Sunday, March 9, 2008

They Keep Getting Younger

Next year, it will have been a decade since I graduated from college. This May, barring any unforseen flunking, my sister will don that black cap and gown herself. In those nine years, much has changed.

My sister and I are not in a different generation, contrary to what people (or my parents) may try to say. We are 8.5 years apart, which as we get older, is really not that significant. I now have people I consider friends who are 11 or more years older than me. So, why when I look at the 22-24-year-olds of today, am I so horrified?

This article in the Times talks about the "gap year," the year between high school and college that is becoming more popular with HS graduates in this country (it was already der rigeur in the UK). My feelings are mixed.

The gap year in itself can be a wonderful thing A friend of mine volunteered with Americorps during his gap year and it started a lifelong love of public service. Now he is living in Nepal, working for an NGO. Clearly for him, the gap year was an integral part of discovering his life's goals.

My concern is not with the concept itself, but with the way this new "generation" is in general. The whole concept of "helicopter parenting" seems to have been invented by this generation and their folks. Who ever heard of college students calling their mothers with test results? Of parents calling Deans to complain about their child's progress? But these are very real-life issues I encountered when I was working in academia for the three years prior to going freelance.

For many of the deans I spoke with, this parental involvement was an insult. But even setting aside their thoughts, it seems terribly unhealthy for the young adult. R recently heard on NPR that adolescence is now lasting through the 20's and for some as late as 30!! Who has ever heard of such a thing? How did this happen? How, in just eight years, has 22 become 10 years younger than it was before?

I blame the internet. And Britney Spears. But seriously, I do blame the internet. Or maybe it is the Boomers. Maybe they are too afraid to let go of their children for fear of what letting go means about their own age and mortality. I cannot believe how much younger 24 is than just six years ago. At 24, I was at least giving the appearance of an adult life. I had a decent job, a fiance with whom I cohabitated and a nice apartment and a cat I remembered to feed. I am not saying I was some bastion of maturity, but I had my proverbial shite together.

All of this makes me deeply worried for Sam's generation. If 30 can still be an adolescent (hell, I am 30?!!!) than what will still be adolescence for her? 40? 50? Do we have to die before she will become an adult? In fact, I think (I hope) the pendulum will swing the other way. I think Sam's generation will be as independent as the boomers once were (and apparently forgot--unless they are referring to their oldest children). Or maybe they just claimed to be independent and all that grad school and flower children touring Europe thing was just a mask for the incredible immaturity they would one day impart to their own (youngest) children. Yeah. That must be it.

Or perhaps it has something to do with this society. In our parent's time, having a college education was pretty nifty. Now it is grad school or bust. And grad school is notorious for prolonging adolescence. In cities like Boston or New York, where I think adolescence lasts until about 35, the cost of living might also contribute. Financial independence is rather difficult to achieve when one needs to spend $2,500 a month just to have a studio apartment.

Something has got to change. Something has got to give. At the rate we are going, we will be on the phone with Sam's boss when she is 30, trying to explain to him/her why she is so deserving of a raise. And to this vision I say: no way. Independence, in all its forms, is worth more than just about anything. And if I can teach my children that, then I will feel like an accomplished parent.


Kristi said...

Loved this post! What you wrote reminded me so much of my cousins: ages 26, 24, and 22. They are completely dependant on their mother (my aunt) to do even the most basic things for them: help them fill out their health insurance forms for their jobs, apply to college and grad school, and even call their doctors to make appointments for them. It's as if they never left grammar school. One of them shares an apartment with a friend about 30 minutes from her mother's house, and yet still sleeps over her mom's house every weekend, and at least a few nights during the week.

Like you, at 24 I was engaged, has been living with my then fiance for two years, had a job, 3 cats, and was in the process of buying a house, off of which I managed to accomplish without once asking for my mother's help.

Another generation indeed.

beagle said...

I blame Xbox and Wii.
(And Facebook and MySpace.)

Great post!

Stephanie said...

I also agree. I know a soon to be 25 year old who has been complaining about how hard it is to be a grown up in the real world. Then in the same breath revealed that (thank goodness) her parents are paying her car insurance on the VW bug they bought for her. Oh, and they paid for all 6 years of her undergrad schooling, so no student loans. If she thinks she's got it tough now, I shudder to think about what will happen when she actually has to pay bills other than rent and her bar tab.