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In October, a survey conducted by the American Consumer Credit Counseling organization found that many Americans are struggling financially because they are still footing the bills for adult children (generously defined as adults over the age of 24). Almost 41% of those polled said they are financially supporting at least one adult child, while 10% were supporting two or more.
Not only that, but of those supporting adult children, 76% said it was impeding their ability to save for retirement. But are these unlaunched millennials harming the economy, or is a stagnant economy keeping them from financial independence?
Therapist Janice Gabe believes it’s both, and cites a wide range of causes for failure to launch syndrome. She recently gave a speech sponsored by the Chicago-area Rosecrance addiction treatment center, titled “Peter Pan Is Alive and Well and Living in His Parents’ Basement.”
“We’re producing a generation of adults who have higher levels of stress, which then translates into higher levels of anxiety,” Gabe said. “The avoidant young adult is scared of challenges. We have a culture that, for some reason, has made it really easy for them to be stuck in the basement and not move forward.”
Gabe says that many of these “unlaunched” young adults are heavy users of marijuana, a phenomenon many therapists across the country are also reporting. Although marijuana amotivational syndrome is a controversial diagnosis, the marijuana and hash-based drugs available in 2015 are much, much more potent than the marijuana used by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
Gabe also cites the internet, specifically services like Netflix that allow young people to binge watch entire TV series in a single sitting. The Indianapolis-based therapist says as part of her treatment, she asks young people to watch a TV series that forces them to wait a week for the next episode.
There is some evidence to support this view of the “Netflix and Chill” generation. For instance, since the internet became ubiquitous, young people have started reading less for pleasure: while 53% of nine-year-old students read every day, that number drops to 17% among 17-year-old students. And since 1999, the amount of time children ages two to seven spent reading every day dropped by an average of 15 minutes. Reading for pleasure has been shown to have wide-ranging educational benefits; marijuana use has been associated with higher high school dropout rates and lower grades.
“These kids don’t start to be this way when they’re 18,” Gabe said. “They’re raised to be this way.”
Yet others believe the economy, student loans, and the disappearance of traditional working class jobs are as much to blame as marijuana, helicopter parenting, or Netflix.
Chicago Tribune reporter John Keilman attended Gabe’s speech, and agreed in part:
“I am certain that this issue would be essentially solved if more and better jobs were available to people without a college degree, but that’s not likely to happen soon. So for now, Gabe’s prescription is probably the correct one: professional help for those trapped in the basement, and resilience-focused parenting for those who might be headed there.”
For now, the Pew Research Center reports that 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 31 live with their parents. Although to be fair to the Netflix and Chill generation, that’s only up from 32% in 1968.
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