The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood

Kids-what's the matter with kids today?

It was a song years ago and a question many still ask, especially since it seems to take so much longer for them to grow up and settle down.

An eminent Notre Dame Researcher says it's not the kids, but a changing American culture that makes the transition so difficult.

Christian Smith's latest book, "Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood" explores the difficulties young people face, saying of the world, "It's the confused and murky, the rules are unclear how to live and it has some advantages, some opportunities and freedom but it has some real problems that go along with it."

Problems that Dr. Smith says have taken hold in the last few decades, creating rampant issues for our young people and for society.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews in ten-year, nationwide study, Smith has followed kids from the time they were 13 through 17 and says he found five major problems facing young people today that focus on the dark side of transition.

The issues: confused moral reasoning, routine intoxication, materialistic life goals, regrettable sexual experiences and disengagement in the civic and political arena.

But before you go blaming our youth, Smith says we need to look at the role we all play. Problems deeply rooted in our culture that he says our youth have inherited and not created. "It's not a young person's problem, it's something our whole society needs to think about. The role of drugs and alcohol, family structure, mass consumerism, capitalism."

And he says, contrary to belief and what our young people may act like, families make a big difference. "Individual families and parents can make a huge difference in intentionally choosing to live certain ways, teaching their children that there isn't a quick and easy fix."

Dr. Smith also says older adults need to realize that much of the pain and confusion our youth face, lies with us. That youth are "profoundly affected by the institutions and the culture and economic system and the condition of the economy around them. So they're making choices with that, but there are severe limits and pressures on them about how they live their lives."

Unlike for their parents, the world no longer allows young people the luxury of being able to settle down and raise a family with a high school degree. As a result, kids are staying in school and marrying later, which has led to a new way of life says Smith: "A new phase in the life course called 'emerging adulthood' which we can count between age 18 and 29 has sort of come into being. So there's this long stretch of life where young people are no longer teenagers and totally dependent, but they're not fully settled down adults."

With more and more kids moving home after college, this may sound familiar. Smith says there is no easy solution. He adds that as parents we need to have a realistic concern for our kids in transition.

"One thing we've learned from our study is that parents are a hugely important factor. So there's a real opportunity for parents and families to engage these issues, to think about them seriously and to be intentional about how they want to live them rather than just going along with the larger flow."

His book, "Lost in Transition," is required reading for some of Smith's students but he believes parents would also benefit by reading the book, saying, "I think the book is good for older adults who want to understand what's going on with young adults. I think it sheds a lot of light and I think it's good for 18 to 23 year olds to read and see, 'it's not just me.' "

Perhaps helping put this emerging transition into adulthood into a larger context and help our young adults more skillfully handle the challenges they face.

(For more information: www.youthandreligion.org)


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