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Not Quite Adults, Richard Settersten & Barbara Ray

2011/05/05

I’ll admit that I started this book skeptical of the premise — that the extended adolescence / preadulthood which is so prevalent today is beneficial to both young adults and society in general. The introduction did little to convince me otherwise — alluding to an uncited stunning figure of 70% of eighteen to thirty-four-year-olds in 2005 had less than an associate’s degree. It also set forth the argument that today’s young people “live in a world of elevated expectations. This does not mean they are spoiled or coddled; it simply means they have been raised to believe in themselves” (xxi).

The first chapter focused on education — a subject near to me because of my current position in an academic setting. The authors point out the many flaws in our current educational system: insufficient guidance throughout high school, lack of focus on entering school, limited mentoring from counselors and advisers. It also related struggles of several young adults as they attempted to pass through the schools, both private and public universities and two-year colleges. The authors argue that the “college for all” mentality pressures high school graduates into attending a college instead of vocational school or into jobs where they might be more suited, that “what many students need instead is a system that embraces their talents and creates a viable bridge to training and later jobs in the real world. The problem is, of course, that there are few alternative paths for non-college-bound youth” (25). Along similar lines, the next chapter looks at financial stability: not only debt from college, but also the long-term financial impact of not going to college. Later chapters look at the instability of employment, and the desire of young adults to find a job that they are passionate about, but still maintain a personal and family life outside of work; they also discuss family and civic life.

To conclude, the authors suggest several factors that will positively influence young adulthood — strong relationships with parents, investing in the future including willingness to take on smart debt (ie, for education), selecting an appropriate path of education or vocational training, improving community colleges. They argue that “young people need institutions and supports that foster responsibility and hope, that help them set goals and build the skills they need as adults in a fast-moving and fast-changing world” (201), beyond just the family structure, and that “expecting young people to be adult by age eighteen or twetny-one, or even twenty-five, is no longer feasible, or even desirable” (201). Still, despite their ideas and valid points about emerging adulthood, I would suggest that creating stronger programs and supports even before the onset of legal adulthood — ie, in high school and earlier — rather than extension of adolescence would be more beneficial.

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