Can We Put Adolescence to Rest? Part One
Over the next two weeks, I plan to blog on an issue that should be a high priority for American society today. It is a phenomenon that’s happening across the country, and while most see it, few people have put their finger on why it’s happening. Let me weigh in with part one here, and I will follow up next Monday with part two. This is all research and observations I make in my new book that will be released this upcoming August: Generation iY.
I see a pattern today. We are living among a population of kids who make up what I call a “Postponed Generation.” Many adolescents delay growing up; they push the pause button on their assumption of responsibility. Several college deans have suggested to me: 26 is the new 18. I’m not suggesting they’re all bad kids or troubled kids or even stupid kids. They just don’t see the need to grow up. Life is working for them just fine, right now. Even the “Twixters” (who are between the ages of 18-26) are enjoying a season of exploration, without the demands of paying bills or providing for someone else. Sociologist, Michael Kimmel, writes, “Somewhere between 16-29, males enter ‘Guyland’ and seem unable to commit to marriages, families or long-term jobs.” Many submit to a “guy code” where locker room behaviors, sexual conquests, bullying, violence, and assuming a cocky “jock pose” rule over the sacrifices of growing up. Kimmel believes this is happening for a variety of reasons. First, longevity of life. People are living longer, so what’s the big hurry of getting tied down? Second, poor parenting. Many parents make it easy for them to remain at home, and not provide for themselves. Third, the roles of women. Generation iY women are more often professional and competent — which is intimidating or confusing to males.
For females, the stall may occur for different reasons. First, they don’t want to lose touch with their girlfriends. The high school “silo” wraps them in “cotton” and provides a haven of chatting, texting, skyping, and Facebooking. Girls may stall, because they don’t want to leave this relationship haven. Reason number two: their boyfriends. If a female begins dating in high school, she may become accustomed to having a “boy on her arm.” It feels good. It feels right. This guy, however, may be lagging behind her in his maturation. So, what’s a girl to do? Many will lag with their boy. They’d rather trade away their potential opportunities for the assurance that they have a “guy” on their arm. The third reason is that the world is far more complex for a female than it was thirty or forty years ago, when their mother was growing up. Opportunities and options are greater than ever. Competition between girls is high. Colleges are tougher to get into. And the adult world is more complex than ever. Once again, why leave the world of adolescence for a nearly impossible world of responsibility?
I spend the majority of my time doing leadership development with young adults. I was with a group recently on a state university campus. Every one of them was passionate about changing the world — but they were not in a hurry to settle down to adult life. For them, the ages between 18 and 26 are a sort of sandbox, a chance to build castles and knock them down, and experiment with different careers, knowing that none of them really counts. Not yet anyway. Time magazine reported on this phenomenon and concluded that young people are just overwhelmed with adulthood. The options, the obstacles, the opposition, the opportunities. There are 40 different kinds of coffee beans at Whole Foods Market, almost 1,000 channels on DirecTV, 15 million ads on Match.com, and 800,000 jobs posted on Monster.com. Further, the U.S. Census Bureau says over 16 million college students are competing for those jobs.
So, what do young adults perceive to be the doorway to adulthood? It may surprise you. It isn’t a driver’s license, or graduation from high school or even college. It’s not even getting married. The top response in a nationwide survey was: having your first child. The medium age for this milestone is 27. In Europe, it is even higher. Even twice-married, Britney Spears, fits the profile. For a brief summary of the predicament of so many “Twixters” you can’t do much better than her 2001 hit, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”
So, let me ask you a question. If you are like me — you believe in these young people. You love their optimism and confidence. At the same time, do you see what I’m seeing?