Note: This is part six of our ongoing series on the Parents of Young Adults Spring 2021 Survey results. One hundred and twenty-two parents responded to the survey. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6.
Dr. Heather Hessel
Dr. Heather Hessel has partnered with me on this survey, and I am pleased to have her comment on her observations and how these link to her interests and work with emerging adults and extended families. I think you will enjoy reading her observations and comments. Dr. Hessel is Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stout, as well as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
Connecting Across the Generational Divide
I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Jack on his recent survey of parents of young adults. The collected data was fascinating and offers valuable insights into the joys and challenges of parenting today’s young adults. One theme that, in my experience, frequently comes up when asking about parenting today showed up in this data as well.
- “Our environment is very comfortable. Kids today … don’t have to work as hard as when I was growing up.”
- “We moved out as teenagers and stayed out.”
- “I … have trouble remembering that they are not me, and I am not my parents.”
It’s natural to analyze our own experiences as young adults “back in the day” as we seek to understand how to best help this new generation. In my clinical work as a family therapist, it’s not uncommon for parents of young adults to compare their experience with what they expect from their children. However, the data also pointed out the trends we’ve seen that have created particular challenges that many of us did not face in our launching years.
We’ve all seen the news reports about rising college tuition and maybe felt the crunch of increasing the cost of living ourselves. Where we live in the Twin Cities, rent has sky-rocketed, making “affordable housing” really relatively “unaffordable.” Parents from Dr. Jack’s survey noted that the “cost of housing and education is significantly higher [than when I was a young adult]” and “[it’s] harder to be independent given college and living costs.”
In data I collected from over 750 young adults in 2017 (Mean age = 25 years), most of the participants (59.7%) considered themselves financially independent, yet 31.2% had lived with a parent the majority of the last 12 months. And this number has increased during the COVID-18 pandemic, as young adults returned home from college and overseas; as I have seen in my clinical work as a family therapist, these reentries can cause particular challenges and increase family conflict. However, one-third (38.5%) of the parents from Dr. Jack’s survey reported at least one young adult child living at home.
So what can parents take away from this data? Today’s young adults are keenly aware of the new challenges of becoming fully independent, contributing to significant anxiety. Patience and helping them find small steps forward are key. Focus on helping them develop marketable skills that they can carry forward to build financial capital for the future.
Maximum Stimulation & Choice Overload
Contemporary society is full of shiny objects and fast-paced action. They are so many more options now than in previous generations. Just consider how many phone plans, TV, cable, and other entertainment options are available (not just those 3 TV networks!) – not to mention different cars, internet services, social media apps, and even food brand options. Decision fatigue is real, and it’s yes, it’s exhausting. Research has shown when presented with too many choices; people choose not to choose, as described in this video from CalTech. Supposedly, avoidance of decision fatigue is one of the reasons Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg decide to wear a limited variety of clothes: to avoid making those small choices to save cognitive space for the bigger ones. Who knew?
So what does this mean for parents of young adults? Recognize the overstimulation that today’s youth have been bombarded with their whole lives and, again, bring patience and understanding. Some of the surveyed parents commented on this phenomenon directly:
- “Her anxiety that stems from over stimulus that was not my experience as a child.”
- “Society is more complex now.”
Can we limit the options presented to youth today? No, not really. But we can bring a grounded orientation and maybe act as a respite in the storm.
Connectedness – Where Social Media can “Shine”
My primary research area centers around young adults, extended family, and technology. And now it is a rich time to be exploring these relationships! Young people connect with the extended family online; my research shows that about 3 out of 4 young adults living with extended family have some online connection. These connections can be supportive in multiple ways, from “bridging” support (mentoring, help to find a new job, introduction to a new resource) to “bonding” support (getting emotional support after a break-up, coming out as LGBTQ).
- “Staying more connected due to technology that did not exist when I left home.”
- “…positive relationships with other important family members or adults in the child’s life.”
I don’t know about you, but most of my interactions with extended family when I was a young adult happened at holiday dinners. Now we hear about young adults feeling a part of their extended family members’ lives much more intimately, frequently through social media, often with positive effects. Encouraging young adults to stay connected with extended families, such as cousins, aunt/uncles, even mentoring nephews/nieces, can be one meaningful way that parents can support their children as they move into adulthood.
Yes, we know that the world is different today than 30 or 40 years ago. But can we appreciate how those changes are directly affecting what we see in our young people today? I find it helpful to take a step back frequently and reflect on the busyness of our lives now and appreciate what it must be like not to know anything different: so many opportunities, so many choices.
- Baer, D. (2014, April 28). The scientific reason why Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit every day. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/barack-obama-mark-zuckerberg-wear-the-same-outfit-2015-4
- Hessel, H. (2018). Mapping the family network of emerging adults: Closeness with extended family and the role of communication technology. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities]. https://hdl.handle.net/11299/215181
- Hessel, H., & Dworkin, J. (November, 2018). Mapping the family network of emerging adults. Paper presented at the National Council on Family Relations, San Diego, CA.
- Hessel, H., & LeBouef, S. (under review). Young adults’ perceptions of technology use with extended family.
- Velasco, E. (2018, October 1). Scientists uncover why you can’t decide what to order for lunch. Caltech News. https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/scientists-uncover-why-you-cant-decide-what-order-lunch-83881