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The meaning of maturity

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A child who is mature for her age has one set of traits; a senior citizen who is more mature than his friends possesses another. For some smart ideas about what it means to be the grown-up in the room - at any age - we turned to the experts on aging and personal growth.

A mature 10-year-old is aware of who can run the fastest in his or her class at school, who is the best at math, and other comparisons. This helps children differentiate their skills and attributes from an early age. By recognising where they have strengths, and where they may need to focus more attention, kids can feel a sense of self-efficacy - and finding an area of strength can help develop self-esteem.

- Hilary Levey Friedman, professor of American Studies at Brown University

A mature 18-year-old is able to declare wants, needs, and beliefs. Self-maintenance is also important: In my experience, if there is one predictor of how well a kid will be able to cope with the demands of independence, it is the management of money. (Some) kids are at the mercy of their own impulses, still caught up in the tyranny of now.

- Carl Pickhardt, psychologist and lecturer in Austin, Texas

A mature 29-year-old has a well-established identity. This means deciding what kind of life you're going to live. It's knowing what direction you're going in, in terms of work; having a committed relationship, or at least knowing what you want from one; and having confidence that you know what you believe about things - values that you trust and that guide your decisions.

- Jeffrey Arnett, professor of psychology at Clark University

A mature 40-year-old is able to benefit from experience. In relationships, it's knowing the buttons that get pushed easily and how to control those buttons: You can reflect on something that used to make you fly through the ceiling, and say, "I know why this is bothering me, and I'm not going to respond as I used to."

- Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

A mature 55-year-old is selective about relationships and priorities, able to focus his or her social life around people who are rewarding, and gently move away from those who are not. This person begins to focus more on experiences and other people than on things as sources of meaning and pleasure. He or she sees setbacks as opportunities for growth and change.

- Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University