Emerging Adults – In Defense of a New Human Life Phase

Millennials have been called many names during their pursuit of adulthood including:  lazy, narcissistic, immature, and other words that I prefer not to type.  The purpose of this article is to explain why a new human life phase is beneficial to both Millennials and the rest of us. 

© 2006 Todd Nappen, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The term “emerging adult” refers to a new developmental phase in the human life cycle following adolescence and preceding adulthood.  It is usually defined by those between the ages of 18-28 years old.  The term emerging adult was first coined in 2001 by Jeffrey Arnett.

There is some confusion about how the terms Millennials and Emerging Adults are different, so let me first begin by defining each.  Emerging adults are those who are usually between the ages of 18-28, who have not fully stepped into adult roles and responsibilities.  The term Millennials is used to describe those who were born roughly between 1980 and 2000.  It is currently the Millennial generation who occupy the emerging adulthood years; however, the Millennials will one day move into adulthood, and will be replaced by a new generation sometimes referred to the Digitals (reference).

You might be wondering why there needs to be a new life phase.  Here are a few thoughts.

A new life phase…

 1.  Provides terminology for further research and discussion.

Researchers, pastors, counselors, and parents need common language in order to communicate and help emerging adults.  The phrase young adult was often used, but this phrase assumes that age is the determining factor in human development.  However, age is not always the defining line between adolescence and adulthood.  Individuals should assessed by their maturity, and their ability to accomplish three developmental tasks:  discover vocation, establish autonomy, develop community.

2.  Acknowledges the differences from both adolescence and adulthood.

Young man

© 2011 Logan Campbell, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Christian Smith describes the differences when he says,

“Emerging adulthood is not simply an extension of teen-age life, which normally remains highly dependent on parents and structure by high school.  Nor is it the beginning of fully settled adulthood, as marked by marriage, children, career jobs, and home ownership.  Rather, emerging adulthood embodies its own distinctive characteristics, tendencies, and experiences.”   (Smith)

It is a life-phase filled with transition and changes.  (For more on characteristics of emerging adults, click here).

 3.  Provides a positive perspective.

Many of the terms used for those affected by delayed development including: kidult, adultescent, rejuvenile, and many others terms are demeaning and lead to building walls between individuals and generations.  Providing a positive expression shows the unity and acceptance as we work towards solutions of delayed development.

The phrase emerging adulthood assumes forward movement.  Emerging adulthood is not a Peter Pan Syndrome where the individual is refusing to grow up.  There are many suspected causes of delayed development, and we as a society must rally around emerging adults for the health of the church.

david in hat - blackDr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources.  He loves asking the question, “Have you hugged a Millennial today?”


Smith, Christian.  Souls in Transition

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