Aug 22, 2010

20-Something: The New Adolescence

I stumbled upon a very interesting article today from the New York Times Magazine called "What Is It About 20-Somethings?".

I'm certainly not a psychologist so I won't try to give you all the nitty gritty but in short, the article discusses the trend of so many 20-somethings to not grow up at a "normal pace" and the probability (or not) that the slowness is caused by a new developmental stage.

Super interesting. On the one hand, I don't think you are "grown up" at 18 just because your legal status has changed. I certainly wasn't a grown up until I finished college. That said, I can see the argument for a few years of something not quite adolescence but not quite adulthood. And sure, for everyone its a little different, a little more or a little less time to grow up.

But (you knew there was a but) is it a good idea to say "Well it isn't Johnny's fault that he doesn't have a job/house/girlfriend/etc. I mean goodness; he's 28, that's still an emerging adult"? The article, which introduced me to the term emerging adult, points out some of the practical issues of not expecting 20-somethings to take full adult responsibilities. Do they need to be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until they are 30? Who is going to pay into social security to support grandma or great-grandma? We'd only be making the "sandwich generation" be in the sandwich that much longer.

I think there is also an element of self-fulfilling prophecy. Right now, there's a general expectation that after school, be it high school or college depending on your family, you will start to take care of yourself fairly independently. Let's average that out to being around the age of 22 but as we know from our own experiences and the article, plenty of people push that to 23, 24, 25, heck, 30. Now what if the general expectation becomes that you don't care for yourself until after school and 3 years of meandering? Do people start pushing the boundary even further? Do we strain the 50-somethings finances that much more? At what point do you really HAVE TO take care of yourself?

And another practical though not monetary issue: babies. Sociologists say actually becoming an adult is based on five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. Assuming those milestones are roughly followed, what happens to the gal who doesn't complete school til later, spends years meandering before becoming financially independent, then finds a hubby and holy hell, needs to have that baby FAST. Can anyone else hear her clock ticking or is it just me? Biologically Susie 20-Something cannot wait forever to find her mate and make a baby. Aren't we setting ourselves up for more high-risk pregnancies, invitro demands and the like? And come on, I'm not even one to say women are purely baby making machines; I like careers and years of traveling with the hubs.

After reading the article, thinking of all these things, I think I'm still at what my initial reaction was: there's some laziness, indulgence and enabling happening. While I'm not opposing some job-jumping or later marriages or living with a significant other, I will say, I'm opposing mooching. Can't we be emerging adults while being financially stable? Can't the two co-exist?

Some time, maybe lots of time, in your 20s is figuring yourself and your future out, but lets encourage each other to do so on our own dime, if for no reason other than karma.

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