Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?
Robin Marantz Henig
Hudson Street Press, 2012
304 pp., $25.95
Naomi Schaefer Riley
In The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond notes that some traditional societies let small children play with and even suck on sharp knives. Diamond is not saying we should "emulate all child-rearing practices of hunter-gatherers." (That's good to know.) But maybe kids would learn some valuable lessons if we gave them a little more responsibility.
Which raises an interesting question: At what age should kids be allowed to use sharp knives? My six-year-old was trying to slice ravioli with a butter knife the other day and nearly gave me a heart attack. Do kids demonstrate that they're old enough to do something and then we let them do it, or are they simply old enough because they're doing it? Maybe age, like gender, is now just a social construct. The idea that there is a right age to use sharp knives or walk yourself to the bus stop or (looking to the future here) get married or have kids or start a career or move out of your parents' basement is … so 20th century.
That, anyway, is what I began to think after reading a couple of recent books from the crop of treatises purporting to explain Generation Y—people born between 1978 and 2000. In Twenty Something—Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, Robin Marantz Henig and her daughter Samantha Henig, both journalists, offer a pop psychology tour of the scientific literature about so-called "emerging adults." They propose to compare millennials with their boomer counterparts on a variety of subjects to determine (at the end of each chapter) where "now is new" and where the behavior of the current crop of young adults is the "same as it ever was."
So, for instance, in a chapter about the way twentysomethings treat their brains and bodies, the authors conclude that "people still smoke too much and drink too much." Samantha Henig notes that when she got her first cavity at age 24, she realized that she had to start to worry about her body's "decay." Conclusion? "When young people are responsible for their own health, ...