Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


July 10, 2012

RANDOM THOUGHTS: When does a child become an adult?

CROSSVILLE — Often conversations begin with “How are you?” Today the question is more likely, “How do you feel about the health care bill?” In these very early days opinions are pretty evenly split between like and don’t like.

One of the things people like is keeping children or young adults under 26 on the parents’ health insurance, but my question is why that seems so important. I understand that parents generally call their offspring children no matter the age, but in the real world when does a child become a responsible adult?

The dictionary defines a child as a person between birth and puberty; a youth the time of life between childhood and maturity and an adult when they are fully grown and are of the legal age.

For any who reached the age of 26 in the generation of the 1940s, as I did, dependence on parents stopped much earlier. We had been reared as children to assume adult responsibilities. Once we reached voting age parents were supportive and gave advice when asked but otherwise we were adults. In most of the world that is still the model.

Recent studies of child rearing in 21st century America found that parents are using new rules. Instead of children helping their families at home it is the adult family members helping the youngster. This turn-around has become so widespread the studies concluded that today’s American kids represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world! Just plain spoiled rotten, but why? 

Actually it was parents asking experts in family relations why they had lost control of their children that led to the studies. One reason pointed to the amount of stuff the child owned. Parents bought all that stuff just because the child wanted it. Soon that little one assumed they had the power and whatever they wanted was theirs for the asking.

Today books on what parents are doing wrong are flooding the market. Titles such as “The Price of Privilege,” “A Nation of Wimps” and one written by the mother of a college graduate “Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest.”

Author Sally Koslow’s son spent two years following his four years of college on his own and then moved back home with 34 boxes of LPs. Unemployed he stayed out late and slept till noon. The perfect example of a young adult which she described as “stuck in permanent ‘adultescence’.” She coined that new word and blames the poor economy as one reason but admits that as a parent during the son’s early years she led him to believe he was entitled to anything he wanted. 

Many have blamed “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” published in 1946, by pediatrician Benjamin Spock as the beginning of the change in parent’s ideas of child-rearing. For 52 years the book was the second best seller of all time next to the Bible.

Spock advised parents to be more flexible and affectionate and treat youngsters as individuals. By the 1970s critics said it was because of that permissive advice parents were seeking help on how to change their child’s expectation of instant gratification. Until his death in 1998 Spock denied that charge. He said, “The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.”

Back to the law allowing young adults up to 26 to remain on their parent’s health insurance I wonder who really likes it, the parent or the child?

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