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Emerging Adults?????

Back to Blogging! We’ve returned from our August hiatus.   Okay, it extended a little longer than planned. Blame it on back to school for me (the prof) and on moving my daughter to an off-campus house. (Hello Bed, Bath and Beyond, again. So much more space to decorate now than just a dorm room!)

We caught up with news on the mothering21 front and one article in particular echoed a lot of the discussion on mothering 21.com.  In mid-August the New York Times Magazine put its imprimatur on an idea that many of us have first-hand experience with: Our children are taking their time to embrace full-fledged adulthood.   

In a cover story “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”  author Robin Marantz Henig cites all the stats and evidence that we have covered at mothering 21.com several times over the last year.  We all know adult children (if not our own)  who are moving home after college, asking for money, under or unemployed, and delaying (or forgoing) marriage and children.  We blame the economy and our own helicopter parenting. Ms. Henig interviewed scientists, psychologists, sociologists and other experts to probe whether this longer road to adulthood was caused by something more than indulgent parents and the recession.

To some, what we’re seeing is a transient epiphenomenon, the byproduct of cultural and economic forces. To others, the longer road to adulthood signifies something deep, durable and maybe better-suited to our neurological hard-wiring. What we’re seeing, they insist, is the dawning of a new life stage — a stage that all of us need to adjust to.

 The article spends several thousand of words exploring the various theories of this long and winding road to adulthood, tallying the pros and cons of letting adult children linger, and debating whether this is really a new stage of life development or simply a generational shift.  At the end of the piece, Ms. Henig wonders,

So we’re caught in a weird moment, unsure whether to allow young people to keep exploring and questioning or to cut them off and tell them just to find something, anything, to put food on the table and get on with their lives.

 Good question and,  as we know,  there’s no easy answers.  Just Sunday afternoon, I met a neighbor whose daughter graduated from a top private college last May with a degree in advertising. The young woman is living at home, working at an ad agency in a paid (barely) internship three days a week  and looking for work the other two days.  A month earlier I met an intelligent young man, also a new college graduate, about to go off on a three-month hiking trip with friends.  With no job is sight should he be asking “Do you want fries with that?” instead of taking the time to follow a dream?

 The Times article generated almost 800 comments and a buzz on the web.  Two comments, from different perspectives,  provide thought-provoking answers.  Author Barbara Ray has written  a forthcoming book on the topic,  “Not Quite Adults.” Her take on the article in her blog,

I would propose that this so-called stage of development has always been the case, and always been with us. Even my father, who came of age in the 1930s, probably wondered what he was going to do with his life. But WWII came along and decided for him, followed by a huge economic boon that offered him a clear path to adulthood. Expectations were clear, for men and women. Roles were well-defined. Jobs were plentiful, and you didn’t need a graduate degree to make it to the middle class. Today the expectations have changed. Roles have become blurry. Jobs are scarce, insecure, and pay abysmally. It’s not a case of self-indulgence to take a slower path to adulthood. It’s a case of the times.

A different reason was suggested in a piece on Salon,  “I became an adult at 22: Why can’t you?” Author Nellie Engoron tells how she and her siblings were expected to go to college, find a job and become financially independent, no decade-long odyssey finding themselves.  Her reaction to the Times piece:

 So what is it about 20-somethings? My own answer is simple. They have what previous generations did not: a choice about when to become adults.

 What do you think?  Are the slow-to-emerge adults self indulgent or are they  caught in an era of change and fewer options?

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