Sunday, September 21, 2014

Long live #DelayedAdulthood!!

On the web site of the NYT, psychology professor Laurence Steinberg makes “The Case for Delayed Adulthood” (and also pitches his new book on that timely topic). The phenomenon of prolonged adolescence (a.k.a. “emerging adulthood”) is now well established, and psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists are busy making a positive spin on it the new cultural norm. Here is Prof. Steinberg’s hopeful conclusion: “If brain plasticity is maintained by staying engaged in new, demanding and cognitively stimulating activity, and if entering into the repetitive and less exciting roles of worker and spouse helps close the window of plasticity, delaying adulthood is not only O.K.; it can be a boon.

Anything can be a boon for some – a few exceptional individuals have argued that even spending 12 years on death row have helped them become wiser. So the more appropriate question here should perhaps be: has prolonged adolescence helped most of those who have experienced it? If Steinberg was making a more skeptical assessment, his critics would of course say the data isn’t there to support such a conclusion. If you want to make a virtue out of necessity, I guess these scientific standards should not apply. Meanwhile, NYT film critic #A.O.Scott has become the latest white male middle-aged curmudgeon to decry the well foretold “Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” One way or another, the caravan moves on…