Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Growing up too slowly

Time magazine had an article on what it calls "twixters" (don't you hate attempts to coin trendy new words for societal phenomenons?): i.e., twentysomethings who still don't have a steady career or a family of their own, who enjoy the privileges of adults without wanting to take on any of the responsibilities. There is much debate on why this is, whether it's a good or a bad thing, and what to do about it if it's a bad thing. (DISCLAIMER: Following discussion pertains to society as a whole, not to any reader's particular actions. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't cram it on.)

Yes, it's a bad thing. The generation is very much like Susan of Narnia: "Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." As adolescence gets pushed down younger and younger and stretched out for longer and longer, there is little room for the innocence of childhood or the responsibilities of adulthood.

So what's wrong with that? People were never designed to have pleasures without responsibilities--they were meant to go hand in hand. A stable society cannot handle a large group of people entirely devoted to their own self-actualization. Society requires a willingness to sacrifice for others, especially for the next generation. But in our age, those best equipped to bear and raise the next generation are doing their best to dodge the bullet, or at least put it off another decade, when they will find it a much heavier burden. Nor is their current lifestyle preparing them well to care for their own parents in later years. Not to mention the moral consequences of encouraging people to put at least two decades between the onset of sexual ability and the onset of sexual responsibility.

But there are good reasons why people are choosing this route. For one thing, they've been raised to believe they can be and do anything, and that the only measure of a lifestyle's validity is whether it makes them happy. With all those choices, of course it's harder to settle down than it was when your life path was mapped out for you from birth. Although social mobility has many advantages, one of the great benefits of traditions is they save so much time.

For another, education takes a long time in our society. An unjustifiably long time, in my opinion. Sure, our society is more complex than it was 150 years ago. But it's not that complex. Maybe great-great-grandpa only learned how to read, write and cipher--but he learned it in six years, and he learned it better than most people who have spent twelve years in our current education system. Maybe we do need longer to prepare ourselves, but sixteen years of full-time schooling should not be considered the bare minimum for a living-wage job. That information could be processed in a lot less time.

People also talk about the cost of living and how folks can't afford things starting out like they did in the 50's--but I suspect it's more the expectations of livings that have gone up. If young couples nowadays were willing to live in 1000-square foot houses, with a single tv set, one car, no cable, no internet, and no cell phones, I bet they'd find they could afford it, too.

All the trends indicate that this prolonged adolescence is likely to continue, however. So, the next question is, having gone ahead and grown up ourselves, what do we do to make sure our children do--and get out of the house before we're entirely feeble?

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