I am pretty intrigued by the NY Times piece on emerging adults, if only because I am one and so resonate with many of the struggles they face.
With that in mind, I thought I would excerpt a number of the responses I’ve seen. I hope to have more commentary later this week (but have to focus on the book, after all, so don’t be too disappointed if tattoos show up again).
Where I get confused around this plight-of-the-20-something issue is when it’s suggested by the generations above us that our crawling or churning is immature or foolish, that one day — sometime after we cross over the 3-0 threshold, apparently — we’re all going to wake up and realize we should have buckled down, gotten married and quit the charade because the real joy/purpose in life is to “be an adult.” That slow and steady actually loses the race.
So, my question as I literally spend my grown-up savings account to pursue my childhood dream is, What is so much better about becoming an adult faster?
Then there are obvious cultural factors like the sexual revolution and the affinity of values between Boomer parents and Gen Y kids. Living at home no longer seriously disrupts many young adults’ freedom to date or have a good time. Parents and their adult children have a lot in common and enjoy each others’ company. Twenty-somethings are more and more cautious about marriage and kids–and why shouldn’t we be? We lived through our parents’ and friends’ parents divorces. If possible, we’d like to avoid all that.
For a variety of reasons, I never lived at home after age 21, but I think we should be forgiving when we discuss why some people do. We shouldn’t be too quick to blame cell-phone wielding “helicopter” parents (for “hovering” and failing to teach their kids independence) or 20-somethings themselves (for not “growing-up” in the traditional way). Rather, families are reacting to–and are all too often victimized by–systemic forces far beyond their control.
That said, my main problem with the piece was simply the fact that there wasn’t much of an attempt at making class distinctions. It delves into the “extended adolescence” of relatively sheltered graduates from major universities, but what about the mass of 20-somethings who either didn’t go to college or pursued degrees at community colleges and local universities? I graduated from a high school of roughly 2,400 people in 2005, and judging from the Facebook profiles of those I graduated with, many of my former classmates have built fairly adult lives for themselves. Most have jobs and live independently of their parents. Some have spouses or long-term partners, a few have children. For those who do live with their parents, it has less to do with maturity and more to do with the terrible job market. Obviously, anecdotes can’t substitute for statistical data, but I’d wager that the above is true for many 20-somethings of modest means.
No one knows all the answers, but many of the answers are already out there. People have succeeded in many ways at many things and know what to do to live well. We are not entirely a stupid race; rather, we don’t give ourselves credit for the things we (collectively) already know. That’s saying it too nicely: what I mean is, in opinionated speech, that we tend to ignore the already-tested knowledge and experience of others for the sake of “exploration” or really, the sake of our own experience. If you don’t work hard, you won’t be able to support yourself or anyone else. If you do too many drugs, you will end up a mess. People have known these things for years. “Exploration” begins to seem inefficient — why would you let them spend ten more years making the same mistakes you only had to make for one or two years? Why do we have to provide support for people to practice and prepare for making right decisions, when we could just make better choices in the first place?