Is today’s 20-something yesterday’s teenager?
“There’s some truth to the fact that today’s ‘emerging adult’ is the teen of yesterday, but only in the sense that when we were growing up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s we grew up a lot faster,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of the recently published “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult.”
Arnett, a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., began picking up on this trend of delayed adulthood in the early 1990s.
He began interviewing parents and what he would come to identify as “emerging adults” — roughly ages 18 to the mid-20s.
“Adulthood came earlier in every sense,” says Arnett of even just a generation ago. “We got out of high school and got a job or went to college. We got married earlier – the typical age for marriage in the 1960s was 21; today it’s 27.5 – we had kids.” By our mid-20s, our adult lives were set.
In the late ’80s, though, that began to change. Jobs were becoming more complex, requiring more education. They were also becoming more scarce, which meant it wasn’t as easy to move into that first apartment.
Both trends contributed to delaying marriage and starting a family.
The impact of technology
“One thing that really stands out is how technology is so much more a part of our lives,” says Arnett. First email and cell phones and later texting, Skype and other social media opened a world beyond what previous generations had known. No longer was your pool of friends – and potential mates – limited to where you lived; there was a now a world of people out there within reach.
Minus the once-pressing demands of entering adulthood, adulthood became delayed – and your 25-year-old showed up on your doorstep, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “boomeranging.”
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and half of 18- to 24-year-olds live with one or both parents. Arnett says parents can best deal with the issue by both “stepping back and staying connected.”
“Kids very likely still need you in their 20s, especially in their early 20s,” says Arnett. “There are times when they need a shoulder to cry on, times when they may need money and times when they may need to move home for a while.”
Parents, he says, have trouble giving up the control they once exerted. “Emerging adults,” meanwhile, are going through a metamorphosis – which Arnett calls their “launching, exploring, landing” phase – during which they’re trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be. It’s a time of exploring and experiencing new freedoms: they want to be treated like adults – yet they’re living with their parents.
Sylvia Roan, a licensed mental health practitioner with the Charlotte Family Counseling Center, sees this dynamic frequently.
“What I tell my clients is, you need to set limits, to set boundaries before the adult child moves back in. You need to establish household responsibilities that the grown-up child will share. Determining those types of things ahead of time will save a lot of grief.”
Open communication is key as well.
Roan tells of a 20-something client living with his parents who was miffed because he wanted to go back to school but his parents weren’t offering to pay for it. “It’s my dad’s responsibility,” the client told her.
“ ‘Did you check with your parents on that?’ ” Roan asked.
“ ‘Well, no,’ he replied surprised. ‘Doesn’t everyone think that?’ ”
The biggest stressor Roan sees in this dynamic: a son or daughter who stays up half the night, either online or out with friends, then sleeps until midafternoon. “ ‘Why aren’t they out looking for a job?’ the parents want to know.”
The good news, says Arnett, is that this phase will pass. Probably.
“By age 30,” Arnett says, “almost everyone has a job that they will have for at least five years and has a partner. That, I think, is the reassuring message of our book: They will grow up.
Joe Miller writes about health and fitness in North Carolina. Read his blog at GetGoingNC.com.
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