I am 23-years-old.
I have lived in ten, yeah ten, different dorms and apartments in the last five years. After graduating college in May 2009, I started working for a company I love, although I’m positive that it will not be my final employer. I crave opportunities to explore my passions, travel the world, and find new experiences. According to sociologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, I am smack dab in the middle of a newly discovered developmental stage: Emerging Adulthood.
Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties, explains that this stage is characterized by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and “a sense of possibilities.” He believes that this stage, in combination with the current American economic and societal climate, is the reason we see so many young people delaying their entry into true adulthood.
I cannot deny that Arnett’s theory is true, at least in part. However, I have several major concerns about the theory itself and the conclusions that so-called “grown-ups” are starting to draw from it.
THE DEFINITION OF ADULTHOOD
First of all, I’m deeply insulted that I’m not considered a true adult.
Okay, so I’ve barely completed three of the five milestones that sociologists typically attribute to the transition to adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. What the heck does that even mean?
Does this really mean that I’m any less of an adult than my high school friends who skipped college in favor of marriage and babies? Does it mean that I’m any more of an adult than my 26-year-old friends in law school who have only managed to achieve one of these goals? Hell no! In fact, a college education is one of the main reasons women are delaying marriage and kids. We can find financial security ourselves, thank-you-very-much.
If we ignore that definition and instead focus on the psychological attributes associated with adulthood, it doesn’t make me feel any better. Young people are constantly accused of avoiding responsibility and commitment, of feeling overly optimistic and flighty. But is it really wrong for me to desire a backpacking trip through Europe, learning about world cultures and expanding my perspectives beyond the American ego? To test my love for someone, before I become yet another divorce statistic? To yearn for a job where I’m doing something I love every day – a job that adults always told me was within my reach?
It’s constantly implied that once I reach adulthood, the realism of the world will weigh down upon me – forcing me to settle down into a life of compromise. The triumph of logic over my petty, post-adolescent optimism. Well that sounds like a boatload of giggles, but no thank you. This Peter Pan would rather never grow up.
To me, adulthood should be defined as the ability to knowingly make decisions that will impact the rest of a person’s life, and to independently deal with the consequences of those decisions. Whether she chooses to take on a full-time job or to meander for a while with the generous help of Mom and Dad, an adult is able to see the positives and negatives of each choice. An adult can weigh the advantage of making the investment in advanced education, versus the disadvantage of putting parents into severe debt.
It may come off as irresponsible, but we often know what we’re doing – believe it or not. We just have different opportunities and choices than previous generations. We’d be idiots if we didn’t try to take advantage of the good ones while we can.
A most alarming notion, presented by The New York Times, is that the government needs to create new programs and legislation that take the naivety of under-developed 20-somethings into account. A scientist from the National Institute of Mental Health who conducted a study on the development of the young adult brain was even quoted as saying, “The only people who got this right were the car rental companies,” in reference to the fact that you must be over 25 to rent a car without surcharges.
Regardless of whether or not my brain is fully finished developing until age 25, it is terrifying that the government would even consider taking away some of my rights because of it. The discrepancies in the rights of young people are already troubling – we can go to war before we can drink, we can vote before we can rent a car… If these laws are brought into question with this new developmental stage in mind, how old will be have to be before we can do anything of consequence??
The NY Times concludes that article with the question, what do we do about these wayward grown children? Let them use and abuse society, or enforce some greater control over their choices? Should parents coddle their children, or is it better to force them out into the “real world,” whether or not they’re truly ready?
My answer to them would be: Stop worrying so much and let us be. Isn’t helicopter parenting often criticized as one of the main reasons we seem so incapable of being independent? Isn’t government legislation a bit like helicopter parenting times a billion? The fact that young people are campaigning for more freedom (gay rights, pot legalization, etc.) should be a pretty clear indicator that not only do we not want more restrictions, but we’d be willing to fight you for it. I’ll bust a cap.
The bottom line is: we’ll find our own way. That’s the whole point of young adulthood. Get over it.