More adolescents delay "adulting," expert says that's ok

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COLUMBIA - American adolescents are waiting longer to adult, according to a recent study and an MU child and adolescent psychiatrist says that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The 2017 study published in the journal Child Development looked at almost 8.5 million adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 19 over a 40-year span. Many are adopting a slow life strategy.

MU psychiatrist Dr. Rasha El Kady said, “I’m not seeing that it’s all wrong, though. There is a positive part of it. There are some cultures out there where it’s perfectly normal for the kid to stay with the parent, even after the age of 18 based on the level of education they want to get. Until they get married. Until they basically get a job. And, these kids, they end up to be very good adults. Successful professionals.”

The study, entitled “The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016,” says fewer adolescents are engaging in activities like “having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, working for pay, going out without their parents, and driving.”

El Kady said, “Kids now are more aware. In the curriculum in school, they are including education about contraception, about substance abuse, about the hazards of drugs, the hazards of alcoholism, early marriage, early teen pregnancy. So, kids are more aware.”

More aware and sometimes in less of a rush. Jim Sharrock, the adult education supervisor for the Columbia Area Career Center, said its students range in age from 18 into their 60s, with the average age being 27. 

Sharrock said, “There’s all different kinds of stories of these adult students. Some have gone to college, gotten a degree and not been able to find gainful employment with that degree and they realize they need a skill-set. So they come back here.”

They come back for a slew of programs. Some of the most popular are nursing, surgical technologist, welding and massage therapy. Most of the programs wrap up in less than a year.

Sharrock said, “We have other students who graduated high school, for lack of a better word, putzed around, didn’t really have a direction, knew they didn’t really want to go to college. Then, something, a light goes off  - 'I need to start making a living.'”

The child development study found internet usage has increased and that could account for some of the slowdown in the race to adulthood.

El Kady said, “I see  a lot of lost youth. It’s okay to help them out. It’s okay to provide supervision for the kids. Balance is important. This is a very dangerous generation. Kids have access to the other side of the world between their fingers. You have to supervise them. As long as you prepare them for it, they’re staying longer, but not forever.” 

The study also found small family size, higher parental age at first birth and higher median income mean many parents are okay keeping the nest full for longer than in decades past.