Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Growing Up in America

Two things came together for me today.

First of all, I came across an article in the New York Times that described how the road to adulthood has gotten longer and that our country is extending adolescent later in life, go here. The article presented several factors such as a poor job market, more expensive college tuition, and the fact that we are delaying both marriage and having children. Still the reality is this: our culture  today is not asking our children to grow up--to leave adolescence--until their 30s.

Second thing: I finished a really fine novel, "Lovely Bones" (Alice Seebold) that begins by describing the life of a family and a town from the perspective of a fourteen year old who's just been murdered. A pretty arresting start. And the scenes of family life--and this family's grief--are poignant. It's no surprise the American Booksellers Association award it "Book of the Year" when it was published.

But here's the thing: Seebold could describe the joys of adolescent life and especially teenage and twenty-something love, dreams, and sexuality. The lives of the adults, however, pretty much bottom out. Marriages fell apart (adultery, workaholism). Dreams were deferred and forgotten because of the relentless onslaught of the demands in adulthood. The book expressed little sustainable positive vision for what it means to go past this adolescence.

I'm not blaming Seebold. I don't know her work well enough--all I've read is "Lovely Bones"--and she might says she's just describing the U.S. But if that's the response, therein also lies the problem: our culture prides itself on excitement, adventure, self-expression, and staying young. Pretty much the description of adolescence. American doesn't want to grow up.

But where's the point where we say no to newness and self-orientation? When do we say yes to sticking things out and learning that, once the buzz of the "first time" wears off, that's when life really gets good? I treasure the moment when I first road my bike without training wheels, but I'm glad my skill level and mastery has improved over the intervening years. There's no way I could bike the trails I do today with the skills I had when I was six.

Those two things lead to a third: Being a kid, a teen, and an adolescent was great. But growing up has a lot to offer. And being an adult is sure a lot better than staying a child forever.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

I first have to point out that I am 26 so I fall in this time frame.
I think we are part of a society where we are rushed into growing up when we are young and pushed into childhood once grown up.
I understand that college and education is more of a norm then an exception. College is, as I was told, "a great place to find a man." (they also emphasised the educational point too)
Talking with most of my friends though we as young women are a little more selfish in a way. We want to be "ready" to get married. We are less willing to settle or a guy, and wanting to experience the world more. We often hear "you can't experience the world when you are tied down by kids."
Also many of us 20-30 year old's are coming out of college ready to start a career, but there is no career to start. Because of the recession many people are not hiring the new college graduates. This in turn makes us more dependent instead of independent. I think 20-30 have also grown up with just about everything handed to them. This was the generation where we had everything at a click of a button for the first time. We are used to being taken care of so to speak. Someone will always be there. As a 26 year old, it is hard to still have relay on my parents for income. Having just lost a job, I am back to the 21 year old stage where I have to relay on them. It is a blessing, but the adult in me is saying "this isn't right." At the same time without them I would be adding to the homeless population right now.
People are now waiting to get married because they want to find the right one. And we are willing to wait. Believe me....for those is a real pain to see all the others getting married and starting their families..on the flip side, there is a huge blessing to being single.