Have you ever noticed most fairy tale heroes and heroines have dead or missing parents? The obvious explanation for that is that kids need to forge their own identities in order really to mature.
Beauty doesn’t have a mom, and her dad actually gets in the way of her growing up. Cinderella’s mother is dead, and dad is MIA, so she has to negotiate the female authority in her household and to establish her mature, romantic relationship entirely on her own (once the godmother supplies the dress and shoes). Even Jack must leave his mom (no dad mentioned at all in most versions) and enter the giant’s realm without any guidance. In fact, he comes back and takes care of her; he’s translated from dependent to provider in a few pages.
Kids seem to need serious independence in order to mature and thrive.
But I’m rejecting that today, on the eve of my son’s 18thbirthday, and not feeling a bit guilty. Conflicted, maybe, but not guilty.
I moved out at seventeen. I moved in to a dorm for my freshman year of college, but I never moved back home. That was it. I had been working for a year, driving for nearly two, and I waved to my mom as she stood in the driveway in her bathrobe, and was gone.
Most kids don’t do that these days, especially in Los Angeles county. In fact, most of my kids’ friends don’t even drive. LA is a nightmare for traffic and hazards. My son doesn’t have a job yet. He’s not moving out. His independence is coming a bit later.
He is not alone. Many have noted the expanded adolescence. Laurence Steinberg’s The Age of Opportunity argues that adolescence is both starting earlier and lasting longer these days. Lots of kids aren’t moving out. They can’t afford it. And it’s not such a bad thing.
There’s a case for extended adolescence having neurological benefits. Their longer period of neuroelasticity is allowing them greater ability to learn later in life, both in terms of intellectual content (they have more spots in their brains to pin new information later on), and they have greater emotional understanding and impulse control.
However, there is a serious dearth of awesome stories about nineteen-year olds living with their folks.
Harry Potter doesn’t have parents, but he finds lots of surrogates. Percy Jackson has a mom, but he leaves for school like Harry, so she’s not solving any problems for him. Violet and Klaus (and Sunny!) Baudelaire are largely fending for themselves too, so our stories have not caught up to the culture.
I guess there’s nothing exciting about living in your childhood bedroom in to your early twenties. They can vote; they can be drafted; they can be arrested;they can smoke. But they’re not driving or working enough to support themselves. How do you parent them?
They’re legal, but dependent.
Maybe I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe 21 is the new 18, and 25 is the new 21, and we just chill and move on. But seriously, someone ought to write the thriller about the 19-year old who has tremendous adventures and still lives at home. We could use a script down here.
Here’s some further reading, if you’re interested:
Steinberg, Laurence. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. 2014.