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Copyright Centre For Effective Living © 2016
One of the things I love about my work is observing growth after a period of struggle and adversity. To me, it is a privilege to walk with someone through life’s toughest trials and witness the strength of the human spirit. Of late, I have been reflecting on the life seasons, and how this impacts personal growth. We hear the phrase, “In my day,” and, inevitably it is followed by a discourse on how life was simpler in days gone by. We assume that the times have changed, and we accept that these changes will imprint on the unfolding development of our children and our young people, which may be different from our own experience.
A life stage I would like to focus on in this entry is that of the Emerging Adult, roughly between the ages of 18-25. As compared with their counterparts in the 1970s, many of whom were married and with children, the Emerging Adult of this era is left in a kind of identity “limbo”, with an extended time to experiment with roles, and to delay major life decisions. American psychologist Jeffrey Arnett*, who coined the term Emerging Adult, describes five features of this life stage.
Features of the Emerging Adult:
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 live on campus or live with friends or a romantic partner.
Age of self-focus. There is a freedom from being directed by parents and school-bound routines. This is the time of deciding things for themselves before the constraints of marriage, children and career.
Age of feeling in between. With this freedom comes responsibility, and there is a sense of uncertainty about their ability to “make it” as an adult.
Age of possibilities. Young people are generally hopeful that they will find a life partner and have personal success. Dreams and aspirations are born in this life season.
Regardless of the mental health issue the Emergent Adult presents for in therapy, I have found it important to allow the young person to grapple with their identity, vocalise their fears, and explore their dreams and aspirations. Helping them to trust their abilities and instincts, reflecting on times when they have effectively problem-solved, and supporting them through decisions (when they are not always sure of the outcome) are the foundation blocks for encouraging the Emergent Adult to step out of the family nest, spread their wings, and fly.
*J.Arnett, (2000), High Hopes In A Grim World: Emerging Adults’ Views of Their Futures and “Generation X”. Youth And Society, 31(3).