For decades, sociologists have documented the phenomenon of extended adolescence. This is where someone who is an adult still acts like a teenager. One classic example would be a 35-year-old who has part of their rent and bills covered by parents and continues to take college classes.
Jean Twenge in her latest research on the trailing edge millennials (who she calls iGen) are extending this phenomenon even further. She documents that teenagers are becoming adults even later than the last generation. She argues that teens today are less prepared for adulthood. She also adds that they are safer, since the rates of car accidents and teen pregnancies have fallen dramatically.
Fewer 12thgraders have tried alcohol. Back in 1994, 85 percent had tried alcohol. Today, only 66 percent have tried alcohol. Only 73 percent of 12thgraders have drivers’ licenses, down from 85 percent twenty years ago.
One of the more dramatic differences can be found in social dating. Only about half (58%) of them have been on a date. Compare that to 83 percent of 12thgraders who had been on a date back in 1994 by their senior year.
Another dramatic difference is one that we have talked about in the past: work experience. About half (56%) of 12thgraders have worked for pay, which is down from 72 percent in 1994. Many more are taking college prep classes or hanging out at home.
All of these dramatic changes have resulted in a relatively new term being used by sociologists: emerging adulthood. This is their attempt to describe a new life stage between adolescence and adulthood.
All of this reminds me of the jingle, “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys-R-Us kid.” Maybe it’s time for adults to say to the kids: it’s time to grow up.