Early Adulthood: A Critical But Ignored Age Stage

Updated on January 29, 2018

Young Adulthood Can Seem Frightening, But Can Be An Adventure

Emerging adulthood can seem confusing, exciting, and sometimes scary, but there is always hope.
Emerging adulthood can seem confusing, exciting, and sometimes scary, but there is always hope.

Tips and Information that May Be Helpful To Those Crossing That Critical Bridge From Adolescence to Adulthood

I'm not a girl, not yet a woman, all I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I'm in between.

I remember when I first heard the amazing and iconic pop queen Britney Spears belt out these lyrics from the sweet, lovely and unique 2001 hit I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.

The song hit home for me because at the time it was released, I myself was a lass who no longer felt like an adolescent but had not yet gained a strong purchase on full womanhood either; in this shadowy and confusing world between the teens and grown-up life, my newly adult intermediary zone left me feeling as if I was a half-breed of sorts; store clerks still carded me whenever I attempted to purchase cigarettes, I had not yet shed all of my high school acne, (grrr), I was expected to act like an adult at all times because I technically was one and despite that I hadn't been one for very long...yet, I could stay up as late as I wanted, eat what I wanted, whenever I wanted, stay up as late as I wanted, stay out as late as I wanted, and live as independently as I wanted, without any stupid parental supervision anymore. I had the world by the tail.

I'm obviously gloating, but I had a balanced enough view of the harsh realities that comes with emerging adulthood too, (I guess). I never felt fully acknowledged on either sides: womanhood or girlhood. I was a delicate little thing, complex and ever-changing. In a word, I was a butterfly fresh out of her cocoon, still learning to fly. Still vulnerable to predators. Still struggling to find her place in the world.

From my standpoint, this wonderful tune is about growing up and finding who you are as a young woman, though of course, this theme can apply to young men too. (Have no fear, gentlemen, I'm not leaving you out).

Adult? Adolescent? Maybe Both

The early adult years, approximately age 18-25, is an incredibly important transitional life stage, yet unfortunately rather ignored and not given due attention in society. Although it seems typical that young adults might be initially overwhelmed when they are hit with the expected new influx of responsibilities, many do successfully adjust and proceed to lead happy and productive lives; however, youths who are in this age group who are disadvantaged, such as in having just escaped from prolonged childhood abuse, or poor foster care from whence they were never properly emancipated, usually have more difficulty in adjusting to their adulthood on their own, and struggle more than most in developing essential life skills, usually with no help, or no readily available resources; even if such resources are available, they often have not gained enough of their bearings as grown-ups to know about them, or to know where to find them.

Although my being a former foster youth who had grown up in a girls' group home run mainly by abusive and negligent staff members didn't work wonders for my already annihilated self-esteem, I was overjoyed with the sense of liberation I felt upon my eventual release...except that I knew I would make a terrible wife now. I was never taught to cook or to housekeep, (which my ensuing boyfriends never failed to joke about), and still faced many of the same issues I had as a minor, such as peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and bullying..except, in my case, I received all these problems from an old guy I later dated. A really, really, really old guy.

Well, okay, a 36-year-old man. C'mon, I was 20. We're talking 18-25, remember, and anyone 35+ tends to classify as old when you're this young...so, this fat, bald-headed old man was able to revel in taking advantage of me in many ways.

Most around me didn't see it that way. Especially his privileged and advantaged family. Because I was technically over 18, I brought it on myself, and it was all my fault. From my perspective however, if I known all I know now, I never would have even looked at Mr. Bald Fatso twice.

Perhaps the fact that I was barely out of my teens, barely out of high school, and that the dude was nearly twice my age, (boy, he was ancient), may have had a little to do with it. Oh, and the fact that the (old) guy had a loving, nurturing family and I didn't. It pretty much goes to show, when people are legally adults, but also close enough to being youngsters or kids, that they are still somewhat vulnerable, which is why it should come as no surprise that they are still susceptible being exploited by much older adults. (Duh).

It's why I now wonder, from my perch of full, self-actualized womanhood, (I wish), if any of this would have been different if as a youth I had I received the reverse from an older adult who knows how to interact with young adults properly, (e.g., guidance, mentorship, nurturance, and all the other things I had never received from my parents, and many other well-meaning individuals).

What also comes to mind for me is in how many men who have served decades in prison have told me that they received their sentencings while they were still within that "barely adult" stage...I can't help wondering, would they have been sent to prison had they only received the same things that I, too, had lacked?

Are Young Adults More Likely To Be Victims?

All this is why I'm certain many emerging adults who feel they have no better options, or aren't given the proper counsel, can be vulnerable to being victimized and even to turning to crime as they were as younger adolescents; many statistics report, for instance, that women in their 20's are more prone to being victims of rape, domestic abuse, and other crimes than are women in their 30's and 40's.

Young men, however, can also be victimized; believe it or not, many can even be assaulted by women. Even more of a shocker: it's never funny when it happens.

I once had a male acquaintance, then 22, confide in me that a woman "got him drunk at a party" and then attacked him afterward; he remembered none of what happened even though he had all the evidence he needed. So he turned to the police for help...and the police laughed at him and harassed him, then his girlfriend of 2 years left him because "she didn't see this as assault." Maybe I'm crazy, but I wonder about the likelihood of this all happening had the genders been switched.

In a blog posted at the National Domestic Violence website, titled Myths Around Men Experiencing Abuse, Tatiana Shams, Content Manager, states:

"[Abuse and domestic violence] can be incredibly challenging when you are a man because of all the stigma, fear, misinformation and societal pressures that only men seem to experience.

"We know that while domestic violence does not discriminate when it comes to gender, men seem to report abuse in the same way women do. In fact, many men remain silent because they think there's no point in reporting the abuse because no one will ever believe them."

The blog advises survivors: "Take a proactive approach to your own safety; keeping your mental, emotional and physical sanity in check are great ways to remain grounded during and after a situation of abuse. Perhaps you like to play video games, read comics or lift weights. Engage in activities that make you feel happy and good about yourself. Avoid self-destructive behaviors such as binge-drinking, using drugs or anything that can have negative consequences for your health or the health of those around you."

Developing Critical Social Skills

All these things have led me to wonder if the inexperience and naivete that tends to come with youth can lead many young adults into unwittingly forming poor friendships.

I recall that when I first left foster care, and entered into college age, I did yearn to benefit from the wisdom of those much older, but like any other young person, I desired friendships with others my own age. Being partially a kid, I wanted to have fun; however, with no money for college, and no parents or anyone else to help me, my options were few. I was too old for support groups for teens under 18, yet, when I participated in support groups for folks who were 18+, I always met many interesting characters.

"Wow," I thought, while sitting through a group therapy session of full adults, "everybody here is as old as dirt, talking about what happened back in 1920 and stuff." The group facilitator thereafter often screamed at me for being the only one in the group who wasn't talking, and the other 30, 40, and 50-year-olds joyfully joined in.

So other newly adult persons who have received therapeutic benefits by being stuck with old folks talking about divorces and adult children twice their age and left feeling as if they were "the baby" in the group can probably relate. I couldn't identify with anyone there. As I gravitated towards escapist fantasy, daydreaming about the next video game I was going to play that afternoon, one of the 30-something women called me a selfish little &$@#!!! After she later admitted she was jealous of me, I began to see why people my age often turn to gangs for comfort and acceptance.

Of course, I didn't end up running around in a gang, I never deemed myself interesting enough for that, but I did find myself frequently in the company of shady characters in my desperation to find comaraderie with others in my age group, and to replace the family I never had; were I older, I would have realized that being alone is better than being with bad friends. However, I also wonder how much access young adults might have to better friendships were more resources such as support groups for emerging adults, and other programs conducive to healthy relationships among youths, are available.

Statistics For Youths In Crisis

The JED Foundation, which has thoroughly researched the 18-25-year-old demographic, especially on the college transition, seems to share many of my sentiments.

"Young adulthood is a time of growth, learning and exploration," the JED website states, "but it can also be a time of significant change and intense challenges."

PubMed.gov, of the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, reports in a statement: "College students have been the focus of many studies on suicidal ideation with or without suicidal behavior. Little attention has been given to their non-college-attending peers on these issues. We examined the 12-month prevalence and mental health treatment of suicidal ideation with or without suicidal behavior among college students aged 18-25 years and their non-college-attending peers in the United States."

The results of the study reveal the following: "Compared with full-time college students, high school students, those not enrolled in a school or college, and part-time college students were more likely to attempt suicide with a plan. The study concludes that compared to full-time college students, non-college-attending young adults and part-time college students were at higher risk for attempting suicide with a plan."

Liz Eddy, Director of Communications of the California Youth Crisis Line, a counseling and referral service that provides helpful information and resources to teens and young adults in crisis, references the hotline's data site, which currently reports that texters in all states experience anxiety. Others nationwide are reported as follows:

Bereavement, 2%

Bullying, 2%

Depression 37%

Eating disorder, 3%

Family issues, 24%

Friend issues, 11%

Health concerns, 4%

Isolation, 12%

LGBTQ issues, 2%

Physical abuse, 5%

Relationships 16%

School problems, 6%

Self-harm, 12%

Sexual abuse 3%

Stress 95%

Substance abuse, 2%

Suicidal thoughts 18%

Resources For Young Adults

If special resources and assistance are available to older adults, as they well should be, I see no reason that similar consideration shouldn't be given to very young adults still learning to live on their own and to become productive members of society..particularly to those who were never fortunate enough to receive the proper training in such, or to be thoroughly prepared for independence while growing up; while it is a commonly expressed view that the cut-off age between minor and adult legally occurs at age 18, it is scientifically proven that the human brain doesn't fully develop until about age 24 or 25...or perhaps even later for some people.

Many older adolescents and young adults report that they may feel like adults in some respects, but not in others. Essentially, every young person is a child, adult and adolescent in many complicated and dynamic aspects, which is why growing up can often be a confusing, conflicting, even stressful time. However, help is available.

The JED Foundation reports its wonderful fundraising campaign, #DontDoItDay, an effort to help a charity dedicated to increasing the amount of information and resources available to this age group.

The website states: "The JED Foundation officially fundraises through classy.org, which is where we have set up the #DontDoItDay fundraising page. We have also set up a #DontDoItDay Team, and we encourage anyone to create their own fundraiser and join our team if you'd like to set up your own goals. #DontDoItDay was chosen to help spread the message as wide and far as possible: don't do it, there's always something worth living for."

JED adds: "A big part of this day is not the fundraising aspect at all. It's a day to give you a good excuse to reach out to someone who might be hurting. Check in with your friends and family. Ask them how they are, and mean it. Encourage those around you to be honest with their emotions and not hide it inside when something is troubling them. Consider reaching out to professional help when you have issues mounting in your mind. Just be an ear to someone's problems, because even that can make it better."

To learn more about this project, visit https://www.classy.org.

JED's "For Teens and Young Adults" page adds: "If you or someone you know is feeling stressed, anxious, sad, or hopeless, check out JED resources for help."

JED's signature programs are "a nationwide initiative designed to guide schools through a collaberative process of developing comprehensive systems, programs and policies with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts."

Additional resources for emerging adults include the following:

The Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (http://scffaa.org) includes "mentoring opportunities for young adults (age 18-25) who are transitioning out of foster care. The program offers guidance, activities and travel with successful adults who offer their genuine support."

Youth Moving On Peer Resource Center (http://youthmovingon.org/resource-center) is a "peer resource for youth age 16-25, helping youth transition into stable and successful adult living. YMO helps develop life skills. Services include: well-being and mental health groups, career and educational planning, life skills development, computer lab and internet access, centralized support services."

Additional information about transitional programs for young adults who are having difficulties is available at Horizon https://www.horizonfamilysolutions.com/young-adult-transition-programs/), which lists a variety of resources including transitional sober living programs for young adult men ages 18-25 and "comprehensive multi-disciplinary, residential transitional living programs for men and women ages 18-28 with dual-diagnosis models that combine clinical treatment."

As the Britney Spears powerful and moving song highlights, it is important to remain a child inside, but to be treated with respect as any adult by those around us. Everyone at every stage of life deserves to feel worthy. Even with the challenges that new adulthood brings, (employment, housing, exams, finances), try to see these challenges and your blossoming maturity as a fun, positive adventure. Whatever you find that motivates you and excites joy in you, or gives your life sense, purpose, and meaning, do all you can in your power to work for and achieve it; regardless of whether or not you succeed, you will become all that much more stronger, developed, and empowered of a young man or woman in your determination to never give up on yourself and your dreams.





I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman by Britney Spears

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