Growing Up Too Quickly, Slowly?
By Ugochi M. Udochu
“Kids these days are growing up too fast”. You have probably heard this saying or something similar many times. It might have been from your parents, or your grandparents, or any older person you ask really. But is this really the case? Is Gen Z really aging too quickly or are we doing quite the opposite? In our digital era there is a new increasing pressure on young people to stop behaving in a manner that is “immature” and begin to take on the characteristics of an adult at an extremely young age. This added with the typical pressure that young people face of having to be completely independent by the time they are 18 and making the decision to go off to college can heighten the anxiety young people feel towards becoming an adult. But is the rise of technology setting us back further and further from being independent and responsible by the time we are legally adults?
Growing up I remember always feeling the need to be older. Being told I looked older than my age was a top tier compliment. I remember all my friends having their first boyfriends and girlfriends while I felt happy to even have a friend. I remember constantly comparing my underdeveloped body to adult women that I saw in the media and feeling insecure. I also sadly remember partaking in activities at an age where I clearly was not mentally ready for because of the pressure I felt to be “normal” amongst my peers. Unfortunately I am not the only person who experienced these things at a young age. There are a range of external factors that contribute to this negative mindset that occurs in young people. Including peer pressure, social media, environment, and mental health.
In a BBC article titled “Kids getting older younger: Are children growing up too fast?” the writer Katie Bishop references Shelly Pasnick, the vice president and director of the Center for Children and Technology. Pasnick states,
"through video platforms to caregiver phones; social media platforms and interactive speakers with unlimited capacity to push content.” Children are now constantly “media-delivered ideas” – content aimed at adults and viewed mostly over the internet – much sooner than previous generations.” (BBC 2022).
There is this new dilemma that has been introduced to our generation and the rise of technology has a large part to play in it. It is the dilemma in which I can only simply state as “Growing up too quickly, too slowly”. The excessive consumption of social media and the readily available access of television made for mature audiences influence young people to model adult behaviors. This leads to children placing unrealistic expectations amongst themselves which often leads to bullying, low-self esteem, and mental health issues. In an attempt to be more liked and socially acceptable to their peers they may become more willing to engage in risky behaviors and social activities. Many people, especially our parents, would label this as “growing up too fast”. This of course is not relevant to just our generation but has been occurring for decades. But I fear that these things are now manifesting in ways that have a greater negative impact on the psychological wellbeing of young people. On the other hand there is also the effect of new technology that is causing young people to developmentally “regress”.
In Bishop’s article, Kids getting older younger: Are children growing up too fast? psychologist Jenny Twinge states,
“Smartphones allow children to socialize from their own home, making them less likely to engage in activities such as drinking with peers or sex…the safer the environment, the more slowly they have to mature. Today, in an age of low birth-rates and high life-expectancies, children tend to be closer to their parents and grow up in a safer environment, and thus can mature more slowly. This means that they aren’t pushed towards independence in the same way that children growing up in a fast maturation environment – what previous generations experienced – might be.
This shows that young teens today are rushing towards adulthood but are doing so during a time in which the mental capacity and experience that is needed to properly deal with the consequences that come with being an adult, is steadily being limited. In an article titled, “A Year-by-Year Guide to Different Generations and Their Parenting Styles” by Sarah Cotrell states:
“Generation X parents have a tendency to be far more involved with their children's social and educational development.”
Another factor that contributes to the developmental regression of adolescents are parents who are becoming more protective and more controlling in every aspect of their children's lives. By doing this parents are limiting the psychological development of their children. Young people are now more than ever becoming less independent and more dependent on the assistance of their parents. 18 year olds in our society are now less equipped to live on their own and make adult decisions.
In your last years of highschool parents begin to stress becoming an adult, picking the right college, choosing a career but the experience that children need to make these decisions are being limited. Young people that are fresh out of highschool are expected to plan out the next 70 years of their lives. This is why going off to college can be a time of distress due to the drastic shift of being sheltered by their parents to being alone with massive amounts of responsibility. Going to college is an extremely “adult-decision” but it might not seem like it because teens are shipped away to college by their parents once they graduate from high school. Parents are pressuring their children to go to college without instilling the proper skills into their children as they’re developing. Some of these skills include persistence, confidence, responsibility, consistency, self discipline, good money management, and a good work-ethic. These are some of the things that most American teens lack. It’s especially important for young people to be taught these skills because these skills aren't always learned as we age. Which is why there are parents who themselves don't possess them.
Parents also don’t allow their children to fully explore things that they are interested in, which creates teens who are going to college with no goals and no clear idea of what they want to do after college. Even worse, there are parents who desire to mold their children into what they feel is best for their children without taking the desires of their children into consideration. The inability to explore limits the experiential learning of teens and controlling parents create dependent children due to the fact that they operate via the instructions of their parents. These are some of the reasons why many people waste time and money by constantly changing their major or even going back to college after previous completion. These are also some of the reasons why those who enroll in college do not always graduate.
But I believe that all is not lost. There are in fact ways to combat some of the problems that young Americans have to face and here are some of them.
Young people should engage in less screen time and engage in more social activity. This teaches young people how to network, step out of their comfort zones, and build communities for themselves that will be necessary to their success as an adult
Parents need to start stressing the importance of responsibility and emotional maturity as their kids are growing and developing so that they are mentally prepared to venture out of the house
Gap years should be normalized. This allows young people to explore things that they are interested in and maybe make some money that'll go towards college.
College should be encouraged as an option and not a requirement. According to a NPR article, College Completion Rates Are Up, But The Numbers Will Still Surprise You by Elissa Nadworny, only about 58.3 percent of those who pursue higher education complete it (NPR 2019). I am not completely anti-university but there are many ways to be successful. You just have to have grit and the right skills needed to succeed. College is not for everyone and that is okay.
We should keep in mind that everyone matures at different rates and not every person will encounter the same obstacles in life. People should be encouraged to take their time when it comes making life-altering decisions.
It's important to keep in mind that these circumstances do not apply to everyone. There are in fact people who, due to life circumstances and a lack of privilege, have to take on adult responsibilities at a young age. It's also important to take note that I am specifically addressing Americans who are young adults. Despite the developmental limitations that we as young Americans experience we are also a very privileged generation due to the increase in resources that we have. We are one of the most open minded and progressive groups of young people that our nation has seen to date. We now are stressing the importance of taking care of mental health and see the value in enjoying life. I have hope in Generation Z to be successful, become supportive parents, and not repeat the mistakes that we have seen in the generations before us.