By Shae Hadden
I’m pondering this throw-away comment, something I’ve heard countless times before and never really thought about. What do we really mean when we say someone isn’t ‘acting their age’?
effect, we’re judging whether their actions are ‘normal’ and
‘acceptable’—as compared to the majority of people of that same
chronological age in our society. But our assessments are neither true,
nor false. They are simply our perspective, our evaluation, of what we
In many cases, our assessments have nothing to do
with age—they simply mask our judgments of the individual’s social
behavior or growth (either emotional, mental, physical or spiritual).
For example, ‘baby talk’ seems appropriate and usual in a young child,
but most people would view it as abnormal in a teenager. Taking naps
every morning and afternoon is acceptable for the ‘elderly’ and young
babies, but many would see it as a sign of some kind of physical or
mental problem (like chronic fatigue or depression) for a 30-year-old.
Being married to someone half one’s age might appear to be an attempt
at ‘staying young’.
When people’s actions go beyond the
conventional (like those late-life marathon runners, adventure trekkers
and similar record-breakers), our evaluations usually sound something
like, “Well, those kind of extraordinary over-achievers are
exceptional…the average person certainly couldn’t do what they do at
that age.” Pointing these individuals out as exceptions just reinforces
our culture’s story about what is believed to be possible at any specific age.
Whenever we evaluate a person in terms of ‘acting their age’, we’re buying into a story that says age limits what we should do, and what is possible for us to do. When you let your age define what you would consider doing, you’re limiting the possibilities you see for yourself. You’ll
gravitate towards what is socially acceptable. In doing so, you are not
truly free to be yourself or to live life to the fullest.
So do you let your age limit what you consider doing?