Grown-Ups vs. Adults: 15 Differences
Monday August 4, 2014

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“People who are merely adults, who haven’t really grown up, assess risk in terms of the chances of getting caught engaging in risky behavior,” she says. “In contrast, people who are really grown up assess risk… in terms of the actual consequences of the behavior they’re considering.” -Dr. Lisa Damour

The part of growing up that always excited me, was the freedom. And as a child, this is not an uncommon desire. After all, we are often blissfully unaware of the responsibilities that come with the freedom we so eagerly seek – the mortgage, the water bill, insurance and finding the strength to say no when we just can’t afford something. And while we will all increase in age and become adults due to each passing year, that doesn’t mean we have grown-up.

Growing up requires that we purposely choose to mature, that we recognize certain realities and how the world works around us, and thus, how we must behave and think beyond the tip of our nose. Now this is not to say that we must conform and become robots walking in step to whatever society dictates – no, no. But it is becoming aware of how we as an individual contribute and are part of a bigger picture, and thus take responsibility for every action we make.

While initially, such awareness and responsibility may not sound like much fun. After all, when you are a child, most of us didn’t have the stresses we have now as adults, but it is how we handle these stresses and recognizing the amazing benefits when we do choose to grow-up and step into the gift of a world that is a choice, not just something that happens when we turn 18.

Today, I’ve made a list of the differences between being a Grown-Up and being an Adult. Have a look at how they differ, and feel free to add your own examples in the comments.

1. Clothing


Understands that dressing appropriately for particular occasions is not only a sign of respect for oneself, but also sign of respect for the occasion, company or people involved.


Wears clothing that exudes their personal style regardless of whether it is appropriate or respectful to the occasion. 

2. Friendships & Relationships

G: Regularly and consciously chooses to strengthen and build friendships, not taking them for granted by respecting and supporting them with consistent attention.

A: Expects friends and family to be there regardless of behavior or treatment simply because they are related by blood, marriage or were friends in the past. 

3. Oops – You Were Wrong!

G: Upon realizing they’ve made a mistake or should apologize, they do so sincerely, doing their best to not make the same mistake. Then they move forward.

A: Shifts blame to others or circumstances. Must always be right and believes admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness.

4. Adult Substances

G: Respects and understands the effects of foreign substances – drinking and/or smoking. Acts responsibly, understanding the situation, refusing to heed to peer pressure, respecting the expectations placed upon them in life/work and understands how it will affect them individually.

A: Drinks and smokes because they can, regardless of consequence to themselves, others or how it will affect their roles they’ve chosen to hold in their professional or personal lives.

5. Conversation

G: Understands the art of conversation (click here to learn more)

A: Unaware of their presence in a conversation – whether they monopolize the conversation, don’t acknowledge or validate other opinions, remain mute as a way of being passive aggressive when they hear something they disagree with.)

6. Emotions

G: Controls their emotions. Keeps their emotions in check when they become agitated and waits until an appropriate time in which they are calm and collected with the best setting to discuss contentious matters.

A: Immediately acts based on their emotional response or institutes passive aggressive behavior towards those they are upset with as a way to punish and gain control rather than resolving the issue.

7. Citizenship

G: Values their role as a citizen of their community and the world at large recognizing that civility not only strengthens and improves the world around them but enhances their own world as well.

A: Breaks laws or rules because they can get away with it. Doesn’t understand or care what the effects are to those around them or in their community/world.

8. Decision-Making

G: Makes rational decisions based on conscious, patient thought. Considers how it will affect not only their present, but also the future and those around them.

A: Makes rash decisions driven by how good it will feel or simply because they want it and they can have it. They disregard the consequences to themselves and/or others.

9. Planning – Goal Setting

G: While reveling in the moment, they have a plan for the future, and keep themselves in check regarding money, behavior, etc.

A: Short-sighted. Doesn’t plan and only lives in the moment, not thinking about or refusing to realize potential consequences down the road and how it might effect others.

10. The Story Line

G: Chooses to be the hero of their lives.

A: Plays the victim – “someone will help me or it’s not my fault”.

11. Money

G: Masters their money even when it gets hairy. 

A: Ignores the issues which ultimate exasperates them; followed by asking for help.

12. A Changing World

G: Contributes positively in their own way to the world.

A: Becomes cynical of the world, constantly complaining, yet refusing to take action to improve the situation.

13. Getting Along with Others

G: Applauds the success of others, seeing their success as motivation and inspiration.

A: Becomes jealous of others and competitive with them rather than simply trying to be better than the person they were yesterday. 

14. Doing/Having It All

G: Takes the time to understand themselves, be clear about their values and passions and lets go of trying to keep up with outside expectations, thus creating a life of true fulfillment.

A: Endlessly trying to keep up with the latest trend they saw or heard about on Facebook, and has a schedule that is full to the point of exhaustion leaving them no time to appreciate the beautiful life they have. 

15. Perspective

G: Understands that not everyone has to see the world through their lens, and celebrates the differences. While they may not choose to spend time with people who have extremely differing approaches to living, they can do so respectfully, as they would hope others would do for them.

A: Upon meeting someone whose choices don’t sync with their world view, guilt, shame or negativity is strewn about freely in an attempt to make the other party feel inferior.

Choosing to be a grown-up is just that – a choice. One doesn’t just instantaneously become one. At the core of becoming a grown-up is understanding yourself, your values and where you want your life to go. Upon knowing these foundational pieces, it will take strength, but ultimately, it will be easier to say no or find the self-discipline as you begin to live the life of your dreams.

On the surface, it may seem that simply being an adult is “fun”, but really, refusing to be a grown-up simply creates unnecessary stress and prevents amazing moments of joy and pleasure without the guilt to occur. In other words, it’s an investment, and it will pay off.

~Please feel free to share your thoughts on when you knew you had crossed the threshold into being a grown-up rather than simply being an adult.

For more on the differences between being a Grown-Up and being an Adult, you might enjoy this TEDxCLE talk:


~22 Tips for Creating a Grown-Up’s Living Space

~Why Not . .  . Have Self-Control?

~6 Essentials to Create a Life of True Accomplishment | The Simply Luxurious Life

12 thoughts on “Grown-Ups vs. Adults: 15 Differences

  1. Wonderful distinctions and very well said! We have an 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, and I just forwarded this email to both of them. As they mature, I know they’ll need to sort out the difference between “grown-up” and “adult” and this will guide them. Thanks!

  2. Great post Shannon, there is a world of difference between adult and grown-up. A young 30ish friend of mine was grown-up before she was adult, a 45 year old friend of mine is yet to grow up.

    1. Yep – age is only a number and must not lead us to assume too much. It is the person’s behavior and follow-through that reveal the truth. Thank you for sharing his example.

  3. I really enjoyed this post Shannon. It really touches on the elements of being not just grown up, but a good person too. I think being grown up means having an understanding of self awareness, external environmental awareness, and the interplay between the two. Personally, I think I crossed the threshold to being a grown up when I started making decisions to put my health first. For me, this means getting enough sleep, a balance of nutritious food, taking time to walk with the dog.
    On a separate but equally important note – congratulations on your writing/publication achievement! I hope you can share some of the process on the blog someday!

    1. You are absolutely right. Thank you for your comment. Regarding the process of getting the book to publication, I will be sharing these details and information on what worked, etc in the upcoming months – stay tuned. 🙂

  4. What a great post, Shannon. Such a great overview of what maturing and developing character really means. You really nailed it.

  5. Shannon. I luv this! I plan to print and share this with my seventeen year old daughter who jokingly, but seriously says all the time… ‘I’m almost grown’…

  6. Shannon,

    My wife sent this to me the other day, simply due to the fact that I had my own epiphany and hypothesis of the 3 major cycles of life. She wanted to show me that my understanding of these three were totally wrong and I was missing some of the most important aspects of the difference between children, adults, and “grown folks”! Well after reading your post, I’m even more convinced that there are more people out there in the world that share my sentiments exactly! I also think people forgot about the fact that synonymous words mean “related” and when they see words that are not the exact words they opine that the context is somehow different….???? My response is this, as Newton did with the Three Laws of Motion in the 17th Century, and more emphatically, as Einstein did with the E=MC{2} Formula (predecessor to the Law of Relativity) in the 20th Century, I will sum up your 15 Differences of the three cycles of life with two differences for each, one being a Pro and the other one being a Con for each cycle. However, mine will only have the innate and inherent basic form of survival and/or the sustainment of life (because anything after that is “beneficial preference”). Remember, it is not my intention to discredit nor disrespect your deduction of life’s stages, but more of a concrete solidarity of agreement and provide the fundamental equation (Einstein) and the profound theory (Newton) of the existence of the three cycles as the fundamental basis of where your derivatives came from.

    1.) Children: (Pro) – Do not have imminent stresses, concerns, obligations for themselves or anyone else and their true reality is made up of weaveable fairytales. (Con) – They own nothing, not even their own decisions, nor their ultimate choices and they have to dance to the tune of Adults or Grown Folks….????

    2.) Adults: (Pro) – Make their own decisions, choices, and have many of the rights and “freedoms” that Grown Folks have. (Con) – They are legally responsible for their actions, especially outside of the domain in which they reside in and of course their most intolerable Con is, they still have to dance to the tune of Grown Folks…..????

    3.) Grown Folks: (Pro) – “Have their Own MAILBOX.” (Con) – Have their Own MAILBOX….????



    Grown Folk_05-29-1995 (ID# 11211976)

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