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The Emerging Adulthood This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

There was once a guest speaker at a writing camp I attended who gave us instructions on writing our “declarations.” These were supposed to be poems addressed to the world, informing everyone who we were, where we were from, and what we stood for. My attempt was rather disastrous; the poem lacked any musical quality or nuance. The rhythm was all wrong – one line too long, the next choppy, like uneven scales. Only one line rang with any sort of sincerity. In fact, it was so true and personal that I wouldn't let anyone read it.

I'm a girl afraid of life.

I wasn't always petrified of life, so Peter Pan-like in outlook – no, not in childhood when we were all fed stories about an idealistic future. I never felt the need to remember to turn left and go on 'til morning when I had other very clear instructions.

“Turn 18 and become independent,” the legends advised. “Go to college, and then join the workforce. Buy a house and live happily ever after.” These messages have been passed down to us as step-by-step directions on how to live life and be successful, but it seems that we're going to need to be more creative than that, because we – America's youth – are in a situation no one could have predicted.

The thing about my family and my life is that all territory is uncharted territory; I'm a first-generation American. I've grown up reading advice columns and how-tos, letting myself be raised by sitcoms, with occasional words of wisdom I could glean from my older sister. My parents can't give me much practical guidance; our life experiences may as well belong to different species on different planets.

Today, though, it seems that everyone in my generation has been transported to Mars, and not even TV has the answers. No, “Full House” can't teach us how to deal with this uncharted territory, what sociologists are calling “the emerging adulthood.” The sad fact is that instead of becoming fully autonomous adults, as 18- to 29-year-olds have been doing for all eternity, we remain financially reliant on our parents while trying to live an independent life.

Emerging adulthood is going to be even rougher for the 53 percent of us who will be unemployed after college. The news is not lying when it says the economy is bad. Our generation has not drawn the short straw; the short straw has been forced into our hands. The unlucky 53 percent of us will be left to meander the world on our parents' allowance, searching and changing and settling just to find a place in a society we had no voice in shaping. We are Generation Screwed. We are, as Time puts it, “Overeducated, underemployed, and wildly optimistic.” It's hard to stay optimistic in the face of current statistics though.

“Doctors and lawyers!” the legend continued. “Those are the good, successful occupations.” But law schools are graduating more people than jobs exist, and although over 85 percent of graduates find work, only 8 percent of law school graduates have full-time legal jobs within nine months of graduation. Even becoming a doctor could doom one to years of paying off student debts, as the cost of medical school rises.

Sometimes I think I've got time before I have to cope with these problems; perhaps things will sort themselves out so I won't have to deal with unemployment or debt (or, God forbid, both). Then I realize that for all of us in high school, management of the emerging adulthood ordeal begins now.

Most students realize this and work for the highest grades and test scores in order to get scholarships. As a result, every aspect of high school is becoming more competitive. Success is measured by GPA, and intelligence is determined by SAT score. No wonder one in four teens has an anxiety disorder.

This new emerging adulthood is why many of my peers and I are so terrified of life, and the future. I fear that the next 15 years of my life will be filled with uncertainty and disappointment, and this isn't something anyone warned us of or can help us with. Our generation has to learn to solve these problems like adults in an economy that simply isn't ready for us to grow up.

I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling “wildly optimistic” about all this. It's enough to make anyone run for Never Neverland.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own!

Aida said...
Aug. 15, 2012 at 12:19 am:
You must be really lucky to have such a wise older sister to clear the path for you. And I'm sure your wise older sister is beautiful, too :)
 
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Aida said...
Aug. 15, 2012 at 12:19 am:
You must be really lucky to have such a wise older sister to clear the path for you. And I'm sure your wise older sister is beautiful, too :)
 
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ImBoYo said...
Aug. 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm:
Nicely written article. You really do have a good point. 
 
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