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Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It's Good for Everyone
Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It's Good for Everyone
by Richard A. Settersten
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.18
70 used & new from $0.01

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In defense of the Helicopter parent--it's taking longer to grow up, March 8, 2011
I recently read this book by family scholar Richard Settersten, coauthored with Barbara Rey, titled Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Something are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why it's Good for Everyone. "I couldn't put it down" is such a hackneyed term that even high school essayists won't use it. But in my case, it's true. I haven't plowed through a book this fast since the Da Vinci Code.

Not Quite Adults explains the phenomenon of the lengthening duration from high school graduation and attaining what has been the experience of transitioning to adulthood of the past few decades. Young adults are meeting the sociological markers of leaving home, finishing school, finding work, getting married and having kids in a more lengthy and often reordered way.

The book had so much meaning for me, for a three reasons. First, the content was co-authored by a first rate scholar. (I work in the field.) Settersten is Professor and the Hallie Ford Endowed Chair in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at Oregon State University. Moreover, I could identify with every word because I am the mom of a transitioning adult. It affirmed what I am noticing intuitively--that the time elapsing from adolescence to adulthood, as it was defined back in my day, has stretched and that today's young adults need a head start, including supportive parents, to make the leap.

Finally, it confirmed a trend that I began to see increasingly in my previous 15 year career as an academic adviser at a major university. I worked a lot with older students, returning to college in their late 20s or 30s. Typically, they had bailed out after a year or two of college due to lack of funds, or some life circumstance of some kind (such as having a child) or because of some overall confusion or lack of direction. They didn't have a safety net and, by the look of their transcripts, they hadn't found an adviser who gave them a game plan. By the time they arrived at my desk, most of them needed well over 60 semester credits and hundreds and hundreds of dollars in tuition. I saw a steady stream of prospective students in my career who had no savings and were sometimes living hand to mouth. They could just not scrape up the money to start over. Furthermore, they recognized the precarious situation they were in and were reluctant to pursue student loans even though it would be the best investment long term. The authors describe the concepts of "good debt" and "bad debt." A car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot. A college education just keeps paying dividends throughout a lifetime.

The authors are especially interested in understanding some of the differences between "swimmers" and "treaders." Swimmers get off to the right start. They have a leg up due to booster parents or a fortuitous combination of mentoring and funding. They are able to attain higher education, then a job, and then pursue homeownership and family formation once they are financially established. Treaders get sidelined due to cumulative disadvantage and, in the absence of the right kind of encouragement and support, they are constantly playing catch-up and can't get a foothold on life's ladder.

Get ready for some mythbusting backed by bulletproof scholarly data. The media is rife with judgmental conventional wisdom that what we have here is a "failure to launch." The authors stress the modern truth: " ... what's different today is that the stakes on all fronts are much higher. Poor judgments and small mistakes on the road to adulthood are all substantially more perilous than they were just a decade ago. In an increasingly winner-takes-all society, there is little room for missteps. With missteps, the opportunity to succeed--the bedrock of America--fades. The result: a world that opens up widely to some while narrowing for others, with a shrinking middle in between."

Finally, for parents like me, this book removes the shame that society is attempting to foist on us... that we are crippling our young adults by not tossing them out of nest to "sink" or "swim." There are horror stories of over-involvement--such as enmeshed parents calling professors or employers to intercede for their children--but there has never been more need for a mentoring parent in a couple generations.

Our son, if we have anything to say about it, is going to get a full ride through a Bachelor's degree and, after he completes his degree, he is welcome to live with Dad and I, to come and go as he pleases, until he has his first job and can sock away a little cash. My favorite quote from the entire book is this: "Involved parents, and even the helicopter parents of media fame, aren't so bad after all--especially in contrast with parents who give no support at all. It's far worse to have uninvolved parents than it is to have super-involved ones. Rather than a sign of weakness, involved parents provide young people with advantages, including advice, funds, a roof and a bed, and connections."

This is where the book prods those in my field into what we can should be doing, --namely to start a dialog about launching the young adult in the form of family life education. What does being a healthy springboard for our children look like? And what is the point of over-doing? Right now I'm muddling through with the guideline of teaching him to fish. We need parent education for a new developmental stage--and fast. The rules have changed, and this trend is here to say.

This book is a fantastic read about a critical change in our society. It's in paperback and is therefore quite affordable. I couldn't recommend it more.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2012 8:08 AM PDT


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