mercredi 25 août 2010

What Is It About 20-Somethings?

WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE IN THEIR 20S TAKING SO LONG TO GROW UP?
This question pops up everywhere, underlying concerns about “failure to launch” and “boomerang kids.” Two new sitcoms feature grown children moving back in with their parents — “$#*! My Dad Says,” starring William Shatner as a divorced curmudgeon whose 20-something son can’t make it on his own as a blogger, and “Big Lake,” in which a financial whiz kid loses his Wall Street job and moves back home to rural Pennsylvania. A cover of The New Yorker last spring picked up on the zeitgeist: a young man hangs up his new Ph.D. in his boyhood bedroom, the cardboard box at his feet signaling his plans to move back home now that he’s officially overqualified for a job. In the doorway stand his parents, their expressions a mix of resignation, worry, annoyance and perplexity: how exactly did this happen?

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

The 20s are a black. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

(…)Kids don’t shuffle along in unison on the road to maturity. They slouch toward adulthood at an uneven, highly individual pace. Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to because they’re gay. Others reach the milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure.

Even if some traditional milestones are never reached, one thing is clear: Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever. But why? That’s the subject of lively debate among policy makers and academics. To some, what we’re seeing is a transient epiphenomenon, the byproduct of cultural and economic forces. To others, the longer road to adulthood signifies something deep, durable and maybe better-suited to our neurological hard-wiring. What we’re seeing, they insist, is the dawning of a new life stage — a stage that all of us need to adjust to.

What is happening now is analogous to what happened a century ago, when social and economic changes helped create adolescence — a stage we take for granted but one that had to be recognized by psychologists, accepted by society and accommodated by institutions that served the young.

Similar changes at the turn of the 21st century have laid the groundwork for another new stage between the age of 18 and the late 20s. Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

Just as adolescence has its particular psychological profile, so does emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.

The stakes are higher when people are approaching the age when options tend to close off and lifelong commitments must be made. Arnett calls it “the age 30 deadline.”

(…)It took some effort, a century ago, for psychologists to make the case that adolescence was a new developmental stage. Once that happened, social institutions were forced to adapt: education, health care, social services and the law all changed to address the particular needs of 12- to 18-year-olds. An understanding of the developmental profile of adolescence led, for instance, to the creation of junior high schools in the early 1900s, separating seventh and eighth graders from the younger children in what used to be called primary school. And it led to the recognition that teenagers between 14 and 18, even though they were legally minors, were mature enough to make their own choice of legal guardian in the event of their parents’ deaths. If emerging adulthood is an analogous stage, analogous changes are in the wings.

But what would it look like to extend some of the special status of adolescents to young people in their 20s? People can vote at 18, but in some states they don’t age out of foster care until 21. They can join the military at 18, but they can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16, but they can’t rent a car until 25 without some hefty surcharges. If they are full-time students, the Internal Revenue Service considers them dependents until 24; those without health insurance will soon be able to stay on their parents’ plans even if they’re not in school until age 26, or up to 30 in some states.

(…)If society decides to protect these young people or treat them differently from fully grown adults, how can we do this without becoming all the things that grown children resist — controlling, moralizing, paternalistic?

(…)Overprotecting and oversupporting them can sometimes make matters worse, turning the “changing timetable of adulthood” into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With life spans stretching into the ninth decade, is it better for young people to experiment in their 20s before making choices they’ll have to live with for more than half a century?

(…)Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery, as Arnett says it is? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?

(…)young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in; they have not yet tempered their ideal istic visions of what awaits

(…)N.I.M.H. scientists also found a time lag between the growth of the limbic system, where emotions originate, and of the prefrontal cortex, which manages those emotions. The limbic system explodes during puberty, but the prefrontal cortex keeps maturing for another 10 years.

“The prefrontal part is the part that allows you to control your impulses, come up with a long-range strategy, answer the question ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ ” he told me. “That weighing of the future keeps changing into the 20s and 30s.”

(…)Maybe there’s an analogy to be found in the hierarchy of needs, a theory put forth in the 1940s by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. According to Maslow, people can pursue more elevated goals only after their basic needs of food, shelter and sex have been met. What if the brain has its own hierarchy of needs? When people are forced to adopt adult responsibilities early, maybe they just do what they have to do, whether or not their brains are ready. Maybe it’s only now, when young people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of public censure, that the rate of societal maturation can finally fall into better sync with the maturation of the brain.

Cultural expectations might also reinforce the delay. The “changing timetable for adulthood” has, in many ways, become internalized by 20-somethings and their parents alike. Today young people don’t expect to marry until their late 20s, don’t expect to start a family until their 30s, don’t expect to be on track for a rewarding career until much later than their parents were. So they make decisions about their futures that reflect this wider time horizon. Many of them would not be ready to take on the trappings of adulthood any earlier even if the opportunity arose; they haven’t braced themselves for it.

Nor do parents expect their children to grow up right away — and they might not even want them to. Parents might regret having themselves jumped into marriage or a career and hope for more considered choices for their children.

(…)In the late ’60s, Keniston wrote that there was “a growing minority of post-adolescents [who] have not settled the questions whose answers once defined adulthood: questions of relationship to the existing society, questions of vocation, questions of social role and lifestyle.” Whereas once, such aimlessness was seen only in the “unusually creative or unusually disturbed,” he wrote, it was becoming more common and more ordinary in the baby boomers of 1970. Among the salient characteristics of “youth,” Keniston wrote, were “pervasive ambivalence toward self and society,” “the feeling of absolute freedom, of living in a world of pure possibilities” and “the enormous value placed upon change, transformation and movement” — all characteristics that Arnett now ascribes to “emerging adults.”

(…)It’s reassuring, actually, to think of it as recursive, to imagine that there must always be a cohort of 20-somethings who take their time settling down, just as there must always be a cohort of 50-somethings who worry about it.

“It’s somewhat terrifying,” writes a 25-year-old named Jennifer, “to think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful: ‘Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to just be and enjoy?” Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia : “There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier.”

While the complaints of these young people are heartfelt, they are also the complaints of the privileged. Julie, a 23-year-old New Yorker and contributor to “20 Something Manifesto,” is apparently aware of this. She was coddled her whole life, treated to French horn lessons and summer camp, told she could do anything. “It is a double-edged sword,” she writes, “because on the one hand I am so blessed with my experiences and endless options, but on the other hand, I still feel like a child. I feel like my job isn’t real because I am not where my parents were at my age. Walking home, in the shoes my father bought me, I still feel I have yet to grow up.”

Despite these impressions, Arnett insists that emerging adulthood is not limited to young persons of privilege and that it is not simply a period of self-indulgence. He takes pains in “Emerging Adulthood” to describe some case histories of young men and women from hard-luck backgrounds who use the self-focus and identity exploration of their 20s to transform their lives.

One of these is the case history of Nicole, a 25-year-old African-American who grew up in a housing project in Oakland , Calif. At age 6, Nicole, the eldest, was forced to take control of the household after her mother’s mental collapse. By 8, she was sweeping stores and baby-sitting for money to help keep her three siblings fed and housed. “I made a couple bucks and helped my mother out, helped my family out,” she told Arnett. She managed to graduate from high school, but with low grades, and got a job as a receptionist at a dermatology clinic. She moved into her own apartment, took night classes at community college and started to excel. “I needed to experience living out of my mother’s home in order to study,” she said.

In his book, Arnett presents Nicole as a symbol of all the young people from impoverished backgrounds for whom “emerging adulthood represents an opportunity — maybe a last opportunity — to turn one’s life around.” This is the stage where someone like Nicole can escape an abusive or dysfunctional family and finally pursue her own dreams. Nicole’s dreams are powerful — one course away from an associate degree, she plans to go on for a bachelor’s and then a Ph.D. in psychology — but she has not really left her family behind; few people do. She is still supporting her mother and siblings, which is why she works full time even though her progress through school would be quicker if she found a part-time job. Is it only a grim pessimist like me who sees how many roadblocks there will be on the way to achieving those dreams and who wonders what kind of freewheeling emerging adulthood she is supposed to be having?

Of course, Nicole’s case is not representative of society as a whole. And many parents — including those who can’t really afford it — continue to help their kids financially long past the time they expected to.

(…)Fingerman’s studies suggests that parents’ sense of well-being depends largely on how close they are to their grown children and how their children are faring — objective support for the adage that you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child. But the expectation that young men and women won’t quite be able to make ends meet on their own, and that parents should be the ones to help bridge the gap, places a terrible burden on parents who might be worrying about their own job security, trying to care for their aging parents or grieving as their retirement plans become more and more of a pipe dream.

This dependence on Mom and Dad also means that during the 20s the rift between rich and poor becomes entrenched. According to data gathered by the Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a research consortium supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, American parents give an average of 10 percent of their income to their 18- to 21-year-old children. This percentage is basically the same no matter the family’s total income, meaning that upper-class kids tend to get more than working-class ones. And wealthier kids have other, less obvious, advantages.

EVEN ARNETT ADMITS that not every young person goes through a period of “emerging adulthood.” It’s rare in the developing world, he says, where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all. The fact that emerging adulthood is not universal is one of the strongest arguments against Arnett’s claim that it is a new developmental stage. If emerging adulthood is so important, why is it even possible to skip it?

When I asked Arnett what happens to people who don’t have an emerging adulthood, he said it wasn’t necessarily a big deal. They might face its developmental tasks — identity exploration, self-focus, experimentation in love, work and worldview — at a later time, maybe as a midlife crisis, or they might never face them at all, he said. It depends partly on why they missed emerging adulthood in the first place, whether it was by circumstance or by choice.

No, said Lerner, that’s not the way it works. To qualify as a developmental stage, emerging adulthood must be both universal and essential. “If you don’t develop a skill at the right stage, you’ll be working the rest of your life to develop it when you should be moving on,” he said. “The rest of your development will be unfavorably altered.” The fact that Arnett can be so casual about the heterogeneity of emerging adulthood and its existence in some cultures but not in others — indeed, even in some people but not in their neighbors or friends — is what undermines, for many scholars, his insistence that it’s a new life stage.

But if it’s a true life stage, we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and to create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.

The Network on Transitions to Adulthood has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? How about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award

(…) “Emerging adults really do have unique developmental tasks to focus on,” said Jesse Viner, Yellowbrick’s executive medical director. Viner started Yellowbrick in 2005, when he was working in a group psychiatric practice in Chicago and saw the need for a different way to treat this cohort.

Patients come to Yellowbrick with a variety of problems: substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety or one of the more severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, that tend to appear in the late teens or early 20s.

(…°Does that mean it’s a good thing to let 20-somethings meander — or even to encourage them to meander — before they settle down? That’s the question that plagues so many of their parents. It’s easy to see the advantages to the delay. There is time enough for adulthood and its attendant obligations; maybe if kids take longer to choose their mates and their careers, they’ll make fewer mistakes and live happier lives.

“To be a young American today is to experience both excitement and uncertainty, wide-open possibility and confusion, new freedoms and new fears,” he writes in “Emerging Adulthood.” During the timeout they are granted from nonstop, often tedious and dispiriting responsibilities, “emerging adults develop skills for daily living, gain a better understanding of who they are and what they want from life and begin to build a foundation for their adult lives.” If it really works that way, if this longer road to adulthood really leads to more insight and better choices, then Arnett’s vision of an insightful, sensitive, thoughtful, content, well-honed, self-actualizing crop of grown-ups would indeed be something worth waiting for. (N.Y.T.)

Robin Marantz Henig is a contributing writer. Her last article for the magazine was about anxiety.

COMMENTAIRE DE DIVERCITY
DIALOGUE INTEGENERATIONNEL : POURQUOI TANT DE JEUNES RESTENT VIVRE CHEZ PAPA ET MAMAN
Le syndrome de Tanguy désigne un phénomène social selon lequel les jeunes adultes tardent à se séparer du domicile familial ou/et y reviennent après l’avoir précédemment quitté. Cette dénomination provient du film « Tanguy », d'Étienne Chatiliez, dont le personnage central s'enferme dans ce type de « régression » ou de mutation, c’est comme on veut.
Le phénomène Tanguy, ou celui dit des « célibataires parasites », est apparu dans la société canadienne vers le début des années 1980, en pleine période de récession économique. Aujourd’hui, il est en plein essor, même en Europe et aux States où le moment du mariage est de plus en plus reporté.
Les enfants quittent la maison tard en rallongeant la durée de leurs études[]. Ces comportements apparemment régressifs reflètent un bouleversement structurel du rapport intergénérationnel : les jeunes adultes s’incrustent plus longtemps pour tirer avantage du confort et de la sécurité, autant physique et financière que le domaine familial leur procure.
Au Canada, 43,5 % d’un total de quatre millions de jeunes adultes canadiens âgés de 20 à 29 ans, vivent toujours chez leurs parents et ce phénomène touche plus de garçons que de filles.
Ce phénomène des “boomerang kids.” s’observe dans toutes classes sociales. Tout se passe comme si les jeunes d’aujourd’hui devenaient adultes plus tard, beaucoup plus tard.

Pourquoi? But why? Certains y voient un sous produit de notre culture et de notre société. Pour d’autres il s’agirait carrément d’une mutation, comme une deuxième puberté. Après tout, l’ »adolescence est, sinon une invention, à tout le moins une découverte du XXème siècle.

Un mot donc sur les causes :
“Young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

Just as adolescence has its particular psychological profile, so does emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.”

Cela atteint un paroxysme quand les jeunes, les filles surtout approchent la trentaine, “the age 30 deadline.”

“If society decides to protect these young people or treats them differently from fully grown adults, how can we do this without becoming all the things that grown children resist — controlling, moralizing, paternalistic? Overprotecting and oversupporting them can sometimes make matters worse, turning the “changing timetable of adulthood” into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Lorsque l’espérance de vie atteint neuf décennies, “it is it better for young people to experiment in their 20s before making choices they’ll have to live with for more than half a century?”

“Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?

But if it’s a true life stage, we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and to create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.

“To be a young American today is to experience both excitement and uncertainty, wide-open possibility and confusion, new freedoms and new fears? Those of“Emerging Adulthood.”

“Emerging adults develop skills for daily living, gain a better understanding of who they are and what they want from life and begin to build a foundation for their adult lives.”

A l’évidence, avec l’allongement de la vie et surtout l’allongement de la vie professionnelle bien au delà de 65 ans, tout est remis en question et peut-être de façon la plus dramatique, le début de l’âge adulte.

Goethe qui fit de sa vie son plus grand chef d’œuvre était persuadé qu’il avait vécu diverses pubertés. A l’issue de chacune il mua comme un serpent qui change de peau et abandonne son enveloppe charnelle à chaque fois, comme font les serpents. Nos « twenties » et nos trentenaires sont des mutants qui à l’instar du plus célèbre des poètes et littérateurs allemands traversent des mues successives.
MG

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