Emerging Adults

Transitioning from Adolescence to Adulthood

When do you grow up? It used to be relatively simple: adulthood followed adolescence. But the world isn’t the same as it was for previous generations so the answer to that question isn’t always clear for young people in the United States in the twenty-first century. The road to adulthood is now longer due to social and economic changes across recent decades. While leaving home at age 18 remains common, men and women now often wait until their late twenties to marry, become parents, or settle on a long-term job. For emerging adults, the transition from adolescence to adulthood is exciting as there is freedom to pursue hopes and dreams and explore possibilities in love and at work; however, this can also be a time of instability as the uncertainty that comes with being unsettled can generate uneasiness, confusion, or fear.

What is an Emerging Adult?

The term “emerging adult” comes from the book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties by cultural psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. Many people ages 18 to 29 feel more “in between” now than did their parents or grandparents at the same age. As marriage and parenthood start later in life, there is now a space between your late teens and late twenties where you are not obligated to your parents or firmly entrenched in the demands of “adulting.” As an emerging adult, there is freedom to explore who you are and determine what you want to do for work, who you want to love, and where you want to live. While in this not-yet-adult life stage, there is opportunity to move gradually toward the more lasting choices of adulthood and greater stability in love and work.

The Challenges of Emerging Adulthood

As an emerging adult your life plan can be rewritten with relative ease as you explore your world through work, travel, friendships, and romantic relationships. While the commitments of adulthood offer a sense of stability, this can feel as if it sometimes comes at a cost: an end to this spontaneity and the thrill of wide-open possibility. Developing an identity – who you are and what you want out of life – can be tough, uncomfortable work. During emerging adulthood the unparalleled opportunity to explore your identity and focus on yourself can fuel tremendous optimism, fun, and excitement. At the same time, the instability and feeling of being “in between” characteristic of emerging adulthood can generate anxiety and depression. In fact, up to 40% of 18-29 year-olds will be challenged with a mental health concern in a given year.

Struggles with anxietydepression, chronic problems in your relationships, social anxiety/phobia, or substance use are common for emerging adults. You may not have the job you went to school for or you may not be working at all. You may be full of optimism about the future and, at the same time, have worry about how to achieve the life you envision for yourself. New romantic partners, repeated moves to new living situations, or frequent job changes may leave you feeling empty or uncertain. Having reached a milestone – perhaps graduating from high school or college or completing professional training – you may feel disappointed by the realities of the life you’ve been working toward for a number of years.

Resources for Positive Change

As an emerging adult you are expected to make decisions. So. Many. Decisions. Should you work full-time or go to college? Is combining work and college best? Where will you work? What college will you attend? What will you study in college? Where will you live? Should you move? Are you satisfied with your current romantic relationship? Should you break-up with your girlfriend/boyfriend? As you leave your family of origin you have occasion to observe yourself apart from the adults who raised you. Unavoidably, you will carry the influences of your family with you as you leave home. Whether from a family you regard as happy and healthy or a troubled family that exposed you to stress and trauma, there is opportunity as an emerging adult to make independent decisions, transform yourself into who you want to be, and straighten out the parts of you that have become twisted.

Working with a skilled, experienced psychologist, therapist, or counselor can help you navigate the challenges of accepting responsibility for yourself, making your own decisions, and striving for financial independence. Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to explore your relationship with yourself and others as you strive to answer the many questions life will ask of you as you move between adolescence and adulthood.

I am experienced psychologist who has provided therapy to emerging adults for 10+ years. I offer a safe, accepting space in which we will work together to uncover what you want your life to be about and help you move consistently in life directions about which you deeply care.

If you are interested in therapy to explore your emerging adulthood, your history of trauma, or current struggles with anxietydepression, or other mental health concerns, I invite you to call or email me to get started working together.