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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2004 / 28 Teves, 5764

Betsy Hart

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Refusing to be an adult | In an old "Seinfeld" television show, Jerry is doing a stand-up comedy routine which goes something like this: "Yep," he says as he imitates a guy saying to impress a girl, "things are really going well. I'm doing a good job at work, I'm regularly working out, and if things keep getting better at this rate, next month I'll be able to move back in with my parents!"

The absurd scenario gets a big sitcom "live-audience" laugh. Why? Because, of course, "moving up" means "moving out" of the family nest.

Or does it? A new study released this week says that "becoming an adult takes longer today than in previous decades, with many not achieving all the traditional markers — starting a career, forming a new household, starting a family — until after age 30." The study was done by the MacArthur Foundation's "Network on Transitions to Adulthood."

And just what are these twenty and often thirty-somethings doing while they are waiting to "transition"? More and more they're living with — and off of — mom and dad. As CBS Evening News recently reported, some 65 percent of college graduates "are showing up on their parents' doorsteps looking for free room and board while they're looking for work." That might not be so bad — except that more and more stay there long after they've found that work. According to David Morrison, who studies young people and their spending habits, the number of young adults moving back in with Mom and Dad is "staggering" — and growing.

Both CBS News and the MacArthur Foundation study say this is largely happening because we live in such "economically competitive" times. Morrison says, "It's a very rational response to the economic and social climate that we're living in."

Huh? Who do these people think they're kidding?

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We're in boom times, people. Even taking into account the down economy of the last couple of years (which is turning around fast) the opportunities and prosperity available to young adults now are breathtaking compared to the prospects they faced just a generation ago.

What's really happening? Grown people don't want to grow up. They're not just putting off moving out of the house — they're putting off adulthood.

That's why we've actually invented something called "transition to adulthood." It used to be that that "transition" was called "adolescence." Now we regularly see "adolescents" in their thirties — and beyond.

Patricia Dalton is a practicing psychologist in Washington D.C., who regularly encounters this phenomenon. She says she's seeing more and more parents — with children in their 20's and 30's living at home — in therapy. Typically, the "kids" want to stay in the comfy, all-expense paid nest. And while Mom and Dad might not be thrilled about it, they don't feel like they can kick them out, either. As Dalton wrote in the Washington Post, "such children have never learned to be self-sufficient, because they have never been expected to be."


As the Cincinnati Enquirer quoted one twenty-something living with Mom and Dad as saying, "It's so time-consuming if you don't live with your parents and you have to do your own laundry and cooking and cleaning."

Well, um. . . yeah.

Sociologist Kay Hymowitz calls this freewheeling, self-absorbed and still dependent young adulthood, a time that used to be about starting marriages and families and thus leading the culture into the next generation, "postmodern postadolescence."

In her book "Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers Their Future — and Ours" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.), she writes that our culture has utterly "diminished expectations of contemporary young people."

That's why we adopt this nonsense about the "competitive economy" being the reason they mooch off Mom and Dad.

I remember graduating from college one weekend, and 10 days later starting a new job in a new city, with my own apartment, a lot of responsibility and stacks of bills to pay — all by myself.


I envied my friends who were traveling to Europe that summer, or living with Mom and Dad before going back to a fifth year in college. I still think that that transition, orchestrated by my parents, was a bit quick, shall we say.

But my parents did their job. Their goal was to raise their children to grow up, leave the nest, and join the world as responsible adults who contributed to their communities primarily by building their own nests.

Hymowitz is right.

She argues that our culture does today's young people a great disservice by encouraging children to act like young adults — and encouraging young adults to act like children.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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