A large proportion of twenty-somethings of today aren’t fully responsible adults yet. They often live with their parents because they don’t have sufficient finances or life skills (e.g. cooking, maintaining a home, etc.). They have a difficult time focusing on their careers, changing jobs more rapidly than ever. They avoid long-term romantic relationships and all that goes along with them, most notably children.
In addition, depression among twenty-somethings has reached epidemic levels. In one study, over 11% of young adults aged 18-24 in 2001-2002 were found to have had depressive disorders. What’s more, almost all experts say these problems are increasing. The 2008 “National Survey of Counseling Center Directors” reports that 95.7% of Directors agree that serious psychological problems have been increasing in recent years at their school.
Why are they depressed? Of course, reasons vary, but psychologists agree that one major reason for depression and anxiety is an inability to feel in control of events in one’s life. So, twenty-somethings feel far less in competent in the world than their cohorts did did decades ago, and they’re getting depressed at record levels because of this.
A recent New York Times Magazine article describes how widespread this problem is. In fact, a movement in developmental psychology aims to define a new stage of life between adolescence and young adulthood called “emerging adulthood.”
Yellowbrick, a residential program in Evanston, IL, is designed to cure the worst manifestations of emerging adulthood. For $21K/month, parents can send their emerging adult kids to learn “the basics of shopping, cooking, cleaning, scheduling, making commitments and showing up.” Many of the “patients” there are recent college students who have difficulty dealing with the adult world. One had done well at at an Ivy League college until the last class of the last semester of his last year, when he finished his final paper and could not bring himself to turn it in.
As a parent of very young children, I don’t have much insight into the problems of these emerging adults, but I do see how these problems start. Parents these days hover over their kids from a young age, not backing off until college. Even there, colleges are finding that they need to force parents to back off. A recent New York Times article describes colleges’ attitudes at freshman orientation: Students, Welcome to College; Parents, Go Home.
In my opinion, this trend indicates that parents of today are failing at their job.
What is parents’ job? While I absolutely think parents should give their children a good childhood, ultimately, parents’ job is to prepare their children for their adult lives. Thus, we should judge parents by how their kids turn out.
We can quibble over details of what our goals should be in raising our kids, but let’s face it: if our “kids” in their twenties are like these twenty-somethings who can’t live independently, find a focus for their career, or maintain a long-term stable romantic relationship, they’re not doing well. We’d need to blame ourselves, at least in part.
In order to avoid this outcome, we parents need to teach old-fashioned self-reliance to our kids. If we coddle them throughout their childhoods, it’s unlikely that they’ll get their acts together all of a sudden when we send them off to college.
Teaching self-reliance should begin at a very young age. For instance, parents should have toddlers clean up their toys and their rooms. Elementary school kids should do chores around the house. Outside the house, they should be encouraged to go places independently and figure things out for themselves.
It’s difficult to posit hard and fast rules for what ages at which kids should be able to do various things, but it’s pretty clear that most kids these days are pretty lame, and their parents are to blame.
What do you think? Will you feel like you’ve failed if your kids go through their twenties unmotivated and directionless like many of the twenty-somethings today? Are you doing what’s needed to avoid that fate?