“Someone Teach Me How to Adult…”
Updated: Feb 27
By Eleni Pacheco
Researchers agree that 18-year-olds today are comparable to the 15-year-olds of the ’90s. In the United States, teens are having less “adult” experiences than they did twenty years ago.
But what defines an adult experience?
For teens, it’s a way of testing their independence – like driving, working for pay, dating or becoming sexually active, and trying alcohol. Some may think that experiencing these things later in life is inherently positive or negative, but expert Jean Twenge considers it a trade-off. While national teen birth rates and car accidents are falling, it seems teens today are also less prepared for adulthood. Delaying adult experiences may extend the transition into adulthood for teens, which Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology proposes there is an entirely new life stage: emerging adulthood.
In the past, reaching adulthood (finishing school, leaving home, choosing a career, getting married, having children) typically happened in one’s early 20’s, but today’s young adults are putting off those settled patterns of life – instead, focusing on the self. They are exploring their identities, as one might during adolescence, but on a deeper and more profound level. Some believe this allows the brain to keep growing and changing for longer than it would have if imbued with adult experiences and responsibilities. It is important to note, however, that this “life stage” is unique to developed countries like ours – which challenges the idea that emerging adulthood is common enough to be considered its own life stage.
While the exact cause of these changes is unknown, there are some cultural shifts to consider. Technology-use, changes in family dynamics, as well as the push to go to college rather than to start working right away might have something to do with it. Regardless, many young people have the option to remain young-minded for longer than any generation has in the past – and they’re taking advantage of it.