Response to the August 18, 2010 NY Times Magazine article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” by Robin Marantz Henig (link below).
Boomerang kids and failure to launch are trends that have been around long before we were “graced” by The Great Recession. Emerging adult is not a stage, but a trend resulting from a different parenting style than that used in the past. As an educator, I’ve seen the "failure to launch" roots sprouting even in grades 1, 2, 3 and 4. Little Jane and Johnny are allowed to blame others for situations of their own creation. Some parents excuse their own and their child's responsibility in many things, and would rather place it anywhere but themselves.
Teach and develop focus, leadership and responsibility, or get aimless wandering and dependence. There are some children and adults who may truly need extra nurturing, and their parents should provide for those needs. If society needs to change to accommodate improved parenting, then let’s advocate for that, rather than play the blame game.
I truly don’t believe that emerging adult is a viable stage. The structure of our brains hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years, yet society has changed tremendously. Although we’re rapidly learning more information about our brains and metacognition, these new findings may not necessarily mean anything is really new in how we’ve been thinking and developing physiologically.
Perhaps the emerging adult trend is a “Western” phenomenon because it’s partly driven by the luxury of a higher than average life expectancy (approximately 75-81 years, compared to 35-50 in other countries). You have more time, therefore you feel you have the luxury of more time to waste. This trend is also impacted by a larger percentage of people achieving higher levels of educational attainment than their parents and grandparents. While in the global village of 100 people, only 1 has a college education. Perhaps when higher life expectancy, education, increased access to quality health care, and attainment of adequate economic power become a part of the lives of all humans, this will truly be considered a stage in the life process of a human.
Then, there’s the question of nurturing, also known as (hopefully) parenting. Years ago, only winners received trophies. Children learned that you had to work hard, and even then, you don't always "win." Both luck and opportunities have been a part of the winning mix as well. Now, everybody gets a trophy to increase their self-esteem. What children really learn is that they are entitled to get things they haven’t earned. Then, they grow up to be the adults who run our corporations, governments and society.
Children learn what they live, and childhood is the best time in which to practice living and making mistakes that won’t always negatively impact their adult life with a high, long-term cost (arrest records, D’s and F’s on report cards, losing a game, rebelling against authority, etc.). Make similar mistakes as an adult, however…
There comes a time when enabling a now young adult Jane or Johnny to cool their heels, rather than encouraging and empowering them to take up the reigns, responsibility and leadership of their own life and ride out on their own, is counterproductive and, actually, hurtful both to them and to society. Maybe we simply need to exhibit more tough love and do more real parenting, rather than walking around on the eggshells of our child’s life trying to be his or her friend. It’s all in the balance of things, and the pendulum is late in its return swing back towards the center. That is when we will see less of the sociological trend of emerging adults and an improvement in education, because a child’s first, and most important teachers, are his or her parents.
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