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These improvements in life expectancy reflect advances in medicine and public health, as well as rising standards of living, better education, improved nutrition and changes in lifestyles. They also naturally lead to discussions around the meaning of age itself. There is no commonly accepted definition of when old age begins. For some, the cut-off for when old age starts is 65 years, but this is somewhat arbitrary and is often simply associated with the age one can begin to receive a pension and other benefits. One alternative approach is to look at the levels of mortality associated with different ages.

For women, it has shifted from 58 to So the good news is that 60 really is the new The mortality assumptions included in the population projections of the Office for National Statistics suggest that the onset of old age for men born in will be around age 65 and for women this will be at age Given that some of those born in are now starting to retire, this suggests that they will be able to look forward to an active and healthy retirement.


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What do these increases in survival mean? People currently in mid-life commonly underestimate their likely life expectancy and thus the time period over which they will need to stretch their pension saving. However, for those young women and men entering their 20s, if they knew with a high degree of certainty that they were likely to survive well into their 90s in good health and might even survive into their s, how many might choose to re-prioritise their life course.

Perhaps it is time to rethink and to slow down. Failing one way in this task, the child becomes isolated, demanding, ever at odds with the world. Failing the other, and it becomes passive, submissive and over-compliant. But it cannot be hoped to be completely accomplished at this point, if ever. This most fundamental of all the skills of living is something that requires constant practice and improvement as long as life itself goes on.

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A reasonable relationship of give-and-take established with its mother, and the one-year-old is ready to make its first independent moves away from the lap or the cot, first on all fours, then on two legs. Now — heady adventure — it is time to leave mother entirely, to travel right to the other side of the room, or even under the dark table! Until that is, it all becomes a bit too frightening. The child is starting to show how it can become a separate being, but not too separate, and not for too long.


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  • Bit by bit of course, the separation does increase, the ventures-out go further and last longer. Wanting to go here or there, to lift this or remove that , can gradually be translated into achieving, as muscular skills are developed. For now, it is not just will but a clash of wills. Conflicts become a daily happening, and where they do not get readily resolved, the child resorts to whining or tantrums.

    The Stages of Life – A New Look

    So here is a new dilemma. This is the stage when the child must learn not just to seek appropriate satisfaction of its needs, but in simple ways at first to express its own will in the world. However, it must also learn to respond to given demands and prohibitions, both for its own safety and for the safety and comfort of others. Falling to the other, it fails to develop proper assertiveness, drive and assurance.

    Somehow a new synthesis must gradually be found in what might be called controlled autonomy ; that is, the ready expression of impulse in a way that at the same time embodies appropriate control and constraint. The first goals in these early years are such basic things as the control at will of bodily excretion, feeding, dressing and general comportment. More broadly, the ever-better melding of impulse and constraint is again, something that demands attention through the whole of early life and beyond.

    Even when little children do start to approach proper relationships, they do little more at first than simply ape acceptable behaviour. Though they may start to give kisses, for example, there is as yet no real depth of love behind them. Though they may practise saying sorry, there is as yet no developed sense of transgression. Their sense of their own selves being as yet so little developed, they have no real sense of the other.

    Thus, from about the third year onwards a new task starts to assume prime importance, that of developing genuine personal interplay : of learning, that is, to become a proper human person who interacts with other human persons. It is a task which is of course, broadly contemporary with the development of speech.

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    And this is not surprising, given that words are the most important means by which humans communicate back and forth to each other their diverse, subtle, and complex feelings, views and wishes. As always in the early years, interacting with mother or any other principal carer is the chief means by which the process of development is forwarded.

    It is largely through constant interaction with mother that the child gradually learns who she is, and how to express herself to another, exactly at the same time that she is learning more about who this being is that faces her, and how she too expresses herself. The child learns that she has a name of her own as do other people. She learns that she is in this case a girl, though still a little one. As she is helped to remember what happened today, then yesterday, then earlier, so she gains a sense of her own continuing identity through time and the continuing identity of others.

    She learns that when she hits people they experience pain as she does when hit ; that if she says unpleasant things to them that they are likely to get upset as she does ; that when she is open and friendly they are likely to respond in kind. Toys or household articles are used to practise upon in imaginary interactions in which they are loved, scolded, put to bed, and so on for at this age the divisions between inanimate things, animals, and people, are not all that strongly registered.

    Aging - The Autumn Phase of Life

    This is the time of first proper play, of first friends, of first games. Around the fourth or fifth year a new depth is achieved with the realisation that others have their own independent relationships, one to another — most notably, and disturbingly of course, mother and father. We have to thank Freud for bringing into general recognition the new and explosive feelings that this last realisation can provoke. Somehow, a synthesis has to be found. Failure on one side leads to crude egoism; failure on the other leads to habitually putting others first and the lack of a good self-image.

    Starting to create personal interplay of a truly mutual kind is the prime task of the years three to five. But once again, the continual improvement of this central aspect of human existence provides continuing work for a lifetime. There may still be plenty of play going on, but the child is now expected to start engaging in serious learning, real work; where given end-results have to be achieved by sustained effort and with the suspension of immediate gratification.

    In the next few years the child has to acquire all the basic skills and customary beliefs and practices that are necessary to perform as a normal-functioning member of society. It has to learn the elementary facts, as currently taken, of the natural and geographical characteristics of the world in which it lives; the basic accepted histories of its own and other peoples; the basic mores and religious beliefs of the society in which it is growing up.

    In modern societies, it must learn to read, write, do basic calculations, and compose simple messages, narratives, applications, and the like.

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    All this is the main content of the five of six years of primary education. During this same period, in school or outside, the child must also get practice in playing social roles of various kinds; caring, receiving, leading, following, and so on. It must discover how to be an accepted member of a team or gang, and how to play more complex parts in organised theatricals or impromptu make-believe.

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    It must learn how to follow rules, when to bend them, and when in special circumstances to override them. It must learn to be fair, to be courteous, to respect confidences, to act reasonably. As we say, this is the main task of the years from about five to about eleven. But of course, in modem societies it does not come to an end at this last age. Throughout the teens and into the early twenties there are ever more facts and skills to acquire, and ever more complex roles to master, increasingly specific and professionally oriented, as time goes on.

    In all this activity, starting in primary school years but extending well beyond, there is again a deep dilemma. On the one hand the child or young person must acquire the approaches and methods which are tried, tested and approved in society, just as they are laid down. On the other, it must be encouraged to discover its own individual ways of tackling things; to use its own initiative, to foster its idiosyncratic creativity.

    Somehow each child must find a synthesis in which it develops what may be called individualised competence ; that is, knowledge, attitudes and skills which show sensible conformity to established practice, whilst leaving necessary scope for individual insight and ability. But if this is too prolonged, the child or young person becomes able only to produce copybook performances which stifle its own development and creativity as well as failing to match-up to the ever-changing needs of life and circumstance. On the other hand lies the danger of the emergence of an untutored, if original, oddity; one who is unable to draw or draw coherently upon the vast existing treasure-house of developed ideas and knowledge, and is therefore able to achieve little or nothing of lasting value.

    The bursting forth of puberty around age eleven or twelve marks what is perhaps the most obvious of all starts to a new stage of life. Not only is the physical appearance transformed, but the whole mental and emotional outlook as well. Many pre-pubescent children of say, nine or ten, may appear quite sophisticated, surprisingly knowledgeable about how the world works, and reasonably able to negotiate a range of different social situations.

    But something crucial is still needed: passion. Adolescence may be thought of as a time of to coin a word impassionment. Passionate friendships, memberships and sexual partnerships are embarked upon, and passionate stands assumed on various social, political, or religious causes. Fired with rising passion, the adolescent finds energy for a necessary and major shift, that of breaking away from the family and forming new links in the broader world. At first any breaking away usually excludes the economic level: the family still largely provides housing and money. But there is certainly a shift in emotional linkage.

    The Conversation

    Members of the family are, for example, much less likely to be used as confidants with whom to share private distresses and fantasies. Increasingly, such are likely to be found among best friends, or outside mentors. In course of time, key figures met in the broader world become the most important in life, rather than mother or father, brother or sister.

    The central dilemma at this stage is obvious and sharp. On the one hand, adolescents must leave behind the family in order to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the exploration of new experiences, ideas, and relationships. On the other, they must continue to keep in effective contact with their origins.

    If they do not, they may find themselves deeply involved in unorthodox experiments and life styles with no firm ground to fall back on, and no established guidelines to hang onto when the going gets rough. In extreme cases, their very sanity or life may be at risk. The challenge is to develop what may be called rooted independence , that is, for each to develop his or her own individual life, loves, beliefs, and integrity, but to keep a continuing link to the support and nurture offered by the original family and culture.

    A failure one way, and the person concerned assuming they do indeed survive the more extreme dangers becomes fixed, sometimes for a lifetime, in an attitude of perpetual reaction and rebellion. Failure the other, and the individual stays bound in the safe cocoon of original family care and outlook, in some sense, a constant child. By the end of their teens young people in modem societies are, legally speaking, adults. Most will be sexually experienced, and have developed life styles and views of their own.

    Most will already have lived away from their homes for significant periods. Most will already have done paid work of some kind or other. But few will have settled into a life-long career. And few if any, will have assumed full adult responsibility; in particular, responsibility for the care, upbringing or activities of another human being: a dependant, partner, or employee, for example. The next stage is one that is largely unrecognised in current discussion. Its task is, in essence, to get suitably established : in living-place, in work, and in sexual or working partnerships.

    It is a necessary preliminary to sustained productivity or the rearing of families the next stage of life , and its course may take many years to work through. It may take professionals like doctors or lawyers, for example, until their early thirties before they become really established. Most current thinking tends to assume that the bulk of young people should by the end of their teens or thereabouts, be ready and well-prepared to step into the work they are to do for the rest of their lives just as it used to be assumed that young people of this age ought to be ready to select partners for life-long marriage.

    But it is clear that finding true vocations or life-long partners is not easily done. For most young people, a considerable period of experimentation is required in which, with due application and a helping of luck, the individual concerned eventually finds the locale, job, partner, to which they are really well-suited. Many wrong choices and blind alleys must be expected. The whole will take time, and forbearance as well as occasional help will be called for from more-mature adults looking on. As this particular stage the central conflict is as follows. On the one side there is society, pressing young adults to settle down as soon as possible, to commit themselves, to become useful and productive.

    On the other, there is the urge to keep exploring; to discover just what variety of possibilities do exist, here, there, and everywhere; to discover just which suit you, and which do not. The task is somehow to synthesise the social demand and the individual need; to get not just established, but as we say suitably established.

    That relaxed atmosphere made it more forgivable when Parsons admitted at one point that she had forgotten her next line. She cleverly worked it into the play, saying it aloud while staying in character. The audience simply laughed it off, casual and friendly, until Parsons remembered what to say a few moments later.

    It was a flawless mistake. Moving monologues from both characters at different moments in the play pull the audience from one side to the other, to sympathize with Chris, then Alexandra, then Chris again. In the quiet theater, each point of view seemed right. It was both rational and wrong for Alexandra to want to blow herself up and end the tragedy that old age has wrought. She is an old woman who just wants to be herself again, with control over her own life.

    Your world is ending and every hour taps your back.