The New Age of Adulthood

When does one become an adult? Is it 18? 21? How about 26? A Wall Street Journal article by Jeff Zaslow highlights the tendency of many young Americans to put off adulthood:

Ages 18 and 21 are no longer the true entry points into American adult hood, as more young people today take soul-searching breaks after college or put off starting their “grown-up” lives. A 2003 poll by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that most Americans think adulthood begins at about age 26. Understandably then, many parents don’t know when and how to disengage, which can leave their kids overly dependent into their thirties and forties.

Zaslow notes that the parents of such prepetual adolescents often have difficulty deciding what to do with their children—a quandry that I think makes perfect sense given that a parent’s role of provider should rightly be finished by that time in their childrens’ lives. The children, however, have their own set of problems with the idea:

Young adults also feel torn. Courtney Reilly, 28, moved back into her parents’ Manhattan home in 2001 while in graduate school, and has remained there ever since. “There’s a stunted independence of 20-somethings today,” she admits. “I finally have my career settled. I really have to move on.” Still, she calls living at home “a great deal” that’s hard to walk away from.”

A “great deal” indeed. In a culture that glamorizes youth and derides maturity, it’s not difficult to see that such a result. One of the problems with my own generation (I’m 30 years old) is that too many of us have the mentality of Ms. Reilly—we think we must have certain areas of our lives “settled” before we can move on to the next stage—be it career, independence, children, etc. The problem we keep encountering is that one thing settled causes another thing to be unsettled. We don’t realize that true adulthood is knowing that not everything is under our control.

I don’t fault those who by extreme necessity have to move back home for a time—tragedy can befall us all—but those who do it because it’s a good deal need to, as the saying goes, grow up.

1 thought on “The New Age of Adulthood”

  1. Maria Montessori believe childhood lasted through age 25, and based her educational theory around that.

    It was her fundemental premise that it was not until 26 that a person was fully ready to be an adult

Comments are closed.