The New Wave of ‘Adultolescents’

Throughout a great portion of high school and college, you’ve probably heard the one question most college students dread: “So what do you want to be when you ‘grow up’?” Whether it’s your parents, teachers or even complete strangers, adults always seem fascinated with knowing exactly what your future entails. Personally, I simply respond with a casual, “Well, I’m not too sure yet, but I am studying [insert major here] and am really interested in [insert minor here].”
For most students, college is the time to do just that — figuring out what to do after the realm of educational institutions stop controlling our lives. However, what happens if your four years are up and you still have no clue as to what you want to be? The practical answer would be to take that undesirable and embarrassing fifth year. But what if there was another option?
In a 2002 Newsweek article entitled “Adultolescents,” studies showed that an increasing number of Americans in their 20s and 30s are still financially supported by their parents. In most cases, this new breed of young adults consists of recent college graduates who have decided to move back home with mom and dad.
While most people would consider moving back home to be the ultimate loser move, with the current state of the economy, no one would blame you or call you a loser. In fact, most of you fourth-years are probably considering just that.
Even my very responsible brother, a recent UC Irvine graduate from the biological sciences department, is now living back at home purely for financial reasons. Of course, when you’re a newly admitted University of Southern California pharmacy school student, you cannot afford to be choosy about your living situation.
Now I fully support my older brother and his decision to return to the nest, despite my own personal feelings against it, but there are those few out there who apparently have nothing better to do than criticize our emerging youth today and the future of this nation.
One such person is sociologist and researcher Dr. Frank Furstenberg, who in the Newsweek article claimed, “the conveyor belt that once transported adolescents into adulthood has broken down.”
Nowadays, it seems that the only way to prove to society that you have officially entered adulthood is to become financially self-sufficient, and that the true measure of one’s independence is marked by the substantiality of a paycheck. Have we really become a society so driven by money that we are blind to the many other redeeming qualities that truly make an adult? There are several cultures out there that base the important transition into adulthood solely on a ceremony or ritual, while others simply hand their children a deadly weapon and call them men.
Whatever the case may be, the measure of one’s maturity should be based on something more. Sure, being able to support yourself financially is crucial in adopting an adult lifestyle, but it is not the only thing. Other factors important to determining maturation are responsibility, hard work, real-world experience and emotional stability, just to name a few. Think about all those teenage single mothers in the world struggling to raise a baby and still trying to pursue a high school or college education. Just because they haven’t reached the so-called adult age of 21, does that really mean that they are any less of an adult than an unemployed 40-year-old man who still lives at home with his parents?
As time progresses and our economy worsens, this concept of “adultolescence” is only going to become more prevalent as more college graduates are left with no choice but to move back home. However, the real question to ask yourself is, “Do I have what it takes to be an adult?” For some, that is an easy question, but for others it is a life-changing moment that causes us to either wilt under pressure or step up and say, “Yes I do.”

Kristie Kang is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at kangkm@uci.edu.