Come 18, it's time to move 'em out

March 26, 2002|By Susan Reimer

NO LESS AN authority than Newsweek magazine has declared that adolescence, a developmental period in children endured with clenched teeth by their parents, now extends into the 20s and beyond.

It is called "adultolescence."

The national newsweekly reported that a survey of college kids finds that almost 60 percent plan to live at home after graduation - many for longer than a year.

And, Newsweek said, this return home is no longer considered a loser move. It is, rather, a sound economic strategy: for paying for graduate school, for saving for a down payment on a house, for paying off student loans. Or for buying a sports car.

Furthermore, today's parents do not resent the fact that their children are circling back home - often repeatedly. Rather, they are pleased and grateful to be able to extend their time as mentors, teachers and guides. This financial and emotional support of the next generation is cheerfully referred to as "scaffolding." As opposed to "enabling."

Speaking as one who is hip deep in a couple of adolescences right now, let me say that I have absolutely no enthusiasm for tacking on another 5 years to 10 years to a developmental phase chiefly characterized by arguments and enormous water bills.

The only thought that gets me out of bed in the morning is that this phase cannot possibly last much longer. So news that it does is disheartening to the point of seppuku on the back deck.

This is not just pop sociology. No less than the Society for Adolescent Medicine describes itself as caring for 10- to 26-year-olds. We knew that adolescence was beginning earlier in our children - thanks to hormones in meat and milk and a sexualized media. But we were consoled by the fact that it would still end on or about high school graduation.

What a shock to learn that the light at the end of the tunnel was the headlights of a car you are still paying the insurance on as your 24- year-old pulls back in the driveway.

American Demographics magazine calls this phenomenon "echoboomeranging."

There are 71 million children of baby boomers and the first wave is graduating from college and flying back home. Apparently, the kids find the idea of no rent and a washer and dryer on the premises more appealing than having a date spend the night without having to make introductions at breakfast.

According to American Demographics, a number of real world trends contributes to the good sense of spending your 20s in your old twin bed:

College is no longer a four-year proposition. Five years is more the norm, and many of the most desirable jobs require advanced degrees.

The average age of (the first) marriage is 26, and babies may be 10 years off. And the unrelenting upswing in the housing market has put even starter homes out of reach for most young people.

In addition, Alexandra Robbins, author of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenge of Life in Your Twenties, says that the uncertainty and instability of these times make the structure and security of the home you grew up in particularly comforting.

Yeah. Right. OK. But I want a craft room, not an oversized kid and dithering boarder who can't figure out what to do next and still argues about emptying the dishwasher.

I am sorry kids today can't afford all the toys they desire on an entry-level salary, but after 18 years in the parenthood trenches, I am not in the mood to subsidize anyone's lifestyle but my own.

I can't believe how unlucky I am. Here I am getting ready to launch one of my little birds, just as it is becoming a hip trend for them to return to the nest.

I can't believe that someone who seems to consider it demeaning to accept a glancing embrace from me would suddenly consider it OK to continue accepting room, board and laundry service.

I can't believe that a child who hasn't wanted to account for a moment of his day since third grade would be willing to live as an adult where Mom and Dad can hear what time he comes in at night. Or not.

I could respond to this alarming social trend by simply changing the locks as soon as my children have their college diplomas, but I expect that will only give them one more legitimate reason to resent me, as if 18 years of accumulated evidence were not enough.

Everybody out of the pool, OK?

Let's all get on with our lives.

I've done about all the nurturing I can manage. If I get any pangs, I will get a puppy.

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