10 Things You Need to Know About Emerging Adults
Who are “emerging adults”? Well, one clue is that if you have used the phrase from the meme displayed, you either are an emerging adult or you probably picked it up from one of them.
I will put my cards on the table and let you know that this age group is my absolute favorite. I love being around them, listening to them, arguing about their favorite music, laughing at their memes, and hearing their stories. If you are (or if you love) an emerging adult, this list is a great place to start in order to get acquainted with their wild world.
1. They are (and are not) young adults
Dr. Jeffery Arnett is the founding father of the term “emerging adulthood.” He recognized that 18-29 year old’s exhibit a unique stage of life that does not simply make them "adults who are younger," but rather, younger people who are no longer adolescents but who do not always consider themselves full-blown adults. This list will help break down why this is the case.
But first, you should note that this designation is a social construction just like adolescence. In the ancient world, people were largely known by two defining stages of life: childhood and adulthood. Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras are remnants of cultural norms that spawned specific rituals to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence was not created until the modern era when our loss of these defining rituals left us with softer transitions from stage to stage. But just because it is a construct does not mean that it is not a helpful designation that allows insights and clarity for those going through (or disciplining those going through) this time of life.
2. Emerging adults feel caught between two stages of life
Dr. Arnett observes, "when asked whether they [emerging adults] feel they have reached adulthood, their responses are often ambiguous, with one foot in yes and the other in no." The marks of adulthood vary with a mixed application of independence & responsibility in everything from finances to relationships. Arnett notes that to call them young adults would require them seeing themselves as adults at all. But these changes are non-linear and incremental from 18-29 years of age. Therefore, as this group emerges into adulthood, it is important to note that there is a constant tension between feeling like an adult and not feeling like an adult. This can lead to a number of common issues such as imposters syndrome or delayed maturity.
3. Emerging Adults are transient:
18-22 year olds who attend college, usually have to completely change their routine and living situation every 3-5 months. Schedules, habits, acquaintances, expectations, and sleeping arrangements are continually uprooted and restarted. Emerging adults bring this habit of rapid change into the rest of their 20s. In her book, Generation Me, Jean Twenge researches a pattern that has continued to be true for years after its publication:
"That’s the other sad reality: not only is GenMe single for longer, but they often don’t stay in one place long enough to make friends. More than 1 out of 4 people aged 25-29 moved in the last year. It is shocking to consider the number of professions that require frequent moves for advancement."
Even with the effects of the pandemic, emerging adults experience a unique set of variables that makes travel and moving easier than in other times of life. And as Twenge notes, this has a profound effect on how they form and build community.
4. Emerging adults are exploring and cultivating their identity:
This likely comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with this age range. However, it is not the fact that they are forming their identity but how that is important. While every generation experiences identity formation during this stage, not every generation develops it the same way. Older generations were much more influenced by social norms and expectations. These allowed emerging adults to find their identity in common labels and trends deemed as proper by their communities. Current generations are not nearly as influenced by social labels of what is appropriate or inappropriate. The journey has become more individualized and isolated. The fact that emerging adults are seemingly on their own to make choices about their identity can be packaged as freedom but often results in anxiety or apathy.
5. Emerging adults tend to be self-focused
Self-focused should not be confused with egotism. While the possibility of being self-involved is as likely as it is with any adult, that is not what we are examining here. Self-focus comes from a unique combination of variables. With marriages being pushed to late twenties (or averted altogether), the time span between family of origin and new family responsibilities widens. With few people to be responsible for and fewer demands on them generally, emerging adults find themselves with an autonomy and solitude that is unique to this time of life. As a result, there are opportunities for reflection, exploration, and indulgence. While this possibility has its vices, it can also have its virtues. If emerging adults are able to use this time to seek out therapists, mentors, safe community, and spiritual discipleship, then a time of self-focus can be beautifully beneficial.