An adolescent until age 25? Child psychologists increase age range they can treat

With softening birth rates, it appears that Great Britain's child psychologists are in need of a larger base of potential customers in order to make a living.

They don't come right out and say so. Instead, they can now treat "adolescents" up to 25 years of age.

The ostensible justification for this is cognitive studies showing that the brain is still developing past age 18 and into the 20's. There is also a question of hormonal development continuing as well.

No doubt this is true. It is also true that forcing young people out into the world regardless of their cognitive and hormonal growth has been going on for thousands of years and the species hasn't suffered much. When you consider that on the savannah, African tribes have ritualized the passage into adulthood with lion hunts for boys and fertility rites for girls - both coming at age 14-15 - going out into the world at age 18 is a cakewalk by comparison.

But won't this create a population of infantile young peope?


Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, says we have infantilised young people and this has led to a growing number of young men and women in their late 20s still living at home.

"Often it's claimed it's for economic reasons, but actually it's not really for that," says Furedi. "There is a loss of the aspiration for independence and striking out on your own. When I went to university it would have been a social death to have been seen with your parents, whereas now it's the norm.

"So you have this kind of cultural shift which basically means that adolescence extends into your late twenties and that can hamper you in all kinds of ways, and I think what psychology does is it inadvertently reinforces that kind of passivity and powerlessness and immaturity and normalises that."

Furedi says that this infantilised culture has intensified a sense of "passive dependence" which can lead to difficulties in conducting mature adult relationships. There's evidence of this culture even in our viewing preferences.

"There's an increasing number of adults who are watching children's movies in the cinema," says Furedi. "If you look at children's TV channels in America, 25% of the viewers are adults rather than children."

He does not agree that the modern world is far more difficult for young people to navigate.

"I think that what it is, is not that the world has become crueller, it's just that we hold our children back from a very early age. When they're 11, 12, 13 we don't let them out on their own. When they're 14, 15, we hover all over them and insulate them from real-life experience. We treat university students the way we used to treat school pupils, so I think it's that type of cumulative effect of infantilisation which is responsible for this."

While the directive applies to Great Britain's child psychologists, we have a good start at it here in the US by allowing parents to keep their kids on their health insurance plans until age 26. There has also been a big increase over the last few years of adult children moving back in with their parents. Some of this is due to a bad economy. But I can recall the horrible economy of the mid-1970's when I got out of college and went to work at a shoe store to make ends meet rather than move back home. Eventually, I did move back in with my parents for 3 months while I lined up a job in DC. There was never any question that I would stay for very long.

Not so today. And in Great Britain, it's only going to get worse:

"The solution to not having useless 25 [and] 30-year-olds living at home is not sending them out of the home, it's making them do their own washing, pay their own way, pay towards the rent, pay towards the bills, to take responsibility for cleaning up their bedroom and not waiting on them hand and foot," says Beeny.

She says that parents should play a part in teaching adolescents key skills and that young people in return can keep their parents current.

"I know it sounds like a utopian dream but it's probably where we should be aiming. To me that's the holy grail... not everybody living in their own individual pods by themselves thinking, brilliant I'm paying a mortgage."

Human beings don't live in "pods." And the family doesn't stop its support when a young man or woman walks out the front door. There is nothing wrong with parents helping their children for a while after they leave the nest.  And if they're not financially capable, they can certainly lend their nurturing support.

Humans are wonderfully adaptive creatures who usually do what's necessary to survive. Encouraging young people to be dependent on their parents well into their 20's removes any incentive to take responsibility for one's own life, and sets up a pattern of failure that is far more damaging than any "pod" a young person gets stuck in.

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