Truth be told, my position in life is somewhat confusing. While I’m no longer a teenager, at 21 I can’t say I feel all that adult-like. I’ve finished one degree, but I’m not ready to commit to any one career. I recently moved into my first apartment, though I have no idea where I’ll be living 10, five or even two years from now. According to developmental psychologists, these are all indicators that I am in my emerging adulthood.
But what exactly is “emerging adulthood”? It’s the period of life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood, between the late teens and late 20s, where people explore their options before committing seriously to a career, home, or family. And according to experts, it’s happening later and later. Dr. Jeff Arnett of Clark University, who coined the term “emerging adulthood” in 2000, points to the fact that North Americans are delaying adopting a permanent residence until reaching their 30s.
The reasons are complex and diverse, Arnett says: they include a shift in the economy that necessitates more education, a rising marriage age and, more nebulously, an increased sense of personal freedom over the past several decades. All this makes conventional adulthood “a less attractive destination,” he says. (I’ll say.) And then there’s the job market, which makes the decision to move out even more complicated.
This doesn’t mean that today’s young adults aren’t feeling the itch for independence, however. Some friends of mine who remained at home after college say they “would’ve preferred to have gone elsewhere,” and cite being “treated like a child” by parents as both a positive reason why they stayed at home and a negative — why they didn’t want to be there. Fortunately, my parents conveyed confidence in my ability to live on my own. In moving out, I benefitted greatly from knowing my parents had my back, should I need financial or emotional support.
For foster-care children, the lack of a parental support system presents a huge issue. Professor Varda Mann-Feder knows this problem intimately, after having spent decades working with foster children as they transition into adulthood. But there may be good news for emerging adults in foster care: a new study headed by Mann-Feder and her colleagues at Concordia University shows that peer support systems could be even more important than parental support in facilitating the transition to independent living.
While parents played an important role in how confidently participants experienced the transition — particularly based on parents’ willingness to provide a financial safety net — Mann-Feder found that Millennials “much preferred to turn to their friends for help if they needed it,” and “benefit greatly from watching their peers who have already moved out.” Conversely, young adults who opted to stay in their childhood home pointed to friends who were doing the same. Because they tend to model their peers, “when, how and where a young person moves is to a large degree determined by what their friends are doing,” says Mann-Feder. Continue reading