Disney characters and Smurfs decorate a full wall, and primary colors complement cartoon themes in every room. The occupant wears denim coveralls over a t-shirt adorned in cartoon characters. Her special place is every little girl’s dream. Except, this room belongs to an educated, single woman with a good job, who just bought her first home. She’s justifiably proud of her artistic handiwork. Nevertheless, of all the things I envisioned for my first home, cartoon décor was not on the list. Even my children quit decorating their rooms this way in fourth grade. That weekend, I gained a new understanding of the words kidults, adultolescents and peterpandemonium.
What do rejuvenile, adultolescents, peterpandemonium and kidult mean? They describe a growing culture of aging, eternal juveniles who draw attention from many industries. The number of terms already in use indicates recognition of the social phenomenon, but no one discusses the implications for the future.
First, I read that the MacArthur Foundation began studying ‘adultolescents’, defined as 20- and 30-something adults who live at home, depending on their parents for emotional and financial support. Next, I saw “World’s Oldest Preteens” by Ian Shoales in intelligent enterprise magazine (January 1, 2004). Notice, he didn’t even say “teen”. Then, I looked further.
Christopher Noxon in “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” published August 31, 2003 by the New York Times uses the term rejuvenile. Noxon points out that companies recognize the group well enough to coin their own identifying labels. A single Internet search netted seventy-eight hits in five languages for adultolescent.
Odiorne Wilde Narraway & Partners of San Francisco use the word ‘Peterpandemonium.’ While an Italian company, Kidult Games, describes their audience as ‘adults who take care of their kid inside.’ The terms also seem to describe the attitude of the defined population.
Hello Kitty (TM), designed for preschool girls, appears on toasters, purses and personal adult items; presumably purchased by adults in sufficient amounts to justify manufacturing these items. Adults also watch “SpongeBob SquarePants” on television and play Twister and kickball. While everyone agrees that having fun and acting like a kid occasionally is healthy, why do so many adults want to live and act like children indefinitely? Why has the desire to be happy and have fun become synonymous with symbols of childhood?
Older generations seemed to embrace responsibilities and challenges, as well as the privileges of being an adult. I don’t know anyone lamenting the demise of adolescence, except jokingly. Most of the previous generations gladly left the painful growing years behind. Perhaps, the perpetual children are showing the effects of not having role models who accepted responsibility as a part of adulthood and moved forward with enthusiasm.
Are kidults the product of “Me Generation” parents who rebelled against self-sacrifice and declared themselves entitled to put their wants and needs first at all times? Did they forget to teach their children the very skills that enabled them to rebel and succeed on their own? The excuses for coming home include lack of money and lack of jobs. Most adult children say the move is temporary. Then, the time gradually expands. They need a few more paychecks for the down payment on a house, or the car breaks down, and time marches on. It would never do to move out and not have everything immediately.
All children are born self-centered. However, adultolescents never outgrew their infantile view of life. Now, they live like children, some with their own children in tow, as they age in their parents’ homes and continue to live a life without direction. Is this the real reason behind the decline in the birthrate? Is it wishful thinking when we claim the decline is due to more education, later marriage and the desire for fulfilling careers?
Peterpandemonium may best describe the result of a fairytale attitude toward parenting. Adultolescents have no ability to chart a path through life. Their parents lived by parental rules that provided structure and direction. However, their parents also vowed never to impose such inconveniences on their children. They didn’t, and it showed in their children’s behavior. Nevertheless, as young adults and progressive parents, they blamed it on someone else. They failed to see the connection between structure and guidance and long-term behavior. The inconvenience of parental sacrifice and responsibility was unfair because parents deserve a life too. Who said? What makes adults think their desires come before their responsibility for the dependents they created?
When my 33-year-old son asked me why he sees parents acting like teenagers, I realized this is not a passing fad. Kidults have no concept of aging, and I began to wonder how this social pattern would affect our future. How long can manufacturers profit from this self-defeating trend? What happens in future elections? Will we choose our next president by playing dodge ball or tag? Will our grandchildren deal with terrorists in Smurf costumes?
Author Bio: Penny J. Leisch wrote for a local newspaper early in her writing career. She still enjoys doing editorial style pieces occasionally.