Abdicating Adulthood

By Amelia Hamilton Published on March 28, 2015

Recently, ABC News reported on an “Adult Preschool” in New York City. This is a place for adults (by age, but clearly not maturity) to go and behave as children, with such activities on the agenda as finger painting and naps. For this, people pay money. Ridiculous, but hardly surprising. Unfortunately, this is only a symptom of something we have seen time and time again among millennials: the intentional delay, or complete abdication, of adulthood.

Being an adult isn’t always fun, and I’m sure many of us would prefer to paint and nap rather than pay the bills and remember to put gas in the car. There’s nothing wrong with an outlet for our creativity, or even to catch up on some much-needed sleep, but why would it need to be guided, and why pay for that guidance? And why revert to childhood to do it? More and more, adults are simply refusing to behave as such, choosing irresponsibility and willing themselves to be children again.

It’s a strange situation. Millennials are overeducated and underemployed, which has led many to live with their parents far longer than was acceptable in previous generations. People are, into their thirties, choosing to live at home rather than buy a place of their own or even rent an apartment with friends. Millennials are also putting off marriage, opting to be the adult children of their parents’ household rather than the heads of their own. In 2010, a New York Times piece observed that millennials have delayed five key indicators of adulthood: completing education, leaving their childhood or parents’ home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. While this is partly due to our economic reality, there is certainly an element of choice and expectations.

Millennials grew up differently from previous generations, often with more validation and less responsibility. A recent survey of college freshmen in America has uncovered some startling facts. Students are, more than ever before, classifying themselves as gifted. For example. Jean Twenge, the lead psychologist on the study, says that narcissism is up around 30% since 1979. “What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident — loving yourself, believing in yourself — is the key to success,” Twenge said. “Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.”

So they have grown up being told they are special snowflakes while being taught no real responsibility, so it is unthinkable to them that they might have to take a job they don’t enjoy or get paid less than their own estimation of their worth. Instead, they will just live at home and continue their childhood, maybe taking some time for preschool or adult summer camp.

Of course, you should swing for the fences and strive for what you want, but is there anything wrong with doing that from the relative safety of a reliable paycheck? Stay with your parents for a few months and build a career and a nest egg; it’s a perfectly reasonable response to the current economy, but don’t forget to build the career and the nest egg while you’re at it. It’s the intentional avoidance of adulthood that is unnatural and unacceptable.

Helicopter parenting is also to blame, as parents have taken over all responsibility and removed all risk. Psychotherapists increasingly find that young adults have never had to manage their schedules or resolve a conflict on their own. They are, quite simply, not prepared for adulthood. So, they put it off as long as they can, attempting to avoid it completely. This is no small problem. We have on our hands a large segment of the 80 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 who can’t, and won’t, function as adults.

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