Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Do You Become An Adult?

If you regularly read my blog you know that I am an avid reader of Tim Elmore and his work on developing leadership in young people.  A while back I ran across an article of his that had some very interesting information about young people becoming adults that confirmed a number of thoughts and opinions that I have developed over the years.

In conversations I have had with a number of people I have stated my belief that young people today are significantly less mature than their peers of previous generations.  To put it another way, an 18-year old in 2016 is much less mature than an 18-year old in 1941, or an 18-year old in 1968, or even one in 1980.  This is not a unique view of the Millennial generation as a common belief is that they lack accountability and responsibility — among other things — because of the impact we baby-boomer and Gen X parents have had on them.  We have coddled and protected them so that they do not have to grow up!  So, let’s take a closer look at what is happening with our kids as they move into what we have considered adulthood for the past century.

In many respects we consider 18 to be the age that people become adults.  From a legal basis it is, but there is much more to becoming an adult than a date on the calendar.  Timemagazine reported that young people are overwhelmed with adulthood, seeing the next ten years or so as a time to experiment with different careers, trying things out until they find the one that is “just right.”  This isn’t necessarily bad because from their perspective there are many opportunities and options available to them, but there are also obstacles and opposition which many are not prepared to overcome.  Just think about how much more is out there for them.  However, this “more” isn’t there in all aspects of their life. has 800,000 jobs posted on their site and the U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 16 million college students are competing for those jobs.  Folks, that doesn’t line up!  Based on those numbers alone, there is no surprise that there is fear and legitimate concern for young people entering the work world.  So how are they reacting?

The quick answer is not too well.  Or at least not too well by traditional standards.  Rates of depression are very high for this generation of young people, and some are simply “paralyzed” by the uncertainty they face.  It is not uncommon at all for college graduates to move back home because they either do not have a job, or because they are simply not mentally or emotionally ready for life on their own.  On the subject of jobs, thousands of the recent college graduates are under-employed, at least based on the level of their degree.  Many of those who dreamed of salaried positions with benefits are punching a clock for an hourly wage.  That compounds the mental health for those who are already experiencing difficulties.  On the positive side, many of these young people are solid with who they are, and as referenced above, are comfortable moving from job to job looking for what’s right.  This is a lot different than my generation where once you graduated from college or trade school, you started with your career.  Careers for today’s young adults are down the road a ways.

So, the concept of becoming an adult starting when a person embarks on a career is not the same as it was for previous generations.  Whether it is because jobs are not available or the young person plans to “experiment” for a while, adulthood is being put off while they live at home or to not move forward into a career.

Another milepost that signifies become an adult — becoming a parent — has also changed.  Yes, teens are still having babies, some of them with the impression that all of a sudden they will be “grown up,” but not nearly at the rates they once did.  Most people are not having their first child until they are around 26 to 27 years of age.

It has become much more common for people in their twenties to still be living with, or move back into their parent’s home.  Some look at it as an opportunity to “test out” being an adult, but not being totally independent.  In fact, this new generation of young people (I still call them young adults!) defines adulthood based on monetary status.  Once they are financially independent then they consider themselves and adult.  When they can pay their own bills, cover their own rent, and stop hitting their parents up for financial assistance, they become an adult.  How times have changed!

From the perspective of a parent with a soon to be 23-year old and another about to turn twenty, I recognize the challenges that both of them face at this point in their lives.  Their mother and I have opted to take the same approach our parents did with us, with the initial approach of requiring the they leave the house and go off to college, with the invitation that they can spend summers here while they are attending school as long as they have full employment.  We do not expect they will spend more than a summer or two with us as they should be finding their own way and developing that ability to live on their own.  I believe my most important role as a parent is to prepare my kids to live their life without me or their mother.  That said, if something does not work out, we will provide support until they can make it on their own.  I believe the key is to get them out sooner rather than later, because it will only be harder the more they depend on us. 

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