Adulting is hard, even for adults

Growing up is tough, even for real adults.

That’s what I thought to myself when a friend recently told me about her son, a freshman at the University of Michigan, who missed a deadline to register for an entrance exam and was expelled from a course he was required to take for his major. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the friend, who pays more than $80,000 a year to have her son attend school, was pretty upset. And she wondered if she should have intervened and if she should have done more things like this for her child.

As someone who has a penchant for parenting in the wild, my first instinct was to say no. We all fly helicopters too much and never let our kids fail or learn to be independent. It’s time to pop the bubble wrap and let go!

Then again, it’s not my 80 grand.

Perhaps a quarter of college graduates would take no more than four years to complete their bachelor’s degree if their parents were more involved if we tracked what courses they take and whether they met their distribution requirements. Colleges have every incentive to enroll students indefinitely. But parents don’t want to pay those bills forever.

Another friend recently learned that her daughter, who was planning to graduate early from another major state school, had to spend an extra semester in school because no one told her she was missing three sixth form classes, which she needed to graduate .

That friend also said she was wondering if she should stop intervening, although she was quick to note that her daughter’s counselor had not objected to her plan when it was presented to him. Both this young woman and my friend’s son are basically smart, conscientious children. Why do they still need so much parental guidance with these logistical issues?

It’s true that our kids are taking longer to get started than they used to. You can be on our health insurance until 26 and in our basements forever. But it’s also true that life — or at least the paperwork — seems to have gotten more complicated and our aspiring adults may need our help more.

The number of forms to be filled out for school, work, health insurance, car insurance, income tax, DMV, rental agreement, Internet service, pension account, identity cards and so on seems endless. Adult inboxes are bombarded with deadlines every minute – some are important, some less so.

I know many real adults who fail at this every day. We miss the deadline to register our kids for soccer or we forget to bring our car in for inspection on time or we forget to extend the parking pass or submit the insurance claim or submit the receipts for reimbursement or the hotel near the wedding our cousin​​or change our password so we don’t get locked out of our email account. Did our grandparents have endless to-do lists? They had a lot to do – work, clean, shop – and different problems than we do today, but their lives were certainly not as complicated.

And while it’s tempting to compare kids today to kids in the 1970s and ’80s—kids who come home to an empty house and make themselves dinner, play unsupervised, and do just fine—it’s also useful to compare what young adults had to do then with what they have to do today. I have no doubt that a Gen-Xer could survive in the wild better than a Millennium. You could successfully open a soup can and maybe even start a fire. You could find your way home without a smartphone or GPS.

But spare yourself a little sympathy for today’s 19-year-old, who has to navigate all the public and private bureaucracies that seem to rule our lives.

By the time I was 9 years old I probably could have filled out all the forms needed to attend school or camp. Surname? Check. Address? Check. emergency number? Check. Last summer I had to fill out a total of 49 forms for my three children to attend an overnight camp. Some of this is the result of too many frivolous lawsuits. But the point is there. If I can’t even have my teenager fill out forms for summer camp, why should I expect him or her to be able to navigate the administration of a large university?

Making our young adults more independent is a laudable goal. But it would be nice for them – and for us – if we could make the instructions a little less complicated. Until then, parents may need to continue being parents even after our children are officially adults.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, and a contributor to Deseret News. She is the author of “No way to treat a child: How the foster care system, family courts and racist activists are destroying young lives‘, among other books.