The blogosphere is buzzing about “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”, a widely covered recent New York Times Magazine piece. For their baby boomer parents, the answer to the title query is reassuringly familiar – It’s just a stage they’re going through. A new one, brought on by a cluster of factors including the economy and the culture as well as neuroscientific discoveries about the brain – that is, that neurological processes responsible for improved cognition and better impulse control continue well into the 20’s, later than previously thought. So relax, Mom and Dad – it’s not your fault your grown kids are taking so much longer to get a life than they did, especially one that includes marriage, a career, and a home of their own. They’re just going through emerging adulthood, a sort of limbo between adolescence and adulthood.
The article offers a close-up look at a residential facility for the psychiatric treatment of post-adolescent ADD – addiction, depression, and dependence – as well as more severe mental illnesses common in this age group such as schizophrenia and bipolar diseases. The goal of treatment is variously described as watching the behavior unfold, helping them meet the demands of imminent independence, helping to empower their agency, and coping with the challenges of this life stage without coddling or rescue. It costs $21,000 a month to encourage kids to separate from their parents – or, as they call it, teaching them how to know when to stand alone and when to accept help.
Of course, most of us watch the behavior unfold without paying experts to do it for us, and we judge those who do with envy or scorn according to our own life experience. We all know kids who’ve tripped and fallen, detoured or even dead-ended on the way to independence. Some of them are ours. But most of us are holding our breath, wondering, worrying and hoping. It’s our new life stage, too – Postparenthood.