I recently read a comic strip that wanted everyone to stop using “adult” as a verb form (e.g., “I can’t adult,” “Adulting is hard”), but the struggle to take on adult responsibilities is such a relatable and relevant issue for every millennial these days that I personally love it! The seriousness of being an adult is turned into a lighthearted joke to turn our generation’s struggle with growing up into something less scary. Instead of saying, “I need to be an adult,” millennials say, “I can’t adult,” and instantly, it seems less like a mountain we can’t climb and more like a level in Nintendo we can’t beat. And it appropriately shows how our mindset is still suck on a not-so-mature level.
But why are we having such a hard time adulting? I decided to explore some personal theories as to why millennials are Peter Panning.
6 – Something with life spans growing longer that we are now in an awkward phase of not-yet-adulthood
The average life span has grown. This OECD report done just a few years ago show that the life expectancy in the U.S. has increased by eight years since the 1970s. Mulan was 16 when she chopped off her hair to join the army in her father’s stead in the Disney movie, but for the live-action, an actual 16 year old shouldn’t be cast to represent the heroine. Back then, 16-year-old girls were considered grown women and would be getting married off already while the men fought in wars. It would be more appropriate to cast someone in her twenties to give us a realistic sense of her maturity.
And that’s the point I’m making. We’re stuck in a strange transitional period where people in their twenties might have been considered adults in the last few decades alone, but are now feeling like they are starting the second half of their adolescence. We are not quite teenagers, but we are not quite adults. The older generations may be pushing adulthood on us because that is what they are used to and what they expect, but we seem to be stalling and maturing at a slower rate. Everything has been pushed back–marriage and childbirth are more common in the thirties now, for one example (a few others are listed below as their own points). And that’s why they keep saying the thirties are the new twenties!
I remember going to the supermarket with my mom a few months ago, and a middle-aged women giving out samples there asked my age. I said, “Twenty-six,” and she told my mom, “She’s just a kid. These days they are kids until they are thirty.”
5 – We are stuck with our parents–WHOM WE LOVE–and they only see us as kids
Something about being under their roof means they are still responsible for us, which makes us feel less responsible for ourselves.
Another example of the delay we are experiencing in life milestones (as mentioned above) is the fact that a striking number of us are still stuck living in our parents’ homes after graduating high school or college. Prices for real estate and the general cost of living have been spiking, so it makes sense that residing at home is more convenient and affordable. But this means that we are always under parental guidance. Not saying that they will bar us from watching Game of Thrones or anything like that (at least while we are in the privacy of our rooms), but parents can’t help but to view their children as just that–children. Their eyes will forever see only babies they need to take care of–especially when those babies are still in their nest. Do you know that commercial where a father asks Alexa to fast forward a sexy scene in Empire, and his daughter protests because she’s in her late 20s? Exactly.
I still live at home with my parents and was hanging out with a friend who’s in the same boat. I told him that my dad just messaged me, asking which cafe I was at and when I’d be home, which he wouldn’t normally do when I was out of state at college. My friend nodded in complete understanding, even with a little eye roll. Something about being under their roof means they are still responsible for us, which makes us feel less responsible for ourselves. Plus, they treat us like children, which makes us feel like children. They can’t help it because it’s a habit and they love us, so… maybe we should just enjoy it for now? How much longer will we live with them anyway?
(If anything, they can hire someone attractive to Failure to Launch us.)
4 – We were told college was the holy gate to adulthood when it really teaches us nothing about it
Speaking of college, there is a reason people tell us it’s the best time of our lives: we get all the freedom and independence of adulthood without any of the responsibilities. So listen up, Gen Zs or whatever we are at right now: if you’re heading off to college thinking you’re going to come out of it a complete adult with a full beard and savings account, you got another think coming.
Most of the time, definitely not all of the time, you are not independent financially when you go off to college, and guess what, your courses are not really going to teach you about personal savings and credit scores and taxes and all that good stuff. Colleges will kind of dump you on your behind after you graduate to deal with the real-world stuff alone. While they expect your parents to teach all of this stuff, your parents expect colleges to teach you all this stuff.
There’s this grandiose idea that college is the gateway to adulthood. Once you’re in it, you’re well on your way to becoming an adult, and once you graduate, BAM! You are an adult. It’s an unrealistic expectation. Most of the time, people leave feeling confused and floundering because college was really just another shelter keeping you from the real, real world for a few years longer. Granted, we may have picked up a few things along the way, like the fact that high school never really ends and how to rent your own place off-campus, but the experience is not the be-all and end-all to becoming an adult you may expect it to be.
3 – On both previous points, there is far less financial independence these days in this economic state
Apparently, millennials make 20% less money than Baby Boomers and 4% less than Generation X did around the same age. Which is why (look above) we cannot move around with as much flexibility as previous generations or get our own places. We used to define “adulthood” as getting a job, buying a house, and having children, but this is getting a bit harder to do.
Reality dictates we have less financial independence, so we can’t afford our own houses, we are putting off marriage and children, so on and so forth. As a result, we feel less like adults–more like failures. Plus, many millennials have minor to crippling debt from college loans that they are busy paying off while struggling for a good salary in this competitive job market.
As a result, we recede into the comfort of our parents’ home, still feeling very much like dependents.
2 – The convenience of life thanks to technology and internet is stunting our growth
This next one is on us. We can’t blame our parents, universities, or the economy. Technology has developed in the last few years at an alarming rate. We have our Smart Phones, virtual reality, and even freaky AIs that give sassy responses. They’re all pretty convenient and helpful–but are they too convenient and helpful? Because we can rely on them so heavily, are they also taking part in stunting our growth and self-reliance?
For example, I have never been great at directions, so the GPS on my phone is a godsend. But I worry sometimes that I will grow dependent on it to get anywhere, and I will never become better at navigation. Don’t get me wrong; the internet is great for finding out how to fix a computer or what that strange sound coming from the boiler room is. It’s helpful. But it also seems to be taking away, or at least slowing the accumulation of, some of the common sense and experience that adults need to do things adults do.
So are millennials maturing more slowly? Because technology is making things easier? Instead of running to an adult who can pass down his or her wisdom, we have a handy dandy all-knowing robot-parent with us at all times.
1 – It’s the fact that now we, and no one else, are responsible for our actions that is killing us
Yes, we can point fingers at the circumstances around us (like points 6 to 2), but in the end, it’s possible that the most crippling factor to our shrinking away from adulthood is the fact that accepting it means we are accepting all responsibility for our actions and failures. This is understandably scary. But this is the burden that our own parents bear even today, for themselves and for us.
The adult thing may not be to stop the fear. It’s to stop running away from the fear.
I personally find that when I’m worrying about “super adult things” like taxes or insurance, my fear and concerns stem from somehow messing something up or forgetting to do something and then being saddled with actual consequences. But there is no way to avoid these responsibilities or the fact that mistakes will be made.
We just have to recognize the fear of responsibility, and direct our courage that-a-way. The adult thing may not be to stop the fear but to stop running away from it.
In the end, I think what everyone should remember is… everyone’s faking it–or at least was faking it at one point. And adulthood may be a myth. I see “adults” around me everyday who don’t know what they’re doing or still have silent tantrums. What really qualifies adulthood?
Whatever the reasons may be for our unwillingness to “grow up,” perhaps we’re just starting up a change–millennials are the transitional generation. Maybe we’re redefining “adult.” No longer is it about having a steady job and family but about being emotionally mature, socially aware, and culturally sensitive?
Or I could just be pulling shirt out of my ash. I don’t know. Go ask a real adult.