Sunday, August 22, 2010

Major NY Times Piece on EA

Today's New York Times Sunday Magazine includes a huge article pertaining to emerging adulthood entitled, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" For those who've already read extensively about young-adult development, the article probably won't offer much that is new, except perhaps for the details of Jeff Arnett's personal life growing up through the emerging-adulthood years. If you're new to the area of emerging adulthood, however, the article should provide a good introduction.

The article spends a good bit of time evaluating whether emerging adulthood qualifies as an official developmental stage of the lifespan. Like Arnett, I'm not so concerned about this. As a leading scholar said at a conference I attended in recent years, regardless of whether emerging adulthood is a stage, it does successfully describe what a large number of young people are going through.

Numerous areas are covered in the piece, from brain development, to public policies to aid young people toward full-fledged adulthood, to a profile of a unique (and expensive) mental-health treatment facility for young adults having difficulties, to a topic my students and I are starting to conduct research on, "helicopter parents."

My fellow transition-to-adulthood blogger Barbara Ray offers a provocative review of the article here. Ray critiques Arnett's conceptualization of emerging adulthood as being too focused on individuals' psychological "interior," too preoccupied with "how young adults perceive themselves as agents (or in this case as nonagents), and how they psychologically grapple with their identity and who they are/want to be," and concerned little, if at all, with social structural factors (e.g., the job market) that can greatly affect the life opportunities of young people.

The technical term for the studying the actor's subjective experience is phenomenology. It is the approach that I (along with Arnett and my Texas Tech colleague Malinda Colwell) used in designing the Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (IDEA), a questionnaire to gauge how closely an individual's experiences match with the central themes of emerging adulthood. In creating a phenomenological measure, it was never my intent (and presumably not of my co-authors) to discourage or exclude structural factors from inquiry into young-adult development. We have compared college-attending youth and age-matched non-attenders on our questionnaire, for example, in an attempt to take into account more macro-level aspects of society (as it turned out, the two exhibited largely similar profiles on the IDEA).

1 comment:

Haldirect said...

I have a better idea. How about upending the traditional life stages entirely by putting retirement before our working years? Here’s how it would work:

Upon leaving school, our emerging adults enter a period called, let’s say, “Chronocide,” (from “chrono” meaning “time” and “cide” meaning “to kill”) that lasts until age 30. During this period of killing time, they are supported by the equivalents of Social Security and Medicare, the cost of which would be deducted from their pay during their working years which would last until they die. Think of the advantages of such a system:

1. You could have retirement while you’re young enough to enjoy it and drive more than 25 miles per hour.

2. You’d have your whole 20's to find yourself and decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. Literally.

3. The government could subsidize your “years of self-enlightenment” instead of your parents. But you’d only be living off the government for a finite number of years, unlike now, when some people have the audacity to do it for decades.

I’m sure some cynics out there will find some flaws with this plan, but, really, I don’t want to hear them.

I think it’s because my brain is still maturing.