childhood / family

Perpetual Adolescence

I wrote a paper for Human Growth and Development close to two years ago now, and it came immediately to mind when the latest example of childishness  popped up on the internet. Larry Correia delivers a brilliant fisking of the article. I really should expand on this paper, I didn’t even touch on the neural development, and how our lifestyle affects brain growth.

Arrested Development: The perpetual adolescence of the American culture


In no other country in the world can adults get away with being children as long as they can in America. Here in the land of plenty, where even the poor have televisions, smart phones, and often, their own car, there is no drive to work hard. In this culture where it’s easy to live with parents until you are in your thirties, the median age for marriages keeps going up, along with the age of having a child, why settle down and have a family? Where apathy and temper tantrums characterize the interactions of the people with one another, institutions, and their government, why bother involving oneself with a reasoned, balanced political viewpoint?

The textbook comments on adolescence, “today, adolescence tends to begin earlier biologically and end later sociologically than it once did.” (Berger, 2008, 361) The characteristics once singular to the adolescent are now much more visible in what was once considered adulthood. From the physical, like body image, diet and sexual appetites, to the development of the brain in ways that encourage risky behavior, to the societal influences, the American teen is encouraged to never grow up.

Adulthood is defined by Psychology Today as:

• educational and occupational achievement.


• health and healthy behaviors; taking care of one’s self.

• maturity.

• an absence of problems.

• having good friends.

• finding a love partner.

• mental health, not being depressed or anxious, not drinking too much.

• staying youthful.

• knowing who you are-figuring out your identity.

• disconnecting from/remaining connected to your parents/loving your parents in a different way.

• being responsible.

• doing what you want to do.

So what happens when adulthood is no longer a goal? Joseph Epstein, writing for the Weekly Standard, summed it up neatly. “When I say youth culture, I do not mean merely that the young today are transcendent, the group most admired among the various age groups in American society, but that youth is no longer viewed as a transitory state, through which one passes on the way from childhood to adulthood, but an aspiration, a vaunted condition in which, if one can only arrange it, to settle in perpetuity.”  (Epstein, 2009, 1)

The pursuit of adolescence shows up in Hollywood, with a seemingly never-ending procession of movies about overgrown boys stumbling through their lives. Recent titles such as 40 Year-Old Virgin, Something about Mary, and any Adam Sandler movie ever made, illustrate this point. Madison Avenue gets into the act as well, with an increase in stereotypical macho men ads that appeal to men on a baser level (McCarthy, n.d., 1)

Bombarded with all this, the so-called boomerang generation (Parker, 2012,1) find themselves still living with their parents, or moving back after a short time. In an article in the Business Insider, one young person interviewed anonymously had this to say: “when my parents were my age, they had already moved to the US on their own, were married and had a child. I’m still living like I was when I was in high school except instead of school it’s a job and I have more money to spend. They were adults at my age and I’m still living like a teenager.”

Barbara Kay sums it all up neatly, “Maturity as a general virtue, however, declined in the Sixties when indiscriminate sexual liberty, detached from responsibility and emotional engagement, became a human right from puberty forward. With no need to defer the gratification of appetite, there was no further need for patience, maturity’s hallmark.” (Kay, 2009, 1) In our modern whirl, this loss of patience, of maturity, indicates an arrested development of Americans that will affect our culture on the deepest levels, and not in a good way.


Works Cited

McCarthy, Michael (n.d). Degree’s macho men ads hit target. USA Today.


Epstein, Joseph, Weekly Standard, 2009.


Kay, Barbara, Grow Up, Will You?, Mercator Net, 2009.


Stanger, Melissa, Business Insider, 2012.


Tanner, Jennifer, Psychology Today, Becoming Adult, 2010.


Parker, Kim, Pew Social Trends, The Boomerang Generation, 2012.


Berger, Kathleen, The Developing Person, 2008.



10 thoughts on “Perpetual Adolescence

  1. “an absence of problems.
    • finding a love partner.
    • staying youthful.”

    Seriously? “Life is hard, princess. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” I know a lot of mature single people thirty or older. And “staying youthful”…that one has always annoyed me.

    I guess posts like those irk me most because my social background is the antithesis of that. We were always taught to work, to take responsibility. My brother married his wife when she was 19 and he was 22. Five years later, they have two kids and he’s an army captain. This should not be such an astounding thing for him to have done that.


  2. Staying youthful… It’s a state of mind 😉 My great grandmother told me at 99 that she still felt 18 inside. To me, that’s staying youthful. Behaving like a spoiled toddler is not staying youthful.

    As for the older, single person, yes, of course. Keep in mind I was simply trying to find a modern definition of Maturity that I could quote. It needs clarification, perhaps. I have an idea lurking in the back of my brain.

    You and your brother are exceptions, and shining examples. When I wrote this paper I was newly back in college, almost 20 years older than my classmates and having more than a little culture shock. I still have it, and will write more on this topic, becuase it’s the prevalent problem in our culture today, this sentiment of entitlement.


    • What I protest isn’t staying youthful, per se. My parents in their late 50s are two vivacious, adventurous people who give me a run for my money! I misinterpreted “staying youthful” as the pursuit of youth–i.e., the fifty-something moms trying to dress like their teen daughters and hold forever their girlhood beauty. That’s simply impossible.

      Forgive my early-morning snarling 🙂 I’d love to hear your clarification!

      AMEN. I look forward to your post on entitlement!! Also, Larry’s fisking has put me in a better frame of mind. That man has his head on straight.


    • That doesn’t surprise me. I was looking at population pyramids of Italy with horrified fasciantion recently. That rate or reproductions (or rather, non-reproduction) is going bad places for a civilization.


      • The lack of reproduction is going to hurt very many countries. Although – as a somewhat optimist – I’m not positive it will be as bad as various doom-mongers proclaim.

        What I’ve noticed is that even in Japan (one of the lowest birthrate/woman countries) there are big differences. In Tokyo the usual number of kids/(married)woman is 0-1 and there are many many unmarried women with 0 kids. But out in the countryside there are fewer unmarried women and the married ones (at least once they’ve been married a few years) see to have 2 or 3 kids. Not all of course but I’d say the countryside is just about at replacement level while the large urban areas mostly aren’t even close.

        I think automation will allow a graceful decline in urban youth because so many things simply won’t need to be done by hand, And if the cities thin out then that’s no bad thing, we don’t need the urban concentration to share information/ideas etc effriciently because now the Internet does it for us no matter where we are.


  3. Cedar, first they have to have a “brain to mature.” :-\ Second. here’s a good working definition. There is “childish” and “childlike.” Childish is things like temper tantrums, wanting your own way, at others expense, etc. Child like is: throwing snowballs with your children; delighting in a sunrise/sunset with someone you love, etc. IOW, it is seeing the world as a child sees it, full of wonder and beauty.


Comments are closed.