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Researcher to present new book Thursday on parenting children in their 20s

Forty percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 live with their parents today. More than a third are unemployed or underemployed. And they change jobs an average seven times in their 20s alone.

“I think we’re all aware that it takes longer for kids to grow up than they did a generation ago,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D., a research professor who paired with author Elizabeth Fishel to write their book “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?”

“This new stage between adolescence and adulthood can be a troubling time for emerging adults and parents,” Arnett said, “because there’s expectations from the past that don’t apply anymore — for example, financial independence by the time they’re 22. But that doesn’t typically happen anymore.”

A ‘new normal’

Arnett, who’s based in Worcester, Mass., will be in Dayton this Thursday to promote the book. His goal? To provide reassurance to families worried about their not-so-young adults. His more than two decades of research on ‘emerging adults’ shows that providing financial as well as emotional support well into children’s late 20s is the new normal.

“Parents are really relieved to find their kid is normal when they’re changing jobs and partners every year and don’t seem to know what they want to do,” Arnett said. “Almost all of them experience that in their 20s, and almost all of them figure it out by age 30, if not earlier.

“In the very few cases where children are taking advantage, it’s time for tough love. But it’s almost never necessary to tell your kids to go get a job,” he said. “They realize this is their chance to make something out of their lives, and it’s not going to happen by sitting on the couch.”

Not so lazy, selfish

In response to a recent cover article by Time magazine calling millennials a lazy, entitled, “Me Me Me Generation,” Arnett said the “absolute opposite is true.”

“They’re going to school and usually working at the same time,” he said, “trying desperately to get the credentials that will allow them to do some kind of satisfying work. When they do get out, they start at the bottom, doing the crummy jobs no one else wants to do, and for not much pay. It’s so unfair to say that they’re lazy.

“And they’re not selfish, either. Volunteering is higher for this generation than their parents’ or grandparents’.”

So why the struggle to become independent? It’s a number of factors, Arnett said.

“It’s partly economic, in that the manufacturing economy is now information, services, technology,” he said. “It takes people longer to gain the education and training and experience that allow them to be productive.”

Other factors go back to the women’s movement and sexual revolution. Both allowed people to delay marriage and childbirth in favor of exploring careers, relationships and other life opportunities.

Balancing act

He’s careful to say there’s a limit on how much support parents should provide, however.

“The kids need you to stay connected,” he said. “But they’re going to make their own decisions, even if they aren’t the best ones. You can either support them, or be shut out of the process.

“We understand that that’s hard for parents, because we have more experience and know our kids well and want the best for them. But it’s not the parent’s life to live.”

What about the adult children who actually spend their days eating junk food and playing video games in their parents’ basement? Or who struggle with addictions, mental health disorders, abusive relationships…?

“When things go wrong, this is of course heartbreaking for parents. In that case, you have to get them help, and you may never be off duty. That can be very tough.

“But even then, you have to be careful not to take over, and to allow your kids some autonomy so they can be as independent as they’re capable of being.”

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