This Generation of 20-somethings: Why Are They Different?


Today is the first day of school. Not for me--as I sit in front of my office computer rather than in front of a professor--but for many. For those still in college, for my brother beginning his very first day of college classes, and for tons of other kids around the country. Some students don’t begin until after Labor Day, but you can almost feel it crackling in the air, that first-day-of-school expectancy fluttering around, affecting thousands of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and others.

To me, it always feels that late August is the “new year” rather than January 1, with so many people purchasing new supplies and clothes, promising themselves that this year, they’ll do better.

For some, the beginning of the school year is a sigh of relief--kids are out of the house and into someone else’s hands for 8 hours a day. Students see friends whom they haven’t seen for months. Teachers begin their full-time work schedule again.

This is the first time I’m not going to my first day of class, groaning at my alarm clock for ringing too early, meeting new professors, and making awkward introductions: “Hi my name is ____ and I’m a ____major.” It’s the first time I won't be asked to raise my hand before I speak.

Since graduating, I’ve often reflected on how diverse grads’ lives can become in just a few short months. Some are earning Master’s or working toward their PhD’s, some are working for the government or nonprofits. Some have their first day of school today, but as their job--their lives so quickly flipped from student to teacher. Some still haven’t yet found jobs, largely as a result of the recession, and are moved back into their high school bedrooms.

But no matter where post-grads are in life now, the most common complaint that I hear is that they just aren’t sure what to do, exactly. From the largest decisions--“should I go to grad school?”--to more basic issues--“I don’t know how to set up my electric bills!” This is an entirely different kind of generation, I’ve been observing (and participating in), and this weekend, an article caught my eye that summed it up perfectly.

Everything that I’d been thinking about since flipping my tassel and starting my full-time job, was put in the most interesting way in this New York Times Magazine article.

The basic question that the writer poses is: “Why are so many 20-somethings taking so long to grow up?” Is it the fault of our so-called “helicopter parents” who hovered protectively over our every move? Is it because many are getting more and more degrees, worrying more about theses and careers than finding a husband or wife? Does it have to do with personal finances, or with the suffering economy?

Psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is pioneering a movement to perceive the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he’s dubbed “emerging adulthood”. Similar to how adolescence wasn’t always considered a life stage, he believes that right now, a phenomenon is occurring where people in their 20s are taking longer to “grow up” and that society should accept it as a completely different stage of life.

This article is definitely worth taking the time to read. Do you think that 20-somethings comprise a completely different life stage? What would Erik Erikson say?

08.23.2010   Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE   By Psychotherapy Networker
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