Monday, February 15, 2010

Suspended Adolescence: The Twixters, and Why Parents Need to Be Concerned

The problem of delayed adulthood has been documented in the press and by society in general. My home state of Colorado has voted to allow unmarried “children” to stay on their parent’s health care plan until age 25. There are now at least 30 states who mandate delaying adulthood responsibility of children by requiring they be covered under their parent’s health plan. Most of these set the age at somewhere in the mid- to late twenties, but New Jersey has put the age at 31, and New York and Pennsylvania aren’t far behind by setting the guideline at age 30. How would you have liked being called a “child” at age 30?

The Twixters

Sociologists and economists have noticed the delayed onset of adulthood in our society and have expressed their concern in several mainstream articles. Time magazine did a cover article in January 16, 2005, called, “Grow Up? Not so Fast.”

“Some of the sociologists, psychologists and demographers who study this new life stage see it as a good thing. The twixters aren't lazy, the argument goes, they're reaping the fruit of decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths. But more historically and economically minded scholars see it differently. They are worried that twixters aren't growing up because they can't. Those researchers fear that whatever cultural machinery used to turn kids into grownups has broken down, that society no longer provides young people with the moral backbone and the financial wherewithal to take their rightful places in the adult world.”
This difficulty with growing up seems to be hitting young men harder than young women. We women who came of age since the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s, have been told we can “have it all.” As a result, we’ve rushed headlong into life, eager to earn our degrees and become CEOs and supermoms, astronauts and admirals, politicians and presidents.

Young men, on the other hand, have been attending college in fewer numbers and dropping out in greater numbers. This should be cause for concern.

In September, 2008, Newsweek ran an article entitled: “Why I Am Leaving Guyland: Peter Pans aren't as happy as they seem.”

"Today's guys are perhaps the first downwardly mobile—and endlessly adolescent—generation of men in U.S. history. They're also among the most distraught—men between the ages of 16 and 26 have the highest suicide rate for any group except men above 70—and socially isolated, despite their image as a band of backslapping buddies. According to the General Social Survey, a highly regarded decadeslong University of Chicago project to map changes in American culture, twentysomething guys are bowling alone when compared with the rest of society. They are less likely to read a newspaper, attend church, vote for president or believe that people are basically trustworthy, helpful and fair. Meanwhile…the percentage of 26-year-olds living with their parents has nearly doubled since 1970, from 11 to 20 percent, according to economist Bob Schoeni's research with the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan."
Clearly, American manhood is in trouble. Most colleges today are predominantly female. By the year 2012, it is estimated that 60% of bachelor degrees will be earned by females compared to 40% of bachelor degrees earned by males. Women are topping the deans’ lists in colleges across the country and earning graduate degrees at a higher rate than men. This isn’t just a problem for young men, it’s a problem for young women who are looking to marry a young man who is intellectually on par with them. As a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, women are finding it more and more difficult to find a husband who earns more than they do. As a result, more and more professional women are opting for single motherhood. Yes, manhood is in serious trouble.

It's never too late

Our young people, particularly young men, are in a state of suspended adolescence and one way of waking them from their slumber is by having them take responsibility for their own educational advancement.

When our first child was applying to college, we were naively clueless parents who had made the noble decision that we weren’t going to pay for our kids to go to college. They would figure out their own paths in life and we would stand in the doorway waving to them as they ventured out to make their mark in the world. My husband and I had been self-motivated students who navigated our own college searches and assumed everyone else was equally motivated. Sometimes I marvel at how much my kids are like me, while at other times I marvel at how different they are from me. Such was the case when our eldest was a senior in high school.

Our smart, beautiful and talented daughter, had no idea what she wanted to do or where she wanted to go to school. Halfway through her senior year she made the decision to attend a large state university about 70 miles from home, and her best friend from high school was to be her roommate. What little money she had managed to earn at her after school job was spent on a fantastic trip to New York City with her theater school. Additionally, she applied to only two schools, and missed the deadline for several scholarships. She didn't apply for any outside scholarships. (She did, however, apply for and receive several scholarship offers from the two colleges themselves). It's not that she was a senior slacker, she was more of a deer-in-the-headlights senior.

To make matters worse, my husband is a successful engineer which means we don't qualify for a lot of financial aid, despite the fact that we had ten kids at home.

I remember going to one of the many seminars that colleges like to hold for parents of new freshmen and being told for the umpteenth time how we parents are paying for our kids to get a great education and wondering if I was the only parent there who thought that wasn’t such a great idea. After completing our FAFSA* and seeing the government thought it was a pretty good idea for us to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for our oldest child to go to college, and after receiving our “financial aid award letter” from her school informing us that we had been “awarded” a parent loan of $10,000, I was starting to get worried. What if it really was impossible for her to make it on her own? How would we possibly be able to afford the cost, even if it was one of the most affordable schools in the state?

Finally, I asked a financial aid officer at the school, “Is it possible for a kid to pay their own way through school?” I expected to hear how difficult it is, that only a few, very motivated kids could do it, and they would have to be diligent about finding scholarships and working hard during the summer months.

She answered, “No.”

That was it. She didn’t entertain the notion for more than a second. Just, “no.”

At that moment, I determined that if I ever figured out an affirmative answer to my question, I would let others know about it.

By the way, our eldest daughter did manage to graduate from college with a manageable amount of debt through hard work and frugality and is currently planning on pursuing her PhD in medical physics in the fall of 2010.

*FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” but don’t let that friendly title put you at ease. The “EFC,” or Expected Family Contribution is the amount the Feds say parents should pay towards their child’s college expenses. The figure is equal to approximately ten times what most parents think they can afford.
I'll be posting more advice for parents and students to help them navigate the college search process as well as having the students take the responsibility for paying the bulk of the cost. Check back frequently and see the box on the right sidebar entitled: The Parents' Guide to NOT Paying for College.


Lauren said...

What an intelligently crafted, well-documented post on the decline of American manhood. Thanks for addressing this topic!

MilitantMom said...

Thanks, Lauren!