failure to launch is not a movie

Apparently there is a way to get an “insightful, sensitive, thoughtful, content, well-honed, self-actualizing crop of grown-ups” out of those 20-somethings still living in their parent’s basements.

Just wait for it.

That’s the conclusion of Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who has “discovered” a new developmental stage he calls “emerging adulthood.”

His ideas, and those of others interested in this demographic, are summarized in an article in Time Magazine by Robin Henig. It’s worth the read for anyone in their 20’s, who has kids in their 20’s, or works with people in their 20’s.

In pop culture this phenomenon is called “failure to launch” and “boomerang kids,” but Henig reviews a lot of serious thinking about the subject, comparing it to Stanley Halls’ work in 1904 that gave us the concept of adolescence. Just like new child labor laws and compulsory schooling extended the period of dependence then, social forces create this new dependency as well.

The need for more education, the lack of entry-level jobs, and the delay of marriage and babies creates young people who are less secure, more self-focused, and emotionally unstable. They are extending their journey of self-discovery and their sense of possibilities up to a new “age 30 deadline,” Arnett argues.

Arnett is hopeful, however, which is more than can be said for all the parents who are still paying for the cell phones and car insurance. He says, “emerging adults develop skills for daily living, gain a better understanding of who they are and what they want from life and begin to build a foundation for their adult lives.”


Clearly not everyone goes through this, which makes it difficult to characterize it as a developmental stage. And it may simply be sloth and a sense of entitlement that extends adolescence far beyond its historic boundaries. It certainly results from peer dependency, the mistaken notion that you can find out anything important by asking clueless friends.

But its self-focused nature is at the core of what Scripture calls sin, a rebellion against authority of any sort and a focus on the self that uses others to finance or enable pleasure and idleness. Or as Shakespeare put it, in his 62nd sonnet:

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but I work with young adults all the time who can’t have a conversation with a parent or a boss, whose addictions are controlling, and who are unwilling to accept responsibility or accountability.

They may be emerging. But it’s more likely they are just stalling.

Growing up is a choice, not merely a consequence.


About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

5 Responses to “failure to launch is not a movie”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly! Pam Parker

  2. Might it be a little more complicated than this?


  1. looking for significance in all the wrong places « the daysman - August 29, 2010

    […] 29th, 2010 § Leave a Comment Apparently it’s not just 20-somethings who are self obsessed. It’s everywhere, really, and with the same root cause. Christine Flowers, for instance, says […]

  2. failure to launch, take 2 | the daysman - April 1, 2015

    […] note:  a longer version of this post appears here and also in the book Tough Times. […]

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