The New York Times has always struggled with youth culture, stumbling upon trends full half-decades after they emerge and then over-analyzing them to the point of unintentional self-parody. But lately, they’ve really topped themselves, in pieces like this recent blog post informing us that the word “hipster” is inextricably linked to the word “Brooklyn” and vowing to find fresh, new alternatives. (We can’t wait to see what they come up with…)
Today, they dropped a major bomb, publishing their Sunday magazine article — that is actually titled “What Is It About 20-Somethings”! — online a full four days ahead of its street date, in an obvious attempt to give ample time for the story to cause a bloggy furor. And you know what? It worked. As 20-somethings who pay our own bills, this lengthy exploration of “emerging adulthood” and whether many of us are too undercooked to survive in the adult world, really did piss us off, largely because we found its portrait of post-college types lazing around their parents’ houses, willfully eschewing responsibilities both unfamiliar and offensive. It is, in fact, about as insightful as you might expect an article pegged to the $#*! My Dad Says TV show to be. Since your friends will probably be discussing it for days and we don’t think you’ll learn much from reading the entire thing, we’ve excerpted the article’s 10 most infuriating quotes.
Not getting married and having babies? Sorry, you’re not an adult: We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.
“Emerging adulthood” — like junior high for 20-somethings! An understanding of the developmental profile of adolescence led, for instance, to the creation of junior high schools in the early 1900s, separating seventh and eighth graders from the younger children in what used to be called primary school. And it led to the recognition that teenagers between 14 and 18, even though they were legally minors, were mature enough to make their own choice of legal guardian in the event of their parents’ deaths. If emerging adulthood is an analogous stage, analogous changes are in the wings.
Or, you know, is it just the limbo you’re stuck in because your parents’ generation fucked up the economy and you can’t get a job? Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery, as Arnett says it is? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?
Hey, 20-somethings! This is the guy who thinks you’re immature: Arnett and I were discussing the evolution of his thinking over lunch at BABA Sushi, a quiet restaurant near his office where he goes so often he knows the sushi chefs by name. He is 53, very tall and wiry, with clipped steel-gray hair and ice-blue eyes, an intense, serious man. He describes himself as a late bloomer, a onetime emerging adult before anyone had given it a name. After graduating from Michigan State University in 1980, he spent two years playing guitar in bars and restaurants and experimented with girlfriends, drugs and general recklessness before going for his doctorate in developmental psychology at the University of Virginia. By 1986 he had his first academic job at Oglethorpe University, a small college in Atlanta. There he met his wife, Lene Jensen, the school’s smartest psych major, who stunned Arnett when she came to his office one day in 1989, shortly after she graduated, and asked him out on a date.
Right, because there aren’t any 20-somethings dealing with the reality of “dreary, dead-end jobs”: During the period he calls emerging adulthood, Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their idealistic visions of what awaits. “The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the disappointing and disrespectful children . . . none of them imagine that this is what the future holds for them,” he wrote.
Making unemployment sound like a welcome reprieve: When people are forced to adopt adult responsibilities early, maybe they just do what they have to do, whether or not their brains are ready. Maybe it’s only now, when young people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of public censure, that the rate of societal maturation can finally fall into better sync with the maturation of the brain.
Here’s another Baby Boomer who thinks Baby Boomers were exceptional: Arnett readily acknowledges his debt to Keniston; he mentions him in almost everything he has written about emerging adulthood. But he considers the ’60s a unique moment, when young people were rebellious and alienated in a way they’ve never been before or since. And Keniston’s views never quite took off, Arnett says, because “youth” wasn’t a very good name for it. He has called the label “ambiguous and confusing,” not nearly as catchy as his own “emerging adulthood.”
It takes seven pages to get to the part where Henig acknowledges she’s basically talking about rich people: While the complaints of these young people are heartfelt, they are also the complaints of the privileged. Julie, a 23-year-old New Yorker and contributor to “20 Something Manifesto,” is apparently aware of this. She was coddled her whole life, treated to French horn lessons and summer camp, told she could do anything. “It is a double-edged sword,” she writes, “because on the one hand I am so blessed with my experiences and endless options, but on the other hand, I still feel like a child. I feel like my job isn’t real because I am not where my parents were at my age. Walking home, in the shoes my father bought me, I still feel I have yet to grow up.”
Huh. Maybe that generation shouldn’t have sat idly by while their own greed destroyed the economy their children would inherit? But the expectation that young men and women won’t quite be able to make ends meet on their own, and that parents should be the ones to help bridge the gap, places a terrible burden on parents who might be worrying about their own job security, trying to care for their aging parents or grieving as their retirement plans become more and more of a pipe dream.
Call us crazy, but probably 20-somethings whose parents can afford to send them to fancy, $21k-a-month halfway houses to adulthood are so wealthy as to have nothing to do with the experiences of the vast majority of young people: The Yellowbrick philosophy is that young people must meet these challenges without coddling or rescue. Up to 16 patients at a time are housed in the Yellowbrick residence, a four-story apartment building Viner owns. They live in the apartments — which are large, sunny and lavishly furnished — in groups of three or four, with staff members always on hand to teach the basics of shopping, cooking, cleaning, scheduling, making commitments and showing up.