Opin­ion

‘Adult­ing’ is hard. But only be­cause par­ents are too lazy to teach their kids

Newsweek - - Contents - Hori­zons

The ‘Adult­ing’ of Mil­len­ni­als

last month, amer­ica learned about some­thing the mil­len­ni­als like to call “adult­ing.” The term started as a sort of quasi-joke—when­ever a mil­len­nial would do some­thing age-ap­pro­pri­ate rather than rad­i­cally im­ma­ture, this was an act of “adult­ing.” Now, though, mil­len­ni­als ap­par­ently re­quire train­ing in be­ing an adult.

Ac­cord­ing to CBS News, Rachel Fle­hinger has co-founded an Adult­ing School, which in­cludes online cour­ses on sim­ple sewing, con­flict res­o­lu­tion and cook­ing. CBS sug­gests the cause for such classes: Many mil­len­ni­als “haven’t left child­hood homes”—in Amer­ica, 34 per­cent of adults aged 18 to 34 still lived with their par­ents as of 2015, up from 26 per­cent a decade be­fore.

There’s a good deal of truth to this. If you’re liv­ing at home, with Mom and Dad do­ing their best to spoil you, you’re less likely to know how to do laun­dry, cook or bal­ance a check­book. Depen­dency breeds en­er­va­tion.

But here’s the catch: Liv­ing at home doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily breed depen­dency. As of 1940, more than 30 per­cent of 25- to 29-year-olds lived at home with par­ents or grand­par­ents. They were adult­ing, even while liv­ing at home. Par­ents ex­pected their kids to do chores, to pre­pare for life. In­stead of blam­ing liv­ing at home, then, we have to blame our style of par­ent­ing.

While spec­u­la­tion has run ram­pant that eco­nomic hard­ship has forced mil­len­ni­als to stay home longer and thus fail to “adult,” the truth is that we’ve sim­ply be­come lazier as par­ents.

This is a gen­er­a­tional prob­lem. Since the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, adults have be­come less and less adult. Our grand­par­ents had to grow up dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion and World War II; they learned to “adult” long be­fore they were ac­tual adults. As of 1940, the av­er­age age of first mar­riage was 24 for men and 21 for women; to­day, the av­er­age age of first mar­riage is 28 for men and 26 for women. Gen­er­a­tions ago, men and women both en­tered the work­force far younger, so while to­day’s mil­len­ni­als are bet­ter ed­u­cated than their grand­par­ents, they’re also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing real life later. Cou­ples had chil­dren much younger and had more of them; to­day, the av­er­age age of a first-time mother in New York City is 31, while that num­ber was, on av­er­age, 26.3 across Amer­ica. So what’s the real is­sue? We’re more likely to let our kids crash on our couches than tell them to get a job and pay rent. We don’t push our kids to build fam­i­lies of their own; as life ex­pectancy has in­creased, so has ado­les­cence. Amer­i­cans aren’t ex­pected to start build­ing a life, par­tic­u­larly mid­dle- and up­per-class Amer­i­cans, un­til they’re near­ing their 30s. There are many Amer­i­cans who make de­ci­sions that force them into adult­hood—sin­gle moth­ers, for ex­am­ple, aren’t go­ing to be tak­ing “adult­ing” classes. But the ques­tion is how we can en­cour­age young peo­ple to “adult” in non-cir­cum­stance-driven fash­ion.

The an­swer is thrust­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity on young peo­ple. That’s painful for par­ents. I know. I have two young chil­dren, and the thought of them strug­gling is painful to me. But “adult­ing,” as Ni­et­zsche might put it, is suffering— and through that suffering, we be­come re­spon­si­ble hu­man be­ings ca­pa­ble of bet­ter­ing the world around us.

Or we can keep cod­dling our kids—and, via the govern­ment, cod­dling our­selves. But at some point, if ev­ery­one is busy “adult­ing” while we keep push­ing off the age of adult­hood, there are no adults left. There are just chil­dren. And leav­ing kids in charge of so­ci­ety is an in­cred­i­bly bad idea.

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