I have a number of friends whose children are just now making the transition from high school to university. My own oldest child made this transition just last year. With this transition came the requisite decision making regarding “what am I going to do for a career?” I have come to believe that this is a very difficult decision for generation Y, in contrast to the decision making processes of my own generation (somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Generation X). Generation Y is also sometimes referred to as the Peter Pan Generation, because of the perception that some of the traditional rites of passage into adulthood are often delayed with this group, most significantly the trend toward members remaining dependent on their parents for longer periods than previous generations. Christian Smith (2011) has identified some additional contributors to this delay in adult identity development including the growth in higher education, delay in marriage by young adults, and a less than stable economy.
What appears to be consistent regardless of generation is that the development of adult identity is an active process. As is the case with all active processes, someone or something is in control of the process. In many instances for Generation Y, parents retain a substantial part of the control by taking care of development inducing tasks, fostering dependence, and monitoring and making decisions on behalf of their youth. In one sense parents in control can be compared to a chess game between a master chess player and a novice. Because of their life experience, parents are able to see the whole board (their progeny’s life), albeit from their own perspective, and are quite adept at managing the pieces to get the outcome that they desire. The young person, the novice in this analogy, is likely to, given the opportunity, make poor strategic decisions which can result in the loss of games. To prevent the loss of esteem (another issue for another blog) the master may suggest moves and control both sides of the board in an effort to teach the novice good strategy. This can’t really be viewed as a selfish action on a parent’s part as the end goal is almost always the happiness and success of their child rather than the desire for something completely aimed at their own self-gratification. It does, however, represent a desire to maintain control over various aspects of the development process. This desire can also be conceptualized as a need on the part of parents to have things their own way (because they know best what is right for their own child?). In a culture where anxiety has grown to epidemic proportions, the prospect of things happening outside of their control can be problematic both for an anxious generation of parents and for their increasingly anxious next generation. This raises the question, when working with Generation Y clients, of who has ownership (control) of your identity.
BY: Jeff Landine & John Stewart
Smith, C., Christoffersen, K., Davidson, H., & Snell Herzog, P. (2011). Lost in translation: The dark side of emerging adulthood. New York: Oxford University Press.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA