An American senator, Ben Sasse, stole my thunder. Well, okay, not really. But I’ve been observing the hashtag #adulting for a while now, and wondering what it really signified. While I mused in my head, Ben Sasse wrote a book about it.

I’ve just read that book “The Vanishing American Adult,” and while it really isn’t about that hashtag trend, he uses that example to kick off the book. As I read, I found myself thinking things like “exactly” and “hell, yeah” and “I wish I had done that with my kids.”  (The fact that I, as a liberal Canadian, was astonished to agree on many issues with a religiously observant, home-schooling, conservative Republican senator reflects on the deep assumptions of “us vs. them” in our culture right now… a topic for a later blog).

I disagreed with many things, but agreed with far more. My quick summary won’t do it justice (you should read it) but the gist of it is that by “saving” our kids from hard work, letting them primarily spend time with their own age group (both in-person and online), travelling with them as consumers/tourists vs. travellers, buying them too many things, and allowing them to go through life without reading important books, we are doing them a grave disservice that will negatively impact them, but more importantly, American society. I think in Canada as well, we need to better raise citizens, not consumers.

So, what does this have to do with consumption research? Back to the hashtag. What does the repeated use of the #adulting hashtag mean? Is this a continuing trend of infantilizing young adults to see themselves as less than full adults? If so, does this mean they continue to consume as adolescents, with all sorts of macro implications (short-term vs. long-term savings and spending patterns, home ownership, etc.)? Is it shorthand for “I am being ironically adult, and actually don’t intend to grow up at all?” I don’t know. Maybe I will study it more systematically… maybe you should. But at the least, you should read the book!

3 thoughts on “#adulting”

  1. I’m so glad I read this. I came across that book on a recent book hunt and I (a liberal American twentysomething) really wanted to read it. Just from the description I thought YES! but didn’t buy it. I think I will now. =)

  2. great post, June… Much of this resonates with me as well, I’m pushing 50 with teenage kids so I want to ensure that they’re prepared to be well-functioning adults. But I’ve been noticing this infantilizing trend for a while also: Adult colouring books, old-fashioned summer camps for adults, comic book movies franchises as the main form of entertainment, adult kickball leagues, beer advertisements uniformly feature adults in their 20-30s at a large DJ party. Consumer culture for young adults is nearly all about an instagram-worthy party life style…The Fyre festival did not happen in a vacuum….But if I complain about it, I come across like a grumpy old man.

    So how to solve it? I’m not sure. I’m impressed that my 15yo has been trying hard to find a job and plans her grade 11 courses to maximize university options. But realistically, the only hardships they will face will be via sports. My wife and I are still doing most of the hard chores.

    I too sometimes looks at the very conservative, religiously focused, homeschool families and admire the commitment to keeping things on track. I can see some of the value in how things are done

    In the end, it’s their world…I hope we’re doing the right thing to find balance.

    1. This concept of extended adolescence really doesn’t sit well with me. You are correct that its a number of threads together. I’ve been reading academic journals on this topic, and had discussions with colleagues, who argue that with a longer life span it’s fine to not “launch” until closer to late twenties, instead of late teens. But honestly, I don’t really buy it if the “extra” decade is spent bumbling around just like teens do, trying on various identities and selves just that much longer. Of course marketing loves this, because marketers sell identity markers. It’s troubling to me from both a consumer welfare and societal welfare angle.

      Our kids are busy performing during the school year, and our older boy works full-time all summer as a camp counsellor. But my husband and I did at least as much work outside the house when we were kids (mainly in low wage jobs), and still were expected to do more at home than our kids are. We are actively trying to change that now, although maybe a bit late. Balance is a good word.

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