Posted by: laughs4dads | August 23, 2010


So your child has graduated from college and he is either in debt up to his ears, or you are $160,000 poorer, or some combination of the two. And now you proudly wave goodbye as your offspring goes off to make his way in the world, a fully-formed adult ready to start a career and, before too long, a family.

Yeah, well, not so fast.

According to the cover story by Robin Marantz Henig in yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, your kid is not an adult; he is an “emerging adult,” his head just coming out of the miasma of teenage-dom. And it will take him as long as eight more years to finally work his way out of the muck and get the hell out of your house!

According to the article, this is not solely a function of the current economic situation. Sociologists (at least those of them with jobs), tell us that we are in the thick of “the changing timetable for adulthood.”

There is, apparently, a physiological basis for this. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that children’s brains were not fully mature until at least age 25.

While this may explain “The Jersey Shore,” it doesn’t quite let us know why people in their early 20’s have been able to get along just fine until recently.

That task falls to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, the psychology professor who coined the term “emerging adulthood,” and who equates this new idea to what occurred in the early 1900’s, when adolescence was discovered. Yes, that is the word used here:

“The discovery of adolescence is generally dated to 1904, with the publication of the massive study “Adolescence,” by G. Stanley Hall, a prominent psychologist and first president of the American Psychological Association.”

I guess before the discovery of adolescence, people went directly from age eight to age 13, which didn’t leave a lot of time for bar mitzvah lessons. This acknowledgement of adolescence resulted in, among other things, the development of junior high schools and the popularity of the Jonas Brothers.

Mr. Arnett thinks something similar is happening now, brought on in part by “the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; 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.”

Okay, so the gist is that new sociological factors have combined with brain stuff that has been there all along to create a new stage of life, which, I can’t help noticing, “emerging adults” have embraced wholeheartedly.

Sure, take your time. Travel. Relish those unpaid internships. Find yourself. Of course, this new stage of life creates another new stage of life for parents: “not-so-empty-nesters.”

The author of the article has some suggestions as to how society might respond:

“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? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year’s worth of travel, education or volunteer work.”

I have a better idea. How about upending the traditional life stages entirely by putting retirement before our working years? Here’s how it would work:

Upon leaving school, our emerging adults enter a period called, let’s say, “Chronocide,” (from “chrono” meaning “time” and “cide” meaning “to kill”) that lasts until age 30. During this period of killing time, they are supported by the equivalents of Social Security and Medicare, the cost of which would be deducted from their pay during their working years which would last until they die. Think of the advantages of such a system:

1. You could have retirement while you’re young enough to enjoy it and drive more than 25 miles per hour.

2. You’d have your whole 20’s to find yourself and decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. Literally.

3. The government could subsidize your “years of self-enlightenment” instead of your parents. But you’d only be living off the government for a finite number of years, unlike now, when some people have the audacity to do it for decades.

I’m sure some cynics out there will find some flaws with this plan, but, really, I don’t want to hear them.

I think it’s because my brain is still maturing.

P.S. This post is in no way to be interpreted as my wanting my daughter, Casey, who I thought was grown but is, evidently, merely emerging, to evacuate the premises. I love having her here at home, and wish only for her to find the best path for her life, and am happy to subsidize her efforts to do so. Really. I mean it. No kidding.


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