31 Going On 13

In 2012, USA Today published an article entitled Many ‘Emerging Adults 18-29’ Are Not There Yet.  Other similar articles note a growing trend of young to middle-aged adults who seemed to be clinging to their younger years.  Various terms, including adultescence and kiddie-ocracy, have been used to describe this cultural shift.  The authors of these articles not only point to more youthful escapades or focus areas, but a general shift in the mindset and daily activities of individuals who were years ago largely immersed in the workforce and/or raising families.  The USA Today article featured a large survey of young adults and found the following.  About half the survey indicated that in some ways they had “reached adulthood” and in “some ways not.”  52% had daily or almost daily contact with their parents.  32% noted that they get regular to frequent financial support from their parents.  34% acknowledged that their parents are more involved in their life than they would like.  56% indicated that they are often anxious while one-third that they frequently feel depressed.

A broader perspective on the issues highlights a number of related findings. The number of young adults living at home has increased by a quarter since 2006, more than at any time since this statistic has been kept.  Although the youngest adults live with their parents at the highest rates, 8% of 34-year-olds still do, too.   Males disproportionately represent this cohort, with 19% of 25-34 year-old males still residing with mom and dad.  This is a 5% increase from 2005.

The rate of unemployment or underemployment has skyrocketed for young adults. In 2013, the labor force participation rate for this group dropped to its lowest point in 40 years.   From 2000 to 2012, the employment rate for 21-25 year-olds dropped from 84 to 72%.  Young men showed an even greater change, from 80 to 65%.  53% of those with a bachelor’s degree are either unemployed or underemployed.  They are less likely to be employed as mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and engineers than working in the food service and/or bartending industry.    Fewer young adults also have a full-time job.  Marriage has reached has reached an all-time low for 24-32 year-olds at a little over 44%.  The average gamer remains at about 33 and gaming remains a significant part of many adult lives.

Without being overloaded by statistics, it is safe to say that young adulthood looks much different today than when our parents and grandparents officially were granted the right to make their own decisions. Volumes and volumes have been written about the ways in which economic, parenting, societal, and leisure factors are potentially associated with this shift.

However, the scope of this brief article is not to address these changes (or potential causes of these changes) at a greater depth.   This would be a book in itself.  The purpose is a simpler one.  It is to raise a few basic questions.  One, how do we feel about the current direction and plight of our young adults?  Two, do we consider this progress for coming generations, or do we have significant worries about how this affects individuals, families, and our communities as a whole?  I ask because so often, we seem to accept trends as they occur as if it is a foregone conclusion, but in reality we have much input and influence into what happens, even with adult children.

If we do have concerns about negative changes, it behooves us to forget the statistics and start with the young adults we know (and for that matter, the youth in our own homes). Trends don’t change in mass.  Mass changes only occur because each person, each family unit starts to desire, demand and/or allow different things from themselves and the people around them.  Personal influence can come through many different means—direct conversation, modeling, and financial/logistical agreements (which include varying levels of support).  Sometimes, it makes for awkward, uncomfortable situations, but if delivered in a transparent, compassionate, direct way, it may provide an opportunity for growth in many avenues.

For example, I have worked with a number of parents whose adult children remain with them into their 30’s and beyond. Some are fine with it; many are not.  However, I have noticed that although various beliefs exist, it seems that directly addressing concerns and demanding a reasonable response (e.g., expecting rent payment and regular assistance, providing a clear timeline for transition to an independent existence, etc.) often does not go adequately expressed.  In the process, a bitterness often develops (both towards the adult child and even between significant others) about the “unspoken arrangement” and expectations and authentic communication are sidestepped for a tenuous façade of civility.  Meanwhile, young adults often find that the arrangement puts little pressure on them to develop a more independent existence given that many of the normal expenses/tasks are taken care of, and they are able to allocate much of their time, effort, and income towards optional endeavors.

When my kids are adults, I want the best for them. I also want them to enjoy being around my wife and I, and I want our relationship to be one of mutual respect and sharing.  But if I concern myself with more than my needs and desires, what I come to realize is that I must consider how they will become a part of the community with which they reside—how each one of them (and one of yours) will be called to a level of civic mindedness and community support as they grow older.  Like it or not, our young adults arguably can (and should) provide the greatest level of industry, tax support, ingenuity, and family growth & stability that our population knows.  For millennia, communities have relied on them in these ways.  As much as we might struggle to “let go” and demand that they must transition into new roles, our communities’ needs don’t change.  Although I respect the different views of many on this matter (and please send me those), I wonder if our young adults who are growing up understand that the “village that raised them” now desperately needs them, and we the villagers are going to struggle without all they have to offer.

So for you young adults out there who might be reading this, I want you to know that you are incredibly important to all of us here today. We need the best you have to offer, no matter what that may be.  We need your energy, your creativity, and your youthfulness not to mention your ability to work hard, engage people in honest, transparent ways, and preserve and advocate for what our country needs.  We know that the research and the headlines have not always been kind to you, but understand that underneath it all, you as individuals are deeply valued.  Although there are many reasons and temptations to invest in different options and endeavors, we just ask that you continue to keep all of your fellow citizens in mind in whatever you decide to do.  Your decisions matter much, from the smallest of actions to the largest of decisions.  You are a deeply integral part of the fabric of our society, and have the ability to create the kind of communities that you desire for yourself, and your kids and grandkids to come.  Please consider joining your fellow villagers of all ages in the noble pursuit of this collective cause, a life of woven design and not of individual default.  We are excited to join with you.

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