As the United States economy has shifted over the last few decades, job paths aren’t as clear cut as they used to be.
Changes in technology have replaced some of the demand for human workers, and many companies are looking for employees who can work with a team, have strong communication skills, and are good at solving problems.
Tanner and her colleagues argue the economy has created a need to recognize the life phase they call “emerging adulthood.” It’s this time of life where 18-25 year-olds explore their options, develop their identity, and gain experience. Tanner believes this phase of life was always available across history for the richer classes, but now that the United States has become a richer country, we see more emerging adults using this time of life to explore rather than settle down, or explore before taking on the full responsibilities of adulthood. But that doesn’t mean identity and exploration are only for those with financial means.
“Some kids go to work at 15 and never stop. That doesn’t preclude them from doing important identity work,” Tanner explains. “If you’re developing well, you want to hit the markers of knowing who you are, and knowing how to secure social resources. There are other markers of success, other than achievement, social class, and income.”
Lythcot-Haims adds, “The students who tended to have their act most together on my campus were from poor or working class backgrounds. Instead of being accustomed to being rescued by parents, they had a high degree of self-reliance, and could chart a course of action when problems arose. They had resilience. Life had toughened them a bit, maybe even a lot, and in their young adult years they were better able to handle situations that their more affluent counterparts would punt to their parents.”
Whether your young adult is still trying to pick a major, or is changing jobs more frequently than you did at their age, neurologist Judy Willis says cut them – and you—some slack.
“Parents need to know they did their best. There was no rulebook for what happened with technology,” Willis says. “Parents need to increase resilience. It takes more time to develop now, and more experience and more parenting.”
Tanner agrees. She urges parents to try and understand that this time of life is about developing an understanding of your place in the world. And just because a young adult may be in between jobs, dating, not dating, or seemingly unsettled, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing anything.
“Understand that they’re doing something positive,” she says. “Investment in their identity and figuring out who they are now helps them make good choices in the future.”