Does Teenage End at 25 Now?


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Are the frontal lobes of today's young brains less developed than a couple of generations ago? Or have the expectations of maturing into a grown up changed? Why are young adults stuck in teen mentality?

These days it seems more and more young people are returning home after college to live at later and later ages. I was recently out having coffee with some friends, and we were talking about this topic and wondering what the reasons might be for this phenomenon.

We've all heard the news reports that it's now known that the frontal lobe of the brain doesn't complete its development until mid-twenties...and I heard another report say that some folks experience developmental brain changes right up to age 30.

In a tough economy, older children may be at home longer after college just trying to find work.

And college costs have gone up in recent years, meaning young people are finishing school with higher rates of debt than ever before, and it's harder for them to get established buying their own homes, etc.

Yet, at one time (and only a generation or two ago), it was common for people to find their life's mate in high school around age 16, date a couple of years, graduate and get married within a year or two.

Those folks worked, had and took care of children, paid mortgages and bills and had pretty successful lives.

Were their frontal lobes just as underdeveloped as today's young twenty somethings? Or is that today's culture has changed the expectations of what it means to be a child and an adult?

I poked around on the Internet and found this BBC article called "Is 25 The New Cutoff Point For Adulthood?" Click here to see the story.

The BBC story points out that there is a concern that people in the age range of 18-25 don't "fall through gaps in the health and education system," hence a need for addressing those young people who may live at home for a time after high school for whatever reason – post college, between college and grad school, those looking for better paying work, those trying pay off college debt without going into more debt, etc.

Also noted is that adolescent psychologists realize that people don't become "instant adults" at 18, especially in today's climate. There is still a significant transition occurring for many young people going from teen to adulthood.

While these are realistic concerns, are they excuses for a generation of Peter Pans who refuse to grow up?

As Robert Verbruggen points out in his "The American Conservative" web article, titled "The Immature Generation," perhaps this delay is related to young people themselves (click on this link for the story).

Vergbruggen references a New York Times story from several years ago about "emerging adulthood" by Robert Marantz Henig.

Henig's own 26-year-old daughter provides a key as to how young people think of themselves: she and none of her friends consider themselves adults.

Yes, you read that right. A 26-year-old doesn't consider herself an adult.

This is in direct contrast to previous generations who wanted to grow up, and sought independence from their parents.

At one time, a person was likely the butt of jokes if he or she lived at home for too long.

It does not appear that is true today.

Truth be told, however, the demographics have slowly been emerging through the years, and present-day millenials are the result of growing trends over the years, not just a recent mind-shift (see the link in Verbruggen's article for "numerous long-running demographic trends").

In Robert Verbruggen's story, he points out the following trends:

American's are delaying both marriage and children. He also points out that the data shows not only is marriage being delayed, but also living with a romantic partner – or simply alone. People are willingly living with their parents.

People are staying in school longer. As mentioned above, the percentage of college degrees has grown more than six fold, according to Verbruggen's research.

Student loan debt is growing. 'Nuff said.

Some young adults are opting out of the labor force. The trends indicate fewer workers for both genders of young adults.

I don't this self-assessment by young people who don't consider themselves grown ups a backlash of all the "planned activities" that we parents created for our kids?

After all, a sense of independence and self-reliance is generally what helps make a person grow up.

When adults of my generation were young, kids just played. There were no "play dates" set up. Sports were not arranged. You grabbed a ball and made some bases out of Frisbees and played kickball. Or baseball. You made up your own script, found stuff to make costumes out of around the house, and had a play in your backyard. If you needed money, you babysat, delivered papers or mowed lawns.

I'm as guilty as anyone of doing the "play date" thing, putting my kids in organized activities, etc.

In many ways, I think being present and involved with kids made us closer emotionally, and I love the bonds I have with them.

I also feel I've made lasting friendships with parents by being on those sports sidelines or helping with activities.

But as my kids age, I do wonder...have I pushed my fledglings enough to be on their own?

They are still teens, so I guess time will tell.

Food for thought: I'll leave you with this quite from Verbruggen's article, which he took directly from Robert Marantz Henig. Henig wrote the story Verbruggen references in 2010, and all indications are that things haven't changed much in seven years.

"But what would it look like to extend some of the special status of adolescents to young people in their 20s? Our uncertainty about this question is reflected in our scattershot approach to markers of adulthood. 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?"

 I'd have to say, I'm in favor of what I guess I'd call a "guided" approach to taking on more responsibility. It's why I wrote about the proposed bill that would lower the drinking age to 18 when young people are out with a parent.

I hope I'm not inadvertently keeping my kids as adolescents for "too long," but I want to make sure they feel that parents are on their side and there to support them for as long as they need.

I'd love to hear from readers what you think. Post a comment and let's get some discussion going.

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