I know I am a curmudgeonly old troglodyte, but there are many phenomena present in modern society I don’t understand. I don’t understand why, when the plane lands, and the cabin staff give the approval, ninety five per cent of people have to check their mobile phones. They are obviously more important than I am with million dollar contracts waiting for approval or their tests for cancer imminent. And I don’t understand the necessity of those on Facebook to share with me the coffee they have just imbibed or the surprised look on their dog when they smeared its favourite toy with chilli. I don’t understand why in emulation of American culture I have to endure children assailing me on Halloween with the nonsense about trick or treat. I don’t understand why in a modern democracy so many of our fellow citizens still want to hang on to the security blanket of the monarchy. I don’t understand why the Australian cricket team couldn’t beat the Clermont under nines. Now all these phenomena are beyond my comprehension, and I can accept that my poor intellect and my traditional attitudes may be part of the problem. But let me relate to you a social phenomenon that confuses me more than most.
Some have argued that modern society provides few yardsticks for the progress of individuals from childhood to adulthood. They lament that there are few “rites of passage” to provide markers on such progress. Primitive societies put great store in celebrating the symbolic graduation from immaturity to maturity in both physical and psychological contexts. In our society few such markers remain and they are at the best ambiguous. Perhaps we could accord such status to such events as reaching the age of consent, being old enough to drink or get a driver’s licence, or even more irrelevantly when you get your first I-phone or first achieve 100 Facebook “friends” or whatever. But these occasions relate only to the age and individual circumstances of the individual and not to any demonstration of maturity.
In my mind one such rite of passage, that has greater weight as a reflection of maturity, is leaving home. Can you remember when it happened to you? It was a delightful composite of fear and exhilaration. How would you cope? But it offered the prospect of being independent and free of parental strictures.
In the best circumstances, we left home knowing that we were still welcome back home and if things went wrong we could return to the parental fold and still be embraced. But it compelled us to live our lives relatively independently. We learnt, often in cooperation with others, how to manage a household, care for ourselves and make many of life’s important choices without parental support or, for that matter, interference.
But statistics show that in today’s world fewer children are leaving home and when they do it is often later than was the norm in my youth. In Australia almost a quarter of adult children in the age bracket of 20 – 34 now live at home. In some countries the trend is even worse. A recent Canadian census released in September 2012 showed that, of kids aged 20 to 29, over 42% live with their parents!
As one cynic suggests can this be because “20 something people are frail, lonely and frightened at night whereas their older parents are robust have more than 400 Facebook friends and are out on the town all night”?
Of course it is not the case that some of these children have never left home, it is just that when they did life was not so convivial as it was when mum cooked and washed for them and they could borrow dad’s car whenever they liked, and whenever they had the need there was always food and drink in the refrigerator. Faced with these unsurmountable obstacles naturally they returned home! These are the so-called “boomerang” kids.
Sometimes having an adult child in the household can work out. This occurs when the child assumes an adult role and contributes appropriately to the household. But oft times the opposite is true and continuing to live at home expecting the privileges and benefits of a younger child lock them into perpetual adolescence.
David Orr, CEO of the English National Housing Federation says,
“We’re delaying adulthood for grown-ups kids who are left stuck in their childhood bedrooms. As a result, parents are also trapped, unable to move on with their lives and benefit from the freedom which comes when their sons and daughters move out.”
The major motivations for young people to leave home are for independence, because of conflict, or to live with a partner. If none of these are very strongly felt and there is support, a reasonable amount of independence and freedom available at home, and some financial advantage in living at home (as there almost always is) there is no driving reason to leave.
As a result, growing numbers of our adult children are trapped into parental dependency and are missing the developmental benefits associated with one of our few remaining rites of passage i.e. leaving the parental home. It is probably overstating the effect to suggest it is contributing to the infantilising of our young adults, but it would be prudent to have some concerns in this regard.