Why do you think this generation is less motivated to follow the traditional paths of college, marriage and career?
The number of people who go to college in the United States is stable, but it’s taking people longer to graduate. Five- and six-year stays are common, sometimes because students wander from major to major. Marriage is definitely on the decline. According to the Census Bureau, 45% of Americans aged 25 to 35 are single, while ten years ago the number was only 40%. One reason for the change is that the stigma associated with being a single mom is evaporating. Also, many adultescents—what I call people 22 to 35 in my book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest—have become gun-shy and cynical about marriage because of parents’ divorces. Forty-four percent of marriages now end in divorce. Who wants to catch that social disease?
The economy is partly to blame for the resistance to establish careers, since more than half of those under the age of 25 are jobless or under-employed. For this group, unemployment is much higher than official numbers indicate, rivaling the Great Depression. An unpaid internship has become the new entry-level job. There are additional reasons why the generation we’re speaking about is hesitant to “settle down,” however. In college they may have felt no pressure to become educated with a career goal in mind and now not know what they want to do or have the illusion that the time in which they have to figure out their plans will stretch on forever. They’re here-focused, not future-focused, without realizing that work-related opportunities close off fast. It’s hard when you’re 29, for example, to suddenly decide you want to work in finance or academia, and make a successful career-change.
How does a parent encourage their son or daughter to grow up when perhaps the young person isn't sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives?
Establish boundaries. Tell kids that in your home, your rules apply. If you don’t want them sleeping until noon, let’s say, make your preference clear. If you want the child to do his or her laundry, stop doing their laundry. Insist on notification if they will join you for dinner. Above all, don’t become a slave. A parent might expect the child to contribute to household expenses, even if it means getting less than a dream job until a better position comes along. Mom or Dad should set deadlines for how long adult kids are allowed to stay with them. Most of all, expect the child to act his or her age while they are home—the default for most families is for parents to treat a 28-year-old as 18 and considerable regression results.
This book reminded me a bit of the movie Failure to Launch, where a woman tries to date a man who still lives with his parents. What kind of trouble can young adults still living at home have with romantic relationships?
The younger generation can fail to realize how uncomfortable it may make parents to see a romantic partner straggling out of his or her bedroom in the morning. Families need to address this issue and decide on a strategy, which also means parents acknowledging that a sexually-active adult, not a kid, lives with them.
What advice would you give parents of young children who don't want to see their kids become adulescents?
Expect young kids to be responsible by giving them regular tasks to perform and they will learn to rise to the occasion. Make sure that there are consistent consequences when children break household rules. Remind kids of the old saw, “life isn’t a one-way street.” Don’t allow them to intrude when you’re on the phone, having an important conversation or need private time—you may think it shows kids how much you love them when you drop everything to attend to their needs, but it may make them feel they are the center of the universe—and the world will show them otherwise. Let children experience disappointment. Don’t protect them from growth experiences; instead, talk about the setbacks so you can offer your loving wisdom and help them learn from the unpleasant experience.
Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest