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Caught In the Middle: Emerging adulthood, pseudoadolescence, and stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off!

When studying psychology during my undergraduate years, my absolute favorite course was Adolescent Psychology.  I had a MILITANT professor.  She was an older woman, Greek, legally blind, and even though she taught a sophomore level course, she treated us as if we were graduate level students.  In short, this woman didn’t take any shit.  And, if you wanted your A, you were going to have to work for it. 

Of course, she didn’t take well to my peers.  But she certainly took well to me, or rather, I took well to her.  I’m a very passionate person, and so I respect passion in others – and I took her no-games attitude as such.  The teachers and professors who have inspired me have always been the passionate ones – the ones who love their subject, who want to teach others to love it the way they do.  Considering that I currently work with adolescents, I would say she did her job.  Of course, I earned an A in her class, working my ass off on a semester long 42 page interview and analysis paper for a sophomore level course – which now makes graduate school seem so TAME!

One of my favorite concepts in adolescent psychology is called “emerging adulthood,” because I’ve identified with this concept since I entered college almost seven years ago.  As a child, I had become parentified at the age of 10 following my parents divorce.  It’s not that they didn’t take care of me, but I took on the role of a parent is that I worried for them, looked out for them, made decisions based on their well being, and helped take care of younger brother.  When my mother was a single mom working full time and my father lived out of state, I took it upon myself to report to them that we were indeed, okay.  And being the first born, I took on the role (sort of voluntarily) to be a role model for my brother, and a star child to my parents, so that nobody would think that my family’s separation had hindered me in any way (only to find out years later that it did, but that’s a whole other post). 

The reason I love emerging adulthood so much as a concept is that it take into concern the fact that there IS an in-between for late teens and early twenty-somethings.  I don’t know how true this is, but according to my parents, they were able to just graduate high school, get jobs, get apartments with friends, and be fully functional without relying on their parents.  I don’t know the median age of my fellow bloggers on this site, but I’ll tell you that right now, for me, at twenty-four, I am no where near fully self-sufficient.  I’m a believer in faking it until I make it, and while I work full time, and go to graduate school full time, my life outside of those spheres is a hot mess!

It’s quite difficult on me, personally, and it seems to be difficult on my friends in similar circumstances, when we can’t measure up in terms of our adult lives.  And let’s face it, the idea of adulthood was appealing when we were younger, and now that we’re here, we’re looking back the other way with a look on our faces that says, “is it too late to go back to high school?” I mean, I just got MARRIED, binding myself legally for life to another individual (albeit, a cute one), and I’m still worried if I’m going to cut it in “the real world,” whatever that means.

The concept of emerging adulthood and it’s components is quite comforting to people like me, but I find that not ENOUGH people understand that such a life stage exists!  Think about the differences in the educational system and the economy, and it makes TOTAL SENSE that people put off growing up until it’s slightly more convenient.  So with that being said, here are five features of emerging adults, as per Jeffrey Arnett:

  • Age of identity exploration. Young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.

  • Age of instability. The post-high school years are marked by repeated residence changes, as young people either go to college or live with friends or a romantic partner. For most, frequent moves end as families and careers are established in the 30s.

  • Age of self-focus. Freed of the parent- and society-directed routine of school, young people try to decide what they want to do, where they want to go and who they want to be with–before those choices get limited by the constraints of marriage, children and a career.

  • Age of feeling in between. Many emerging adults say they are taking responsibility for themselves, but still do not completely feel like an adult.

    (and this last one is my personal favorite – as I have lived it!)

  • Age of possibilities. Optimism reigns. Most emerging adults believe they have good chances of living “better than their parents did,” and even if their parents divorced, they believe they’ll find a lifelong soul mate.


It is always comforting to have your experiences validated, and considering how I have gone through some major life changes in the last year, I find myself thinking of this over and over again.  So, I thought that perhaps, maybe incorporating this little blip into my blog would help other people, maybe letting them know, “hey man! Me too!”