Reaching Adulthood: Are Kids Growing Up Too Fast or Too Slow?

I read two articles over the weekend that seemed, at first glance, completely contradictory.

The first, on the New York Times Motherlode blog, was a piece discussing the oft-heard complaint that kids these days are being forced to grow up too quickly. (As one person cited in the article puts it: “How did 5 become the new 7, anyway?”)

The second article, from the Washington Post, was on so-called boomerang kids –  “children” between ages 18 and 34 who move back home to live with their parents. According to the article, the number of Twenty Somethings now living at home with their parents has grown by 50% since the 1970s (a trend that is only being  accentuated by the current recession).

So…which is it? Are kids growing up too fast or too slow?

With a little digging, I found the answer is…both.

On the one hand, through things like homework in kindergarten, we do seem to be encouraging kids to prepare for the responsibilities of adulthood at an earlier and earlier age. I live in the U.K., and if you think childhood is on the wane in the States, try living over here. Good luck finding a playground for children over 5. I’m not kidding!

And yet, as studies like this one suggest, a host of economic, social and cultural factors mean that young adults are also meandering much more than they did a generation ago:  delaying marriage, changing careers several times, failing to achieve economic independence and other milestones of adulthood. (For a quick summary of these trends, have a look at the Network on Transitions to Adulthood website at the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s hard to read these two articles side by side and wonder if there isn’t a relationship between their claims:  Is it possible, in other words, that in encouraging young children to grow up too fast, we induce a backlash later on in older children that slows that process down?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But it certainly seems like a paradox worth exploring.

In the meantime, if you’re already a bona fide adult looking to lessen your load, swing by the Escape Adulthood blog where Kim and Jason offer tips for ridding yourself of adultitis.


When I first launched this blog, a cousin of mine, Jeremy, wrote me an email: “Depressing to learn that I won’t have this all figured out by the time I’m 45. That was my last best hope for adulthood.”

A former colleague of mine with three grown children of his own also wrote: “Your blog reminds me of a distinction my kids used to make. They’d say that you become an adult when you’re 21, but you don’t ‘grow up’ until you’re 65 or beyond.”

So there you go, Jer. You’ve still got 20 years to go!

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