Modern 20-somethings: Explorers Or Procrastinators?

Over the years, our societal culture has embraced delayed adult development. To me, it indicates a certain lack of faith. Could it be that many parents fail to teach their kids to step out in faith?



Our daughter Whitney has always been wiser than her years and taught us repeatedly about stepping out in faith. She excelled at debate and won many awards in high school. She was going to be a senator, and she would have excelled at that, too. Then suddenly, she stopped. I was stunned. She explained, “Dad, it makes me hard.” Seeing that that was an unwise development, she no longer felt good about it, and she decided to employ her time elsewhere. She had talked with her Maker about it and chose to step out in faith in a new direction.

Leonard Bernstein said that to achieve great things, you need a plan and not quite enough time. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay teaches us about what she calls the benign neglect of adult development: “So what do you think happens when you pat a twenty-something on the head and you say, ‘You have ten extra years to start your life’? Nothing happens. You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition, and absolutely nothing happens.” She continues:

So when we think about child development, we all know that the first five years are a critical period for language and attachment in the brain. It’s a time when your ordinary, day-to-day life has an inordinate impact on who you will become. But what we hear less about is that there’s such a thing as adult development, and our 20s are that critical period of adult development. But this isn’t what twenty-somethings are hearing. Newspapers talk about the changing timetable of adulthood. Researchers call the 20s an extended adolescence. Journalists coin silly nicknames for twenty-somethings like “twixters” and “kidults.” It’s true. As a culture, we have trivialized what is actually the defining decade of adulthood.

It’s a bold message. Here’s why she’s bold:

And then every day, smart, interesting twenty-somethings like you or like your sons and daughters come into my office and say things like this: “I know my boyfriend’s no good for me, but this relationship doesn’t count. I’m just killing time.” Or they say, “Everybody says as long as I get started on a career by the time I’m 30, I’ll be fine.”

But then it starts to sound like this: “My 20s are almost over, and I have nothing to show for myself. I had a better résumé the day after I graduated from college.”

And then it starts to sound like this: “Dating in my 20s was like musical chairs. Everybody was running around and having fun, but then sometime around 30, it was like the music turned off and everybody started sitting down. I didn’t want to be the only one left standing up, so sometimes I think I married my husband because he was the closest chair to me at 30.”

Where are the twenty-somethings here? Do not do that.

I’m glad our kids decided to skip the kidult decade. Instead, they decided to pass GO, collect $200, and become adults. They stepped out in faith in choosing a career. In choosing to date as well as to hang out. In choosing a spouse. In choosing to start having kids. In choosing to stop having kids. In choosing to stay married even when times get tough. Our kids are ready for all of these decisions. They were ready for these decisions before they turned 20.

Familia en la Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, los Estados Unidos Mexicanos

Family in Mexico City (México, D.F. or Federal District), Mexico

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Bonus Material:

1. See Meg Jay’s presentation here on video, or interactive transcript in a variety of languages. In it, she states revealingly:

Too many thirty-somethings and forty-somethings look at themselves, and at me, sitting across the room, and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”

2. A recent line of ads is from AT&T, “Embrace Your Fear Of Commitment”. Note that AT&T ironically labeled the video: “I Heart Freedom”. This is not freedom; this is selfishness. This is choosing to share your life in a friendly adolescent way and adamantly refusing to share your life in a family adult way. Delayed adult development oozes from the text of the ad:

“Marriage is a No-go,” states Joshua in the 30-second version of the ad, which is no longer available, since AT&T decided that they no longer wanted to be married to the shorter version of the ad.

The Woodstock woman says, “It’s not that I have a fear of commitment. It’s more like, uh, interest in exploring all of my options. I have a commitment to that. I have a commitment to exploration.”

Sounds good, but here is Meg Jay on the above ideas: “I’m not discounting twenty-something exploration here, but I am discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count, which, by the way, is not exploration. That’s procrastination.”

3. A related video, at least in my mind, is from Sir Ken Robinson in his presentation, “How Schools Kill Creativity“, or see interactive transcript. It reminds me of a saying in our family that you can’t let schooling get in the way of your education. Some of the most important things we must learn in life we will learn outside of formal education.

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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:

  • Photo, “Debating”—
  • Photo, “Family in Mexico City (México, D.F. or Federal District), Mexico”—Ensign Magazine, May 2014, Page 96
  • Photo, “Couple in Love”—Personal collection

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Couple in Love

Couple in Love

3 responses to “Modern 20-somethings: Explorers Or Procrastinators?

  1. Pingback: Blunder or Blessing? Culture or Covenant? What Does Marriage Mean To You? | MormonPanorama

  2. Pingback: Why Can’t My Brother See His Son’s Wedding? Our Family’s Answer. | MormonPanorama

  3. Pingback: What Matt Brown Teaches Us All About Commitment | MormonPanorama

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