iGens 8

iGens 8 February 23, 2009

Arnett.jpgI’ve been reading about 20somethings of late and one book I found particularly helpful is by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett: Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties
. (The title has nothing to do with the emerging movement.)

Jean Twenge’s own works at times uses Jensen’s research to provide categories and interpretations to make sense of the facts she found. I want to make two points about Arnett’s book that are helping me. He has chps on most of these themes.

Do you find these five themes accurate about iGens? What other themes do you think need to be present?
First, he finds five features in emerging adulthood. Emerging adults are roughly 18-25 yr olds, though it can extend to almost 30 for many. (There’s no automatic cut-off.) They are…
1. Exploring their identities in love, work, and beliefs.
2. Experiencing a high degree of instability in life.
3. Exploring their identity to the degree that they are self-focused.
4. Experiencing that they are in an in-between stage of life: neither adolescent nor adult.
5. Exploring an endless list of possibilities for their future.
Second, he says “adulthood” has changed from being connected to marriage to being defined by self-sufficiency:
1. An adult accepts responsibility
2. An adult makes independent (of parents) decisions
3. An adult is financially independent.
There’s much to ponder in this very well written, even if textbook-ish, book.
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  • Amanda

    Have heard some interesting thoughts recently about the “lengthening of adolescence”, and this book seems to quantify some of those ideas.
    As an “emerging adult”, I largely identify with Arnett’s five qualities. One thing that often interests me in the lives of my peers is the relationship of #1 to #5. As is normal with young people, most of my young adult friends are on a never-ending quest for new experiences — they have a strong motivation to try new things (i.e. travel, music, religion, school, etc). Having new experiences, we think, should lead us to a stronger definition of personal identity.
    The barrier we seem to consistently run into is #5 – the endless amount of possible experiences we could conceivably have, thanks to globalization and high-speed communication. There is first the predicament of having possibility overload. With so many options to choose from, how is one to know the “best” choice? The more experiences we have and like, the more new experiences we want to have and are opened to, which often does the opposite of “narrowing” our quest for identity; rather widening possibilities for self-definition. This thirst for experience and its menu of possibilities, I think, is one explanation (among many!) for why the process of self-definition and settlement into adulthood are taking longer.
    This, combined with the changed perception of marriage and its relation to adulthood, it seems to me, lead young adults away from establishing small communities and toward becoming transient individuals who move frequently with few established, accountable relationships.
    This could have interesting ramifications for the church community. “Adults” settle. (But when am I an “adult”?)

  • 2. Experiencing a high degree of instability in life.
    Isn’t this making what might amount to a systemic problem overly subjective? I will be graduating in about a month with a B.S., it wasn’t exactly my choice to be entering the job market with things being the way they are. I’m not saying that there isn’t something to this at all, I am just saying that a good deal of instability might be out of the subject’s control.
    In fact, wouldn’t it be more useful to explore these problems from a systemic level? It seems that some of these posts have been overly subjective; for example, doesn’t tough talk about body piercing and self-esteem and what-have-you give the impression that these things can be corrected with speech bemoaning the laziness of the youth like that commonly attributed to Plato? Can’t one offer a proper critique of, for example, the capitalist economy and its latest innovations/ideology that determine to a large extent the course of a person’s entire life in America? I would be interested in an analysis that takes this into account and politicizes the so-called iGen, one that refuses to keep silent about our/my unknowing contributions to global injustice. Perhaps the self-esteem/postmodern deconstructionist psychoanalytic approach shares some of the responsibility and it should be exposed for what it is.

  • Scot McKnight

    Many have used the expression “prolonged adolescence” for this group of young adults, but Arnett’s thesis is that these are not adolescence, who are marked by a much higher dependence upon parents and living under the same roof.
    What Arnett argues is that, while this group is a bit typified by your last question. They know they are not yet adults the fullest sense of the term. Instead, it is a time of self-exploration and possibility but not yet a settling into marriage and career.
    Your third paragraph is exceptional and insightful.

  • RJS

    This analysis is interesting – but not tied to a specific generation (boomer, gen X, millenial, igen – to use the distinctions that Michael introduced in comments on the last post). The movement and insecurity at the point of change was true for all of us (and those who predate us in fact).
    The interesting question then is what has changed, what new factors influence the way the current generation is migrating through this stage. I don’t think that there has been any abrupt change, but I do think that there are some real differences from past generations.
    Amanda’s comment on transient individuals is to the point – this is becoming true for a larger and larger segment of the population. It is tough to put down real roots moving from place to place every few years. Transient individuals and transient relationships … virtual communities.
    Twenge’s comments on the self-esteem curriculum are interesting as well. I think that one of the things that has made the transition harder for some members of the igen group is this “self-esteem” curriculum. We have not taught our children how to fail, field criticism, stand up, dust off, and move on. I have dealt recently with several individuals who are handcuffed by a fear of failure. Interesting to think about.

  • In general I see the truth in these statement –
    1. An adult accepts responsibility
    2. An adult makes independent (of parents) decisions
    3. An adult is financially independent.
    There are a lot of married people who are not responsible or independent, and quite a few teens who are. So I like the definition by attitude as opposed to age/status.
    But reading them as the definition of mature adult made me realize what our society has lost. In some cultures and for most of human history numbers 2 and 3 would be unthinkable and looked down upon as selfish/individualistic. Is defining the height of maturity as being able to independently look out for ourselves really such a good thing? What about supportive community? What about coming alongside to help each other out? This is something that has been bugging me a lot recently as a mom of young kids. Except for the past 60-80 years in North America – as a mom I would have had family neighbors friends all helping me watch the kids and get my work done. But as a responsible independent mother I’m expected to do it all alone (and do it well in the process). Sure this is adulthood, and responsibility and all that but I’m beginning to question if its maturity.

  • RJS

    I agree – but isn’t this a function of our transient society more than the three points (independent decision and financial independence).
    We do not have community – not in our greater society and not in our church. (And virtual community is good for the mind, but doesn’t help with kids or fellowship/friendship.)

  • Scot McKnight

    One of Twenge’s insights (the other book we are looking through for this series) is that the iGens are asked to “stand alone” unlike any generation before it. And “standing alone” produces anxiety and depression — at serious levels now.
    All of this, incidentally, comes back to Bellah’s Habits of the Heart where he exposed the shift toward individualism and away from community commitment among Boomers.

  • Randy

    I am concerned about the repeated emphasis on independence in the suppositions, especially financial independence. I fear that we Americans build independence into an idol and then fret when we fail or blame others when they fail to acheive it.
    Both my experience in studying United States history and my experience living here in farmland (Ames, Iowa) give me the sense that such independence is largely exaggerated because it is one of the primary narratives of American life. After all, if a son or daughter hopes to follow in their parents’ line of work here in Iowa, they have to work on and eventually “take over the farm.” In fact, plans of succession are a major issue here in Iowa, where sixty-year old sons wait to take over farms from eighty-ninety year old parents who just don’t want to give it up.
    My life and those of my four brothers suggests that continued reliance on parental resources can take many different forms, and that to present absolute independence as a criterion of anything is dangerous. On a slightly different note about “independence” and “merit,” most Americans still acquire jobs based more on “who they know, rather than what they know.”
    Perhapse much of the angst our young people experience is related to the ways that the boomer generation has made independence for their children and grandchildren more difficult.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • RJS #4
    “The interesting question then is what has changed, what new factors influence the way the current generation is migrating through this stage.”
    I’d suggest that affluence is a big piece of this. For the first time in human history we have large societies with widespread affluence. All of our customs and institutions came from times of relative scarcity and absolute need for community just to survive.
    In the not too distant past you may have had only one or two real options about major decisions. Amanda mentioned having so many more options but we also now have the resources to pursue more options. Yet if I chose one option I shut off an opportunity for several other options. How do you decide? What’s the criteria? All the choices without any direction can lead to paralysis and depression.
    We don’t have the customs and institutions that help us make healthy decisions in a world of abundance.