If Only I Believed This New Research in Support of Delayed Adolesence

What Women Really Think
June 4 2012 12:48 PM

New Research in Support of Delayed Adolescence: If Only I Believed It

I experienced a new feeling late last week. It was the deep, slightly quizzical relief that comes of having one’s supposed life failures turned into successes in the pages of the New York Times. In an Op-Ed titled “You Can Go Home Again,” sociologists Karen L. Fingerman and Frank F. Furstenberg propose that delayed adolescence (the phenomenon of twentysomethings relying intensely on their parents for emotional and financial support) may actually be a good thing.

The writers cite the familiar new-normal: grown kids texting Mom and Dad daily, accepting a monthly allowance, and—horrors—living at home. But instead of entering apocalyptic mode, they suggest it’s time to rethink traditional American “ideals of autonomy.” Some of their arguments seem plausible: Perhaps young adults are smart to seek out advice and help from wise middle agers instead of guileless friends. And it’s true that cultures around the world expect close involvement between parents and their adult children. But as someone uncomfortably moored in my own suspended adolescence (I live at home. Please don’t judge), I could not help reading the article at first as a mighty and much-needed validation, and then as a beautiful, empty rationalization. I wish I bought it, but I don’t.

Advertisement

For one thing, delayed adolescence isn’t a fruitful interdependence between parents and children so much as a child’s straight-up dependence on her parents. I can try to help out with chores and pay for my own meals, but the flow of monetary support really only goes in one direction. And the psychic costs of enmeshment are high. Fingerman and Furstenberg allude to the “uneasiness” both parents and their grown children feel in light of what they suspect may be “damaging over-involvement” in each other’s lives. They conclude, “The problem isn’t with the help, per se, but with viewing that support as abnormal and worrying that it could cause harm.” Yet I would argue that the problem is, at least partially, the help itself. No matter how loving the parent-child relationship, delayed adolescence prolongs a parent's burden of care (and perhaps less significantly, a child’s burden of being cared for). Especially in the returning-to-the-nest scenario, everyone may know intellectually that the situation has changed—the kid’s an adult now—but old dynamics aren’t easy to transcend.

Furthermore, when you live at home, your parents can easily become your default source of social interaction. I get the sense Fingerman and Furstenberg would applaud these casual conversations as a type of emotional support—but isn’t part of honing your social skills as a twentysomething seeking out such support from peers? Not to mention that proximity makes it easy for both parents and adult children to share information they’d prefer, on second thought, to have kept private. (For instance, I know far more about menopause then I’d like to—and I’m sure my folks don’t particularly want to revel in the giddily-spilled details of my dating life, such as it is.)

So why do I live at home? Because it’s far cheaper not to have to pay rent, and because my parents’ house is a 15 minute walk from my work. I can’t overstate these advantages, but I do know that they come at a price. No doubt it’s possible to cultivate one’s independence and selfhood while lodging under the parental roof. And I do believe that the mutually supportive partnership Fingerman and Furstenberg evoke so cheerfully is achievable—just not while one of us is footing the bill. Living it, I can’t quite agree that suspended adolescence constitutes a desirable state for either young adults or their parents. In these economic times, it strikes me more as a necessary evil.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

The Slatest
Sept. 30 2014 5:23 PM The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.