- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

A fellow who is unhappy with my point of view recently wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer that closed with: “After all, it takes 18 to 20 years to ‘grow a child.’”

Yep, he put his finger on the problem, albeit unwittingly. These days, many American parents, after parenting for 18 to 20 years, still have children on their hands. To make matters worse, these parents often continue to enable their children for a number of years, thus ensuring that their children’s transition to adulthood, if it ever occurs, will be accompanied by much otherwise unnecessary pain.

In the course of my travels as a public speaker, I have frequent opportunities to talk to managers in the business world. Their uniform lament is that young people are entering the job pool expecting the employer to tolerate what their parents tolerated: sloppy work habits, disrespect toward authority, a casual attitude toward rules and a reluctance to accept full responsibility for the tasks they are assigned.

Not once have I heard a manager or employer describe the typical young adult employee in glowing terms. Relatively few young people seem to have acquired a traditional work ethic. Instead, they bring an entitlement ethic to the workplace. What they want, they believe they deserve to have, and the employer who does not so provide is being “unfair.”

The employer’s expectations, however — as in, show up on time, follow your job description, abide by the policies manual, don’t leave early, be courteous to each and every customer — are acceptable only until such time as they become inconvenient to the employee or inconsistent with how he or she feels at the moment. (After all, these are children who were told, growing up, that their feelings trumped all other considerations.)

The trend toward delayed adulthood is noticed by college professors, who tell me it is no longer unusual for a parent to call to complain about a grade dispensed to his or her child.

One professor at a prestigious Eastern university related the story of parents who flew from California — both of them — to challenge the semester grade earned by their son, a junior. They were furious, he said, that the grade in question might prevent their son from being accepted by the medical school of his choice. They seemingly were unable to grasp that the grade merely reflected their son’s unwillingness to do the work required; therefore, if their child was refused entry to medical school, it was not the professor’s fault, but their child’s.

At least a dozen college professors have told me similar tales. One told me that a student’s parents demanded he ignore plagiarism and essentially award an outstanding, albeit posthumous, grade to Henry David Thoreau.

The trend toward delayed adulthood was reflected in the lament of a University of Oklahoma sorority house mother who told me most of the young ladies under her supervision plan, upon graduation, to go back home and live with their parents until they get married. This has since been echoed by two other sorority house mothers in North Carolina and California.

Forty years ago, the typical young adult was fully emancipated, economically and otherwise, by age 20. The average age of full emancipation has since climbed above 25.

My wife recently remarked that the oversize clothes worn by many of today’s young people cause them to look like toddlers. “That fits,” I told her, and she laughed at the pun, but this is no laughing matter.

The ubiquity of delayed adulthood does not bode well for children, parents, families, schools, American business and industry, the economy, the national defense or the culture. Yes indeed, it would seem nouveau American parenting is producing children, not adults. The problem is, these children can vote. We can only be thankful that most of them do not exercise the privilege.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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