The New Face of Adulthood: The Changing Journey Young Adults Are Taking

It may not seem all that long ago that the standard milestones of adulthood included going to college, leaving home, and being independent. The experience of being on your own and feeling like an adult is a big deal for all of us in our lives as we feel we are embarking on a journey towards what we feel we were meant to do as a career. However, the millennial generation has seen a big change in what adulthood looks like now, with many twenty-something’s either moving back home or staying with their parents for a variety of reasons such as changes in social norms and a shrinking job market. This period is being referred to as Emerging Adulthood, and with it comes the need for an understanding of how young adults can thrive through challenges not previously experienced by previous generations.

Most adults forty and over recall their 20′s as one of the most challenging periods of their life, not just in figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives, but also in taking the steps in making it a reality and experiencing all the twists and forks in the road of adulthood. Studies are showing that young adults are currently paying a heavy price in seeking a college degree with a large number of them facing the dilemma of earning a degree without the guarantee of finding job to begin paying off their student loan. For many, returning home makes a heck of a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things. It’s no wonder that the thought of marriage and starting a family would be put on the back burner for a while. Additionally research shows that young adults view their college education not only as long term investment in achieving employment, income, and job security, but also in the sense of earning a degree as a milestone of adulthood.

Self-worth and family relationships can be significant issues that come up for young adults when they return home. Some millennials I have spoken with often describe a feeling of heaviness that they feel by trying to respect their parents while trying to live their own life. Living at home and still trying to maintain a sense of independence can be a bumpy road to travel as parents may expect them to follow rules they were living under while still in high school. For many young adults living at home while struggling financially with a student loan and not being able to find a job can leave them feeling hopelessness and seeking comfort by managing their depressed mood and anxiety with excessive marijuana and alcohol use.

When young adults realize that self-medicating isn’t helping them to deal with their problems, the option of seeking professional help by talking to someone can be the beginning of a turning point. Young adults may find the prospect of going to therapy awkward if they are expecting a therapist to be a stern parental figure, but it can be an opportunity to find a therapist who is encouraging of their desire for growth and independence. While substance abuse and addiction can be what brings young adults into treatment, the core issues of feeling stuck in between one stage of life and the next is of equal importance.

Treatment for young adults can include learning more effective ways to cope with stress in their life and mending strained relationships with their parents whom they depend on for financial and emotional support. Clients I have worked with have often found that I’m not a parental figure, as much as someone who is there for them and be present to hear their story and witness their movement towards growth. Therapy is also the opportunity for young adults to explore their identity outside of their family and who they are in the world. It isn’t uncommon for a young adult to have therapy sessions with their parents to work out the strain they may all be feeling with the delay in them being launched from the nest. Therapy helps young adults to discuss where they are in their lives and work on how they are in their separation process as an adult from their family, and how independent they are feeling as the dynamics in their family change into something in which they feel they are being treated as an adult. Clients I work with are putting the focus where it needs to be at this time of their life, which is on where they are and finding resilience and growth. Exploring the possibilities that come from individual choice helps many young adults to feel hope for their future, or develop a calming sense of peace by being assisted in narrowing down their choices rather than being overwhelmed by them.

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