Failure to launch, or opportinuty to thrive? A new look at twenty-somethings


    Failure to launch — that’s what a lot of parents and professionals call it when their twenty-something kids seem to just not be going anywhere professionally, or generally in life.

    Temple psychologist Laurence Steinberg invites us to look at this phenomenon differently. In their weekly conversation, WHYY’s behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott and psychologist Dan Gottlieb discuss his ideas.

    Steinberg has a new book called “Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence” and just wrote about this issue in the New York Times.

    He argues that, according to a large-scale national study conducted since the late 1970s, it has taken longer for each successive generation to finish school, establish financial independence, marry and have children. Today’s 25-year-olds, compared with their parents’ generation at the same age, are twice as likely to still be students, only half as likely to be married and 50 percent more likely to be receiving financial assistance from their parents.

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    This may seem like a negative development, but Steinberg says that late adolescence, which he argues stretches well into the twenties, is a time of opportunity. Steinberg’s research along with other brain research has found that adolescence is a period of heightened brain plasticity, during which people learn a lot about themselves and their environment.

    “With this in mind, the lengthy passage into adulthood that characterizes the early 20s for so many people today starts to look less regrettable. Indeed, those who can prolong adolescence actually have an advantage, as long as their environment gives them continued stimulation and increasing challenges,” Steinberg wrote in his editorial in the New York Times.

    Gottlieb agreed with Steinberg, and said that many of his clients come into his office to discuss their twenty-something children because they feel that they are just “sitting around.”  He says this is a time to have conversations, to set boundaries, and to discuss how parents can best support their twenty-something child as they find their way, and discover what might be right for them.

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