I was talking to laleia
the other day about what it means to be an adult and how after hitting the big two oh we're reevaluating the way we think about the future. She was telling me about how after working this summer, her vision of the future was less about what she wanted to do during her vacation time and more about envisioning what her apartment would look like after graduation. The increased leisure and freedom we associate with having total control of our adult lives is underscored by recognition of responsibility and a desire to do something productive with our time. Erikson's life stages come to mind, with the middle adulthood phase focusing on generativity vs. stagnation. Some say that we're growing up too quickly as a generation, being forced into situations that require us to think in the long term (college debt, anyone?) before we know any better.
Adolescent psychologists love talking about how adolescence has become a prolonged lifestyle stage and that in Western/"developed" societies, there are few clear markers as to when we actually become adults. In the US, you can get a driver's licence at 16, buy cigarettes and porn and vote at 18 and drink at 21. Those are just your legal rights. A lot of us work part-time jobs but aren't financially autonomous. Our parents expect us to do more around the house, but some give more decision-making authority to their children than others. If a teen becomes a parent, it's generally safe to assume that the pregnancy was unplanned. All these milestones of what it means to be adult take place at different times nonlinearly. If it seems that my generation has problems growing up and moving out of the house, in our defense it's more challenging when none of us know what's supposed to happen when.
Hence the new "young adult" period that roughly marks age 18 to the 20's, the ambiguous span from when most enter college and slowly transition to some kind of general self-supporting autonomy. We have a vague notion of self-reliance (how very Emerson!) when it comes to delineating adulthood, but with a globalized intellectual property/service-based economy so many college grads are living at home and/or relying on parents for financial assistance even if they live apart. And to be honest, most people my age don't have well-balanced functional romantic relationships. Maybe we know how to conduct a t-test or write a paper that can garner an A, but sticking to a budget, assembling a bunk bed or managing time well often seems out of our intellectual reach.
To be honest, I don't believe that the jobs that most students have make them any better at managing their own finances or learn the value of money, because the research on middle class kids shows that they espouse more cynical views of the workforce and workplace ethics, become more materialistic and be more likely to engage in some forms of "deviant" behavior like drinking. Working (10+, if I remember correctly) actually diminishes academic performance. (Though personally, if researchers actually bothered to study teens from less wealthy backgrounds, it'd probably show different and more positive outcomes.) For one thing, many high school college students use the extra income from being office gophers or filing away library books to buy personal luxuries and things they don't really need. Combined with poor financial literacy and the astonishing availability of credit, it's no wonder that we're hopelessly ignorant when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
It's so easy to become arrogant, thinking that just because we've gone through so many years of higher education and taken tests measuring our likelihood of success in the education system means that we have any idea of what it means to be a successful, well-functioning adult. Sometimes I wonder if we, the entitled and neurotically achievement-oriented Generation Y, just have a massive lapse in emotional intelligence. Or maybe I'm just too timid to tell the kids across the hall to keep it down because some of us actually have to wake up at a decent hour of the morning tomorrow.
This isn't to say, of course, that Generation Y fails at life. We're more worldly, technologically plugged in and theoretically more tolerant of people from different backgrounds than ever before, and quite a number of us are finding creative new ways to save the world or at least dedicate serious time to volunteering locally.
Call it the burden of complexity that grows heavier with each decade and century. Sometimes I think we're so busy trying to fulfill an agenda that we forget about how valuable it would be to ask someone who's been through a similar experience already to help guide the way.
I need my older friends to gently smack sense into me when I'm panicking or approaching Hamlet levels of angst. It's much easier to listen to and accept the advice and guidance of someone who has the experience of your parents, being parents themselves, who doesn't have all the history of conflict and the traits that irk you about your own mother. In friendship, you can simply relate to each other as the people you are now. I guess this is my terribly convoluted way of saying thanks for putting up with me lately and serving as examples that yes, people do manage to happily survive these emotional quagmires of the teens and 20's.