An Argument against 'Settling Down'
"What Is It About 20-Somethings?" Robin Marantz Henig asked recently in The New York Times Magazine. Young American adults are taking longer than previous generations to grow up. They are faced with more possibilities, and their idealism runs rampant. Therefore, they are left wallowing in indecision and uncommitted lifestyles, which makes them "emerging adults," a term coined by psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.
Emerging adults' most distinct trait is an inability to settle down. Henig notes that "the traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes … forestalling the beginning of adult life." In other words, to quote Mark Edmundson's excellent Chronicle of Higher Education essay "Dwelling in Possibilities," young people are "possibility junkies" and "enemies of closure."
The point of all the recent scholarly discussion about 20-somethings isn't to complain about their habits, but first, as Henig says, to figure out "whether the prolongation of this unsettled time of life is a good thing or a bad thing."
However, I think many Christians have already concluded that emerging adulthood is a bad thing. The voices who have noted the trend have immediately begun grasping for a solution, which, in many cases, is marriage. This is essentially what Mark Regnerus argued in his Christianity Today cover story, "The Case for Early Marriage." If young adults have not gotten married, or are still wandering the world, they are not serious adults, he suggest: " … the focus of 20-somethings has become less about building mature relationships and fulfilling responsibilities, and more about enjoying oneself, traveling, and trying on identities and relationships. After all the fun, it will be time to settle down and get serious."
And Christian Smith makes a similar case in Books and Culture, even encouraging parents to financially support their children while in undergrad, arguing that such parental support will push adolescents into adulthood sooner because to him, marriage is the primary signifier of maturity.
As someone smack in the middle of this new life stage, I admit that emerging adulthood carries with it many disconcerting patterns, and that Christians should have a unique response to them. But I also think emerging adulthood may not always be as bad as it looks. Furthermore, the idea that we should close in on emerging adults and force them into commitment may not only limit them, but limit our understanding of Christian maturity.
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