Usually, denizens of that epicenter of arrested adolescence—academia—can’t notice that trend in society at large, or even in their own back yards, or campuses. Gary Cross is an exception to the rule.
“For some time, we’ve been seeing a curious trend: Young adults are attempting to delay adulthood, while preteen children are hurrying—or being hurried—into the roles and attitudes of young adults,” Cross writes in The Chronicle Review. “It’s no accident that child psychologists have extended their definition of adolescence into the 20s or that primary-school kids are pushed into beauty pageants where they are dressed like Miss America.”
“As different as the two trends appear, adults evading adulthood and children hurtling through childhood share a common longing for the sweet spot of youth, that quintessential time of autonomy and self-expression coupled with the conformity of a peer culture from which the boring older generation is excluded. Ten-year-olds want that as much as 30-year-olds do. Thus, we have created a contradictory culture that combines jaded children, whose parents wonder where their kids’ innocence went, and callow adults, whose elders fret when their kids boomerang back home and ‘deny’ them grandchildren.”
Cross is an historian at Penn State. “Even more telling, in 2011, almost a fifth of men between 25 and 34 still lived with their parents; in 2005, that figure had been 14 percent,” Cross writes. “(For women, the figure had grown more modestly, from 8 to 10 percent).”