Children who want it both ways
Don't blame your twenty or thirty-somethings if they're still living at home, sponging off you, their parents. They're just going through a phase of 'emerging adulthood'
Published 14/02/2011 | 05:00
Are you hitting 30 but still haven't got a proper job? Is your little Johnny still occupying his childhood bedroom even though he's got a PhD and a beard?
To paraphrase Tom Jones, it's not unusual, and they may even be going through a new developmental stage in life called 'emerging adulthood'.
The traditional transition to adulthood was marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, financial independence, marrying and having a child.
But sociologists and psychologists are now hotly debating a new stage of development sandwiched between adolescence and adulthood.
Emerging adults are in their 20s and early 30s and can't forge it alone for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of jobs or an overdependence on parents -- so they're still stuck at home.
The traditional five-step transition to adulthood is now askew, as young people remain uncommitted to partners, permanent homes and jobs.
Professor Sheila Greene, director of the Children's Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin, has a deep interest in the area.
The centre recently hosted a lecture by US psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who developed emerging adulthood theory. He claims 30 is the new 20 in an age where adult children remain attached to their parents' apron strings for longer.
Prof Greene believes a new life stage has emerged.
"Emerging adulthood is a label on what is quite evidently happening in society. There has been a change in economic circumstances and there is a certain amount of affluence."
The increased college-going population may be one factor in developing this new category of adults who aren't quite grown-up.
"Young adults are not forced to go out to work so there is a delay in taking on responsibility. There are increased numbers going to college and this delays entry into adulthood as parents are still responsible for their children when they are in full-time education."
The irresponsibility of our emerging adults is encouraged by the fact that they're bankrolled by their parents.
"We see that parents have now extended commitment to their children and it will be interesting to see if the recession changes this landscape. Parents, in terms of home expenses, don't expect children to contribute. They are allowed to have fun and do their own thing.
"It is very interesting to me as a psychologist as adolescence was always viewed as a biological state but we are increasingly seeing that stages of development are strongly influenced by the economy," says Prof Greene.
We have Gina Forde books for our toddlers and young children but parents dealing with children who are actually adults have very little guidance and advice available.
"From my own experience and experience of my friends there is not enough written for parents on the challenges of parenting from 19 and upwards. There's no handbook on how to live with young adults compatibly," she adds.
Sheila points the finger at young adults for not vacating the nest.
"Children want it both ways. They want to assert that they are adults but are still relying on their parents."
Inevitably there are conflicts, particularly when boyfriends or girlfriends turn up at the house expecting to spend the night.
"The sense in which they need to have a sex life can lead to trouble. Parents end up fretting about things like allowing boyfriends to stay over. It's a big problem in Italy where young adults living at home are called 'mammoni' or 'mummy's boys'," Sheila explains.
Young Italians' failure to launch has become a major concern for the government with the country's economic woes falling hard on the shoulders of the young.
The average age of moving out of home is now 36 with eight out of 10 Italians under the age of 30 still living at home. The reasons for overdependence on parents include lack of opportunities and a youth unemployment rate of 27pc. Higher education does not improve employment prospects and there is no unemployment benefit for those who have not worked previously.
Economic policy has been heavily criticised for increasing parental dependency and many feel it is a country run by the older generation with a culture of cronyism.
In an attempt to rectify the situation the government has introduced incentives to encourage young people to leave home. They are offering tax relief to under 30s who leave home and will pay 19pc of rental cost for university students but only if they study a minimum of 65 miles from home.
A recent court ruling ordering a father to pay his 32-year-old graduate daughter a monthly allowance of €360 prompted an Italian minister to suggest a law banning over-18s from living at home.
"I don't see what's wrong with passing a law that says all over-18s should leave home and not be a drain on their parents' resources. I must admit that I stayed at home until I was 30 and my mother made my bed up until I left and I am ashamed of that," said minister Renato Brunette.
We spoke to some Irish twenty-somethings still living at home to see if they feel they fit the category of emerging adult.
Jane Lyons (24) from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, is back living at home after finishing college. She recently took part in the TV show 'ICA Bootcamp' in an attempt to improve her self-sufficiency skills.
"I did business studies in Limerick Institute of Technology for four years. After I finished college I moved home and started working part-time in modelling and accounts.
"I definitely don't feel like an adult yet. I don't think I would be ready yet for the responsibilities of being an adult. I still feel around 17!" says Jane.
"I spend my money on going out and paying off my car loan. The majority of my friends are in the same boat so I don't feel under pressure."
Jane finds it easy to strike a balance between independence and living at home.
"I don't find it a challenge living at home. I am allowed to come and go as I want. My parents realise I am 24 so I have my independence. I know people used to go into jobs for life but I wouldn't like to be doing accounts for the rest of my life.
"I want to enjoy life while I can and I don't want to look back and regret not enjoying being young. I want to live now and go a bit wild which I think is pretty normal." She feels the recent reduction in the dole for under 25s increased dependency.
"It proves under 25s are treated differently and are not treated the same as adults. I think our generation has more opportunity and freedom. We are more materialistic and are dreamers. We have lots of ambition but don't know how to go about achieving it."
Laura thinks the theory of emerging adulthood is bang on the money.
"It really explains what people my age are going through. It makes a lot of sense to me."
But does Laura have traditional aspirations? "Of course I want to have a nice house, a nice car and a happy family," she says. Does she know what makes someone a fully fledged adult? "I think you become an adult when you are given a big responsibility like when you have someone else to care for."
Fellow 'ICA Bootcamp' contestant and homebird Emma Long (22) spent four years in college and is now back living at home with her mother.
"I am not working now even though I always worked through college. I really wanted to get a career when I left school but the type of work I want is so hard to get. I want to get work presenting or in the media."
On living at home, Emma says she can't afford to get her own place and doesn't want to move out. "I am a real homebird. My mother and I are really close and I would really miss her."
That doesn't mean that her mum isn't on her case for living at home.
"My mam is always telling me when she was 22 she was in Irish Rail. Some of my friends have kids and that makes them grow up quickly."
Emma is certain that she doesn't want to emerge from adulthood just yet. "I didn't want to settle down too early and I am not ready for adulthood and bills.
"I think being an adult is all in the mind. It is when you start to think differently and realise you're not the centre of the universe.
"Once young people finish with college and education they are in limbo. There are jobs out there but there isn't much choice. People are fussy about what they want -- they have their college education and don't want to pack shelves from nine to five. The jobs that are out there at the moment and people's aspirations don't match," says Emma.
Like Laura, Emma finds that living at home with mum does sometimes become challenging. "My mam annoys me and tells me it is not right for an adult to still be living at home with their parents."
Mum Ann's rules apply while Emma still lives with her. "My mam tells me: 'Emma -- under my roof my rules apply!' I have to text her if I am out late and boyfriends staying over is a no-no."
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