appropriate manner. Children, as you can imagine, are not inherently mature. When arguments arise between parents and toddlers, situations devolve into temper tantrums and tears. As individuals age, though, they learn more about what type of response a situation calls for. While a teenager may still yell and slam doors when they don’t get their way, they’re unlikely to throw the same type of fit they would have as a child, because (hopefully) they’ve matured since then. Likewise, an adult may respond to an anger-filled situation by walking away and removing themself from the encounter or trying to talk it out.
Furthermore, when someone is mature, they have the ability to make good decisions on their own, without being guided to them by a parent or another adult. For another broad example, a toddler might decide that it’s a good idea to chew on crayons, but both teens and adults would never have that thought, because they’ve been taught from a young age that crayons aren’t food.
Maturity can be broken down into five different parts:
- Physical: age, size, hand-eye coordination, the ability to move in different ways (walking, running, biking), etc.
- Emotional: patience, kindness, the ability to manage anger, etc.
- Ethical: the development of morals, the ability to be empathetic, etc.
- Intellectual: school smarts, on-target learning for one’s age, etc.
- Social: the ability to develop friendships, to share, and to cooperate, etc.
Aside from physical maturity, which individuals have little to no control over, and intellectual maturity, which is taught in school, maturity develops mostly through interactions with others, or, if you’re a particularly reflective person, by actively changing troublesome behaviors. If you’re concerned about your maturity levels, have had concerns voiced to you, or simply want to develop mature behaviors, take the following advice to heart.
- Be gracious.
- Stay optimistic.
- Follow through.
- Think before you act.
- Don’t lash out.
- Be generous with your time.
- Take accountability for your actions.
- Be honest.
- Practice self-control.
- Speak for yourself.
- Welcome challenges.
- Don’t expect anything to be easy.
- Seek other points of view.
- Be respectful.
- Set goals.
- Know when it’s okay to be goofy.
Developing new habits is hard, especially when it involves training your brain, but it is possible to change your behaviors. The next time you have an interaction with a friend, a classmate, or an adult, pay attention to your words, behaviors, and actions. Notice if you’re interrupting someone all the time, speaking your mind without regard to other’s feelings, or placing blame on others. Once you identify the ways that you want to improve, set goals and make changes in your everyday interactions. Soon, you’ll find that these new behaviors will become habits, and your maturity level (at least most of the time) will skyrocket!