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Emerging Adulthood

Air Date: 09/22/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.My one beloved son, now 26 years old, lives and practices law in Las Vegas. He has traveled and studied abroad, has a great job, shares a lovely rental home with three other young attorneys, is paying off his student loans, and just bought the first car in his life that isn't a third-hand junker with thousands and thousands of miles on it. Sounds like he's right on track, doesn't it? Believe it or not, he's still behind his parents. I started college at 17 and graduated at 20, at which point I promptly got married to his father, who was 24 and had already graduated from law school. (Yes, I admit it lawyers run in the family.) By the time I was 25, we had purchased our first home, and four years later we had a child. By 30, we had achieved the traditional milestones of adult life whether we were really ready or not. We weren't precocious; we were just doing what everyone else in our generation seemed to be doing: growing up. It's not working that way for 20-somethings these days. A cover of the "New Yorker" magazine last spring showed a young man hanging up his brand new Ph.D. in his boyhood bedroom, while his perplexed parents watched from the doorway. For a variety of complicated reasons, today's young adults aren't reaching those traditional milestones at the same age their parents did. They aren't settling into monogamous relationships or buying homes; they're traveling or pursuing graduate degrees rather than taking a stable job. And they aren't having children until much later in life. According to the "New York Times", in 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed the traditional milestones of adulthood by the age of 30. In 2000, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that in the early 70s, 25-year-olds had reached the milestones that 30-year-olds are accomplishing today. Young adults in 2010 appear to be maturing about five years later than young adults a decade or two ago. And all the parents whose children are on the six-year college plan say, "Duh!!"There are many reasons for this shift. Obviously, the stagnant economy and dearth of good jobs has made it hard for young adults to work, buy a home, and settle down, even if they want to. But most researchers believe that this change began long before the recession. Some now say that it's a separate developmental stage, one they call "emerging adulthood", a time of identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and a mixture of confusion and optimism. Young people don't feel the need to marry and settle down as early as they used to, especially given the cultural changes that have made premarital sex and later childrearing more acceptable.The difficulty for many families is that parents assume their offspring will operate on the same timetable they did. By the time their children are out of high school, they're gassing up the RV or planning their next vacation. Parents are often shocked to discover that their 20-somethings want even need to return home and fully expect that their parents will welcome them there. In fact, 40 percent of young adults will move back home at least once.A century ago, psychologists had to convince everyone that adolescence was a genuine developmental stage with its own characteristics and needs, and that society had to give young people time to mature. Many sociologists now believe that "emerging adulthood" is the 21st-century equivalent of adolescence. Regardless of the research and head-scratching, the reality for many families is that young adults aren't growing up and moving out the way they used to. And that can create conflict with parents who love them but may be more than ready to move on themselves. If you have a young adult, emerging or otherwise, in your family, patience and flexibility will be extremely helpful as he makes the transition to an independent life. Remember, good judgment and problem-solving skills are learned, so it can be useful to sit down together and have a respectful conversation about where he sees himself, his plans and concerns for the future, and your perception of your contribution to the process. The law tells us that young people are "adults" at 18 years of age but real maturity takes much longer than that. Be curious, be kind and firm, and invite your 20-something to share his journey with you. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.