USA Today: It's time to grow up later.
Reading this, what struck me is both how true a lot of this is, and also how easily the truth in this could be taken the wrong way and turned into arguments like the one I recently critiqued. I do feel a lot like one's 20s have sort of become a big unknown. Whereas 30 years ago, your 20s were a time to find a job, get married, have babies, buy a house and settle down, young people these days are more cautious about making those big life-changing decisions and more focused on figuring out what they want from life and how best to pursue those desires. Not surprisingly, a lot of these desires do not involve a cubicle job at 25 with a spouse and a couple of kids up the spout. I can see how in a lot of ways this is comparable to an extended adolescence, because it is a delaying of traditional responsibilities and because many more young people are financially reliant on their parents at this point than they were a few decades back.
However, I think this sense of "extended adolescence" plagues even those of us who do have stable jobs, who do support ourselves...even those of us who choose to start families at a younger age—perhaps even moreso because we often feel like we are wasting our potential by doing what people have always done. I think that this extended adolescence is less about what responsibilities we have, and more about a lack of definite direction in our lives, a definite idea of what it is we're supposed to be doing. Most of us, though, don't refer to this as an extended adolescence. We call it a quarter life crisis...or that period in our lives where we are trying to figure out who we are, what we want from life, and where we want to be. And in that sense, we are able to do that kind of questioning for a lot longer than any previous generation.
What I think is interesting is that this article doesn't accuse us of being spoiled or lazy because we've delayed taking on traditional adult responsibilities, but rather looks at the facts. People just don't settle down as early anymore. Because of easy access to the pill, we don't have to worry about pregnancy or marriage as much as our parents did. Education doesn't go as far as it once did, and more and more people are attending school longer and at much greater expense than previous generations to achieve similar results, making settling down and starting a career more difficult when you are young. Our generation has also seen how marrying at a young age ups the odds for divorce, and many of us shy away from making that commitment when we are young.
In short, a lot of what we're experiencing is a function of practical realities—not a lot of coddling or parental hand-holding. And a lot of what we're going through isn't about living high on the hog on our parents' dime, but rather is about trying to find the right place for ourselves in the world, about rising above tradition and really doing something exceptional. Is that such a bad thing?
What the article doesn't address, though, is what will happen after our 20s. What will happen to us when we enter our 30s? Will we suddenly start jumping into the rank and file of older Americans who did the traditional 9-to-5, spouse, house, kids thing for 40 years and then retired to their RVs and games of bridge? Will all of the idealism that is so apparent and tangible with our generation disappear as we get older and begin taking on "adult" responsibilities more and more? Or will this searching, this striving for something more and something better be a defining part of our generation even into old age? Is this an extended adolescence or a permanent change in values and goals?
That's a question maybe no one can answer.