Being a young adult is a wonderful time in life. For many young adults, ages of 20 to 27 are the years for freedom (from parental control), new careers, college days and financial independence. Society has a legitimate expectation of young adults to stay out of trouble, drive carefully and remain fiscally responsible. It is difficult to say whether society’s expectations have been shaped by psychological theories, or if the people (at different life-stages) have shaped the theories. The article entitled, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” (Henig, 2010) discusses young adults in terms of their actions being uncharacteristic of their age. As the title indicates, a critical judgment is made about young adults. The article supports its statements with quantitative figures. The relevance and credibility of the article was determined by examination of the facts. Based on the widely accepted psychological theories about young adult development, the article makes strong points regarding cognitive development.
The age of young adulthood is characterized by great complexity of thinking and greater integration of cognitive and emotional behavior. Young adults form relationships based on shared value and mutual feelings (Simpson, 2014). Like relationship-building, many decisions are made with consideration for the future. Young adults identify career goals and prepare to achieve them (Advocates for Youth, 2009). Unlike older people who might become stubborn or rigid in their thinking, young adults are open to diversity. Unlike teenagers who may behave carelessly without thinking of future consequences, young adults modify their risk-taking in accordance with goals. Even psychologists are aware that their theories cannot be accepted as absolute laws. Economic and cultural backgrounds play a big role in how young adults manage their lives. For instance, if a 22 year old woman grew up watching her parents manage money responsibly and thrive with a great education, there is a strong chance that she will follow in their footsteps. On the contrary, if another person the same age grew up economically disenfranchised, society cannot rightfully impose the same expectations on both people.
Henig’s article may or may not summarize the general opinion that the American society has of young adults. There is a strong defense for the points of view expressed in the article. It introduces the main idea by citing television sitcoms which feature people in their 20’s returning home to live with their parents because they are not self-sufficient on their own. The expectations are set early in the article with the statement, “built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions.”(Henig, 2010) With startling statistics, the author explained that 40% of young adults move back home with their parents at least once. They get and lose an average of seven jobs and delay marriage in favor of cohabitation. The transition to adulthood has been defined by sociologists as completing milestones concerning education, financial independence and marriage. Compared to the 1960’s, less than half of women and one third of men in their 30’s completed these milestones in the year 2000 (Henig, 2010).
Another piece of strong evidence came from Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. He is a psychology professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. Arnett promotes his view of the 20’s as being a life stage that is completely distinct from every other life stage. His research composed of over 250 surveys and 300 interviews support his speculations. The results drove him to coin the term, emerging adulthood. It can be summarized by a period of ambivalence, meaning that young adults feel as if they are grown up, but not yet truly grown. Sixty percent of his participants expressed feeling ambivalent about being in their 20’s.
A final issue to consider is the needs of the brain. Abraham Maslow put forth the hierarchy of need theory in the 1940’s. Normally, a person can pursue more elevated dreams after their basic needs are met. If young adults fear that they cannot permanently maintain food and shelter, they will not venture outward. Many college graduates return home after facing job acquisition hardships. Some people earn a PhD and are later rejected as over-qualified. Student loans carry exponentially increasing interest rates. People are finding it hard to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right and single parenthood is difficult to manage. Instead of entering home ownership or marriage, people are returning to the safety cushion of mom and dad (or another supportive family member) to meet their basic needs.
Despite superior, supportive evidence validating the article’s claims, two factors were brought up which weakened the argument. For instance, physical and neurological development was introduced to potentially justify entrance into the emerging adulthood phase. However, there have not been sufficient studies of people beyond the age of 25. A laughable supposition is that white matter of the brain is still continuing to form and has not completed growth by the age of 25. White brain matter has myelination which insulates electronic impulses, enabling them to travel faster. This explanation is irrelevant to the issue. The second issue has to do with Yale psychologist Kenneth Keniston. He published an article in the 1970’s that declared a new life stage for the period between the teen years and young adulthood. He called the life-stage “youth” when he stated in a published article, “they can’t seem to settle down” (Henig, 2010).
In conclusion, the ideas of Keniston and Arnett are strikingly similar. The fact that their research led them to similar conclusions in two vastly different time-periods suggests that young adults might not be acting out of character after all. Otherwise, sufficient evidence was offered to help readers understand cognitive development in young adults. The article explained what is expected of today’s young people, according to psychological theories. The author also offered explanations for delayed development with the help of respected authorities in psychology.
- Advocates for Youth. (2009). Growth and development ages 18 and over. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Growth_Ages_18_Over/
- Henig, R. M. (2010, August 18). What is it about 20-somethings?. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- Simpson, R. (2014). Young adult development: What the research tells us. (Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Research). Retrieved from http://hrweb.mit.edu/