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Jennifer L. Tanner

Jennifer L. Tanner Ph.D.

Was Casey Anthony an "Adult?" I Wish Someone Would Have Asked

At age 22, Casey Anthony was legally an adult. But did she act like one?

But the public is confused by the behavior of the mother who, at age 22, watched videos, had sex, and partied while she knew her daughter was dead. She told no one.

As a developmentalist, I have been interested in the Casey Anthony case because it raises questions about the way we define and understand the behaviors of a 20something in an era during which we're not exactly sure how to understand the behaviors of 20somethings.

I wonder whether some of the confusion and outrage has something to do with her age and stage in life. What expectations do we have of a 20-year-old mother who never completed high school (but said that she did), who neither went to college nor got a job (although she said that she did both), lived off of her parents' resources (and stole money and gas from them), and had a baby at age 20?

At age 22, Casey Anthony was legally an adult. But did she act like one?


What does it mean to be an adult?

It used to be clearer. Not too long ago, 20somethings graduated from high school or college and got jobs. Soon after, they got married and had babies. After young people graduated and set up family, they were considered adults. But times have changed.

Social scientists, for the past decade, have been debating what it means to be an adult. Some contend that there is a new stage of life in between adolescence and adulthood-emerging adulthood. During emerging adulthood, individuals are self-focused. Emerging adults see the world as full of possibilities, they spend their time refining their identities, and their lives are relatively unstable as they make frequent changes in their living, work, and romantic relationship commitments. Emerging adulthood precedes full adulthood.

Sounds like Casey Anthony, right?

Someone who is an emerging adult, is not yet fully adult-they are "in between." The key marker of adult status is ‘taking responsibility for oneself.' Across cultures and among people of all ages there is relative consensus that someone who takes responsibility for him- or herself is an adult.

Anyone who has a child is expected to act like an adult, regardless of age.


Legally, Casey Anthony was an adult. Her case was tried in adult court; she was 22 when charged with murder. But, what we know about her behavior indicates that Casey Anthony did not take responsibility for herself. Unencumbered by responsibilities of a job, Casey did as she pleased. She dated and had sex with multiple partners. She considered getting married, but she didn't. She didn't have steady work and she didn't have a steady relationship. She lived at home with her parents. She made very little expected progress gaining independence from her parents. She was uncommitted to adulthood.


Casey's friends reported that Casey was a fun and loving mom. They reported that Casey was always "happy." But was she a responsible mom? No one asked that question. When spending time with her friends, did Casey ask her friends to be quiet while Caylee was napping? Did Casey's friends see Casey buying milk and diapers for the baby? I would have liked to have heard responses to questions such as: did you ever hear Casey talk about her visions for a future with Caylee, the things she wanted to give to Caylee, the type of home she wanted to provide for Caylee?

Remember the testimony of the grief counselor who interpreted the reaction of the fictional "Casey Anthony?" The grief counselor interpreted "Casey's" partying behavior as "normal" for a young person given that young people are often ‘reluctant grievers' when they lose a friend. She said that young people often experience survivor's guilt when a friend dies. Next, the grief counselor talked about grieving mothers. She noted the variation in "normal" reactions to the loss of a child-some cry in bed for weeks, some pack up their child's belongings right away. The expert, one could argue, talked about two different groups-young persons who lost friends and mothers who lost children. Interestingly, she didn't offer an analysis of how a young person who is also a mother might grieve.


Most relevant to post-trial analysis is whether the jury was confused about the type of expectations they should have of a 22-year-old who was also a mother.

It makes me wonder if the jury saw Casey Anthony as an adult, or did they see her as an emerging adult-someone who was not yet responsible for herself? The jury sat across from Casey during the trial. Did they see a "mother?" Did they see someone across from them who "looked like" a mother? We don't know. Did the jury expect Casey Anthony to be responsible for her daughter? It is possible that the jury saw Casey Anthony as a child herself, someone who was still dependent on Cindy and George? Is it possible that the jury understood Cindy and George to be responsible for Caylee? Not Casey?

Although Casey was on trial for murdering her daughter, it is arguable that Casey's age and early entry into parenthood complicated the perception of Casey as "mother." It's possible that Casey was not expected to be the one responsible for Caylee because the jury may have come to see Cindy and George Anthony as responsible not only for Caylee, but for both Caylee and Casey. I remember listening to Cindy Anthony describe, in detail, each article of clothing and the size of each piece of Caylee's clothing that she had washed. She told the jury that she went through Caylee's clothes two times a year, at Caylee's birthday and at Christmas to make room for the gifts Caylee received. George told the story of Caylee asking JoJo (George) for a spoonful of peanut butter in the morning. Cindy talked about the joy of seeing Caylee's little face up against hers on Sunday morning when she awoke. George landscaped Caylee's playhouse. Cindy worried about the pool ladder.

It was apparent that Cindy and George provided for Caylee.

But never during the trial did we hear anyone discuss a daily routine or a typical week at the Anthony household. We don't know how involved Casey was in parenting Caylee before Caylee went missing. What we didn't hear about in this case is what happened at night when Caylee was overtired. What happened when Caylee had a stuffy nose and couldn't sleep at night? When the day grew long and it was dinner-time and then bath-time and then bed-time, when that same routine was demanded for days and then weeks and then years, who was taking care of that routine every day and every night? What happened when it wasn't play-time?

What happened when it was responsibility time? In the end, when Caylee needed an "adult," who was there?


What do you think?

Do you think that Casey's age or life stage had anything to do with her behavior?

Do you think her age affected the way the jurors understood Casey Anthony and the evidence they heard about her?


Jennifer L. Tanner, PhD, CFLE