What Is It About 20-Somethings?

I’ve always been suspect of the theories that are quick to label a certain generation with specific behaviours, attitudes and morals. Over the last few years, there has been an enormous amount of attention paid to the Millennials (or Gen Y’s). These are our current teens and 20-somethings. The critics say they are lazy, unfocused and quick to challenge their elders or the ‘system.’ Any discussion about the Millennials inevitably begins with the assumption that it is acceptable to paint an entire group with the same brush.

An extension, of course, to the discussion about the Millennials is that they are the byproduct of irresponsible parenting. Critics point their fingers at the helicopter parents or hyper-parenting styles of Mom and Dad. These are the parents who are quick to micro-manage everything in their children’s lives. They plan out their child’s educational path before their third birthday, and enroll their children in a multitude of lessons or activities to ensure that they don’t miss out on acquiring one of those ‘must-needed’ skills of the future.

It was with a bit of relief, then, when I read Robin Marantz Henig’s article in the New York Times Magazine, “What is it about 20-Somethings?” The author points to the academic interest in the theory of ‘emerging adulthood’. This is a term coined by Psychology Professor, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. Emerging adulthood is about re-writing the timeline for when one becomes ‘adult’. According to Arnett, the 20’s are such a time. “Just as adolescence has its particular psychological profile, Arnett says, so does emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls ‘a sense of possibilities.’”

So is it a generational issue that we are faced with – the Millenials who have their own characteristics like the Gen Xer’s and Baby Boomers before them? Are they the children who are the products of hyper-parenting? Or, is it a newfound recognition of a period of time when individuals are not yet really ‘grown-up’ although society expects them to be? The idea of ‘emerging adulthood’ is where my vote would be.

I wonder if we (as slow parents) can expedite the stage of ‘emerging adulthood’. By leaving our children, especially our teens, to have time and space for “identity exploration, self-focus, experimentation in love, work and worldview” then it will not need to wait until their 20’s. And then, imagine the possibilities of the self-assured, reflective, creative 20-somethings. These new adults will not worry about seeking out a new life script to follow, instead, they will be confident in writing their own.

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3 Responses to “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”


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  2. 2 Mama Tortoise October 25, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. I just wonder if the trends that we see of each new generation are more symptoms of ’emerging adulthood’ than generation theories. When I think of the awesome and self-assured 20-somethings that know, they are the ones who have been given the opportunity for self exploration (through travel or easy going parents) so that they can find their own paths. These are the 20-somethings who I would guess passed through their emerging adulthood stage earlier than later.

    I’m starting to think this sound more like the beginning to a research proposal than a blog post!

  3. 3 Kathleen (amoment2think) October 23, 2010 at 4:13 am

    This post has got me thinking about a bunch of things- I may have to write a whole post in response. The Coles notes version is that I do agree with the theory of emerging adult hood and I am equally suspicious of the labeling of big groups of people. I also don’t see milenials as lazy. I think every generation looks at the ones after it with that same ” those kids these days, when I was a kid…”
    That being said, particularly in the work place I do think there are trends which show a cultural difference between the generations. Milennials do tend to need more feedback and structure, and desire participative management styles. They value a work place where they fit into a social group. Gen x on the other hand prefer hands off managers and the freedom to set their own structure. I do think this has a lot to do with parenting but also the economic climate when the kids grew up.
    Sorry, that was long!!


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