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Last month — gulp — I turned a quarter-century old. To the boomers rolling your eyes right now and thinking, Twenty-five? You’re just a kid! I say this: Yes, by some standards, I am. By Beyoncé's standards, I should have at least six albums and a fashion line under my belt.
Regardless, 25 feels significant to me, so when I came across the headline “25 is the New 21” on The Atlantic’s website, I was intrigued — and soon, discouraged.
Meet Emma, recent college graduate, daughter of the article’s author, Randye Hoder, and, apparently, exemplar of my generation’s extended childhood. Emma works 30 hours a week at a “well-respected magazine,” and she lives several hundred dollars a month beyond her means. Her parents pay her college loans, car insurance and phone bill, and, together with Emma's grandmother, they throw a $500-a-month stipend her way.
Some parents might call this a “safety net.” I call it a drug. Support like that — with a stipend, to boot — promotes and rewards a lifestyle that a young person like Emma simply cannot afford on her own in this stage of life. What incentive would she have to refuse it?
If we simply accept the notion that 25 has become the new 21, where does the infantilizing stop?
Emma is in good company. According to the 2013 Clark University Poll of Parents of Emerging Adults, approximately 74 percent of today’s emerging adults receive financial support from their parents. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2012 Millennial General Research Review found that 36 percent of millennials depend on such support.
I have every reason to believe that Emma works hard at her job. I’m hopeful she’ll land a full-time one with benefits at an even better respected magazine. In the meantime, I would challenge Emma to work even harder. Thirty hours a week is no small commitment, but it leaves another 10 to 20 hours free for the kind of job that can mean the difference between having mom and dad make your ends meet, and doing it yourself. As I learned, there is a lot to be gained in doing it yourself — a strong resumé, diversified experience and the secret weapon for thriving as an independent adult in today’s shaky economy: grit.
At one point after I graduated college, I worked five part-time jobs. I can’t recommend juggling like that, and I don’t expect other 20-somethings to do it, but it was how I pieced the financial demands of my life together. I didn’t “walk uphill both ways” to get to my jobs, but I did ride my bike, and I still do. A car is one of many things that I can’t afford at 25 that my parents could.
I don’t consider this fact a hardship, but, if Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, director of Clark University’s Poll of Emerging Adults, is correct, not only do many of my peers, but their parents do, too. In a recent interview with NPR, Jensen Arnett said, “…virtually all 25-year-olds could support themselves if they really had to... but they don’t want to, and when it comes right down to it, their parents don’t want them to have to, either.”
To those parents, I would ask: What would your child’s life look like if you took away that monthly stipend or stopped paying her student loans? Would she go hungry? Or would she learn how to budget in order to accommodate a lifestyle she can afford on her own? I also wonder when the cut-off for financial assistance is. This kind of enabling can be a hard habit to break.
These are my generation’s formative years. How we sustain ourselves, fight our battles and pay our rent matters. It also shapes the way we tackle whatever comes next in life. If we simply accept the notion that 25 has become the new 21, where does the infantilizing stop?
Twenty-five is 25. I’ll wear this age with pride, because I don’t want anything about the way I live my life now to make me feel like I never left 21. And I don’t want to be treated as such. So let’s roll up our sleeves, my fellow 20-somethings, and show the world — starting with our parents! — what we’re made of. And since it won’t be glamorous, let’s have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
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