Kids Today: Growing Up Too Fast, And Yet Too Slow

The State Of The Youth: They are not girls, but not yet women! And moreover, the reports are conflicting. The only consensus? It's bad!

First, from the "arrested devlopment" camp, this story from the New York Times:

From the Obama administration's new rule that allows children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance to the large increase in the number of women older than 35 who have become first-time mothers, social scientists say young adulthood has undergone a profound shift.

These kids — defined loosely as adults between 20 and 34 — take forever to finish school (and not because they're working), marry and reproduce late, don't establish themselves in careers quickly, and aren't financially independent. Or, as a scholar from the MacArthur Institute describes them to the Times, "no longer adolescents but not yet adults."

What's their problem?

The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women's movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.

Then too, former requisites like marriage and kids are now regarded, the piece points out, as optional "lifestyle choices." And while it seems a little reductive to conflate things like "choice" and "education" with kids mooching off their parents, point received: things are happening later. "Adulthood," as it was once understood, is delayed.

But soft! In the same paper, we have a piece, by Peggy Orenstein, on kids' increasingly early sexualization. Specifically, she's talking about little girls' "sexuality" as opposed to the adult sexuality it could impact.

Sexualizing little girls - whether through images, music or play - actually undermines healthy sexuality rather than promoting it. Those bootylicious grade-schoolers in the ["Single Ladies"] dance troupe presumably don't understand the meaning of their motions (and thank goodness for it), but, precisely because of that, they don't connect - and may never learn to connect - sexy attitude to erotic feelings.

It's a compelling argument that goes beyond the usual "childhood robbery" laments (see: another piece on the evils of kiddie heels in today's Telegraph.) But in combination, it's a worrisome recipe.

The overall gloomy Cliff's notes portrait shows us dead-eyed tots cavorting in bustiers, failing to develop a healthy sexuality or self-image, and then living off their parents' sufferance into late adulthood, as school debts pile up. Growing up too fast? Growing up too slow? Maybe it's the definition of "adulthood" that needs to change.

Long Road To Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer [NYT]
Playing At Sexy [NYT]
High Heels For Girls Are Sexualising Children, Parenting Groups Warn [Daily Telegraph]