Maturity: Definition, Signs & Stages

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

This lesson defines maturity from a psychosocial perspective. The five age-related stages of maturity are defined and discussed. In addition, signs of emotional maturity are presented.

Deconstructing Maturity

If you were to do an Internet search of the word 'maturity,' you would very likely get links to several million websites, many with their own definitions and musings about what maturity means and how to know when you are, in fact, 'mature.' The truth is, maturity can be defined from a number of different perspectives, hence the broad pool of writings about it. In this lesson, we will explore maturity from a psychosocial perspective. In addition, we will describe different stages and types of maturity.

In its simplest form, maturity is the ability to respond to a given situation appropriately. What does that mean? When viewed from the perspective of age, it has to do with whether you are an infant, child, adult, older person, etc. From an emotional standpoint, it deals more with how appropriately you respond to the given situation. For example, a child would not be expected to respond to a catastrophic situation in the same way that an adult would.

Stages of Maturity

First, we will tackle the more concrete stages of maturity, those dealing with age.

Infant: Very broadly, this includes all people from zero to four years of age.
In this stage of maturity, the infant's needs are met exclusively by the parent or by other adults, and as such, the infant is not really expected to respond in a particular given way to most situations. Let's use an example of an infant as he is growing to start this off. You wouldn't expect an infant to take care of any of his own needs, nor would you expect him to give 'appropriate' responses to situations. Think of a 2-year old saying 'no' all the time. No matter what his mom asks of him, he responds with 'no.' That is behavior expected of someone in this stage of maturity.

Child: From ages four to 13.
Children are beginning to learn how to care for themselves. They learn to perform simple, more concrete tasks such as dressing themselves, brushing their teeth, and perhaps riding a bicycle. In addition, they learn that there are appropriate and not-so-appropriate ways to react to situations. Most children know that they cannot lie down in the middle of the grocery store and have a screaming fit when Mom says 'no' to the candy. Let's go back and revisit the infant from the last paragraph. As a child, he would be learning to do things on his own and would be learning, from the important adults in his life, the correct responses for many situations that affect him. So, here we are in the grocery store, and Mom says no to the candy. A child who is of average maturity might not like the answer and might even beg for the candy, but he wouldn't lie down in the middle of the store and start screaming at the top of his lungs!

Adolescent/Young Adult: From 13 years of age until the mid-20s.
People are busy gaining a sense of identity. The forming of identities, both as an individual and as part of a group, are the cornerstone for this stage of maturity. During this time of life, individuals explore their sexuality and learn to deal with more mature relationships. Now, the same child from the last paragraph becomes an adolescent or young adult. Chances are, that person loves spending time with his friends and has really started to reflect on who he is and what he wants to do in life (at least up to a point). While it would be perfectly acceptable to date and maybe even think about marriage, an appropriately mature young adult would not respond well to dealing with 5 of his own children!

Adult/Parent: This stage lasts from approximately the mid-20s until one's children become adolescents.
Tasks such as building a home, setting boundaries with others, establishing a secure and orderly environment, and networking with peers are common during this stage. Additionally, as parents, we teach our children how to respond appropriately to given situations, thus perpetuating the cycle of maturity. Aha, our adolescent has grown up and now has kids of his own. He probably knows how to respond to everything from a toddler throwing a tantrum to a daughter's scraped knee. In addition, he probably understands what goes into owning vehicles, a home, and doing yearly taxes.

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