Is ‘Emerging Adulthood’ An Emerging Problem?


emerging adult puts PhD diploma in childhood bedroom

“Do you think I should cut my hair?” I recently asked a friend. I was referring to this brunette mane I’ve been cultivating for two years which now falls to the middle of my back. This is the longest my hair has been since I was in fourth grade and had a perm.

“No, why?” He asked.

I sighed. “I think it would make me feel more like an adult.”

“Your hair is not what makes you an adult,” he said.

Of course, he’s right, and the question was silly. Yet, even several years out of college, I don’t always feel like I’m actually an adult. I’m single, with no kids, no house, no decent car, and college loans. That’s very different than my parents at this age. Apparently, I’m not alone. The rest of my generation of 20-somethings doesn’t actually feel like an adult either, according to a recent New York Times Magazine story.

Social and biological scientists are giving more attention to “emerging adulthood,” the stage after puberty but before actual adulthood. Unlike their counterparts from earlier decades, today’s young adults exchange commitments like marriage, family and work for dating, friends and travel. At best, they rake in a multitude of life experiences that make for intriguing dinner party conversation. At worst, they languish in a lackadaisical, undirected funk. Those who study the phenomenon, like psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett who coined “emerging adulthood,” attribute it to brain development, or changing social patterns, or altered cultural expectations between parents and children.

For me, there’s no question as to whether or not this exists; I see it in my friends, my cohorts, myself. There’s a tension between everything one should do to “get ahead,” and doing the things that I know I want to enjoy now. There’s the dissonance between the 20-something small business owner and the 20-something expat racking up credit card debt. As the New York Times Mag article points out, even the May 2010 New Yorker cover pokes fun at the phenomenon — a guy hanging his PhD diploma on his childhood bedroom wall.

As a Catholic who naturally questions the value of things, I’m forced to ask the question: Is this good?

No, argues Mark Driscoll, the pastor of the evangelical Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He takes his frustration with prolonged adolescence out on guys, calling them “boys who can shave.” “The problem with adolescence,” he writes in a Washington Post blog, “is guys don’t know when they’re ever going to grow up and be men, and no pressure is exerted on them to do so.”

He points to Scripture, like Gen. 2:24, which says that man will leave his parents and be united to his wife, and 1 Cor. 13:11, in which St. Paul writes, “When I was a boy, I talked like a boy, I thought like a boy, I reasoned like a boy. When I became a man, I put childish and boyish ways behind me.”

“Guys” — males roughly between 18 and 34 — don’t know how to be men, he said. Instead, they consume: gadgets or trucks, clothes or music. Driscoll is hard on the girls who “enable” these men, going as far as to call them (us?) “mannies” — “nannies for men.” Christianity doesn’t need guy babies, he continues; it needs actual, bona fide men — men who do “declare a major, church, theology, or fiancée.”

Although Driscoll takes this angst out on men, I think the same can be said of gals, who, in my observation, are only slightly less inclined to prolonged childhood than men, and who, if allowed, also indulge prolonged adolescence, just in different ways.

Driscoll lays down the hammer: “Men,” —  and I argue, women, too — “you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and cultivator and you are to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife [or husband] and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer.”

And Maria, stop worrying about your inconsequential hair, he’d likely add.

So what do you think — why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? And is it a bad thing, or something society is just going to have to get used to?






11 Comments

  1. Tahlia-221015 September 3, 2010

    Wow. This is great. Makes sense to me; definitely have seen it too.

  2. Monica-18168 September 3, 2010

    Yes, peter pan syndrome! I’ve heard of this and have witnessed it time and time again within the Catholic Men in the dating circles. Not many have cause or wanting to leave their nests when no woman is holding them to a commitment for the “goodies” they can get (getting the milk for free among other things), and why should they? They’re having their cake and eating it too!
    If only women would ban together and say NO to this sort of behavior and not let the Men get away with any “freebies”, then only then, would they be forced to grow up.

    • Nicholas-124272 September 4, 2010

      I agree that men will behave as well as women expect them to . . . but could there be other factors:

      (1) My parents’ generation was frequently the first college-attending of their families; this leaves greater family wealth for my generation’s decision-making than their parents had. Decisions slow a person down…

      (2) My parents’ generation was not staring a 50% national divorce rate in the eye as they discerned marriage. Some of my generation are experiencing the fallout of contraception’s poisonous effect on their parent’s families, and are perhaps gun-shy, feeling under-equipped and ignorant of good examples.

      (3) Finally, the service-industry trend of our nation’s economy has left little incentive for workers to become “creators” as the article cited. There was a time when the radio shop clerk could tell you how a transistor worked. Todays Best Buy and Radio Shack clerks cannot. Even in the engineering field, where I work, much of the “creative” brain-work is shipped off-shore, and Americans are just business-planners. I think some of us are rotting in boredom, and this carries into relationships.

  3. Gustave-484705 September 3, 2010

    All self-deceptions are traceable to what you have been taught, realize the fact that you will die and you will rot in the ground, and focus of the needed food for your eternal soul by living and following Christ instead of what the world reaches.

  4. Kathy-421750 September 3, 2010

    For the men out there….. There’s what sounds like a good book written by Fr. Larry Richards called “Be A Man” if you’re not already aware of it. I just saw him interviewed last night on EWTN. I’m thinking of getting the book for my sons. He has a website at http://www.beamanbook.com

  5. John-433457 September 3, 2010

    Interesting. Odd to think that I moved out of my Mom’s house one month after I turned 18, and haven’t lived with her since except for a period of three months a year later. I helped buy a house last summer and live there with my best and his wife, does that count? Personally I like to think that I grew up a long time ago.

  6. Drusilla-576236 September 4, 2010

    A huge part of the problem is what we have been taught in school and by society. I was taught not to be dependent on a man, not to need a man, to be self sufficient, to be alone. Men were taught the same. And then there’s the message that is broadcast to so many faithful Christians that we must have reached a certain level of maturity and perfection before we marry except, in reality, it is marriage that causes us to become adults and to love God better by loving our husbands and wives. Little of the teaching was (and is) overt but, rather, subtle and insidious which makes it all that much more difficult to resist and unlearn.

    For most of us, the only way to transcend what we’ve learned is to simply jump in with our eyes open and risk being what God calls us to be rather than what we were taught. We must risk marriage no matter how uncomfortable. But first seeing that we are what we that we learned our lessons well will help open our eyes to the need for change.

    • Drusilla-576236 September 4, 2010

      should have been:
      But first seeing that we learned our lessons well will help open our eyes to the need for change.

  7. Sandra-202758 September 4, 2010

    I don’t think this is particular to this day and age…It seemed the same 25 years ago. I think the divorce culture is indicative of it. How many people cop the excuse, “I was too young to know?”

  8. Grace-39317 September 4, 2010

    may i repost? i love it!

  9. Anyone who would tell a woman not to worry about her hair after one small, un-nagging comment seems self-centered, cold and unreasonable. Not a choice of husband. Some men make a fortune owning hair product companies. And could support cute teenage daughters with wonderful hair. It’s such a small thing to feel upbeat about. Charity, please.

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