07/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"I'm not an Adultolescent!"

I read your posts about adultolescents. As a hard-working member of Gen Y, I feel like I have to overcome a lot of stereotypes like the carefree, irresponsible attitude you wrote about. I don't feel entitled nor am I out for instant gratification. Do you really think that this whole Peter Pan or adultolescent label accurately describes us twenty-somethings?
- Never Been to Neverland, 27, Chicago

Dear Never Been to Neverland,

Thank you for asking this question. Fortunately for the future of our society, individuals like you out number the Peter Pans. Many twenty-somethings never go through an adultolescent period and are mature, ambitious, and have an altruistic outlook on life.

Labeling a rather non-conformist group within a generation is not new; take the Hippies of the Baby Boomer generation for example. However, adultolescence is unique to today's young adults due to the simple fact that now more than ever parents are financially supporting their twenty-somethings. According to the MacArthur Foundation's Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Bureau of Labor Statistics, parents provide, on average, $38,000 in material assistance for their child. That translates to about $2,200 given for every year between ages 18 and 34--considerably more than in the past. Some anti-Peter Pans use short-term fiscal support to get on their feet while others take long layovers in Neverland. And more twenty-somethings are returning to the nest after college than ever before.

Although that explains some of the existence of the term adultolescence, it does not answer your question . . .

No, I do not think the labels of adultolescence or Peter Pan accurately describes every member of Gen Y. But there are some not so flattering characteristics that many (and I stress many, not all) members of your generation are exhibiting. A sense of entitlement and the desire for instant gratification that you mentioned is something that many members of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations are noticing among twenty-somethings. Employers often complain about the lack of work ethic and grandiose expectations they see in young employees.

However, not every twenty-something fits into this stereotype and you have the opportunity to prove that! In my work with twenty-somethings and in my research for my last book, I consistently encounter members of Gen Y who are dedicated, accountable, and see themselves as responsible for their own success.

Jeffrey Arnett author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties and Editor of The Journal of Adolescent Research agrees that the term "adultolescent" does not paint an accurate picture of today's young adult. According to Dr. Arnett, "I'm often surprised at the way people denigrate and stereotype emerging adults. There seem to be lots of derogatory terms for them lately. It doesn't seem fair to me, because I've interviewed hundreds of them, and I'm impressed by how hard they work (usually for not much money), how idealistic they are, and how optimistic they are. It's true they take longer to enter adult transitions like marriage and stable work than people did 50 years ago, but in many ways that's a good thing. We can hope that by taking their time before making adult commitments in love and work, they'll have a better shot at happiness in the long run."

Keep in mind that stereotypes are generalizations and often misconceptions; they do not and should not define your definition of yourself or outlook on your future. I congratulate your independence the same way I would any individual striving for personal and professional happiness and success, regardless of age. As a hard-worker not out for instant gratification, you are giving employers a different perspective on your generation. But like Dr. Arnett said, taking time to discover who you are and what you want isn't necessarily a negative thing. The takeaway here? Put the effort into defining yourself outside of stereotypes and expectations.

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