Becoming an adult in today’s world

shutterstock-adulthood-2-WEBONLY-676x450What does it mean to be an adult these days? What are some of the challenges facing emerging adults? The transition from adolescence to adulthood, or “emerging adulthood”, is estimated to occur approximately between the ages of 18 and 25. This is a time greatly characterised by experimentation and exploration, as people try to make sense of and deal with the various emerging realities that they face, many of which are new to them.

World renowned psychologist John W Santrock (2011) believes that, “at this point in their development many individuals are still exploring which career path they would like to follow, what they want their identity to be and which lifestyle they want to adopt, (for example, remain single, cohabit or marry)”.

Namibia obtained its independence in 1990 and all children born either in that year, or six years thereafter, are all in emerging adulthood ‑ a problematic period as individuals are exposed to realities very foreign to those they have been accustomed to their entire lives. Now, they have to seek employment and ensure a regular income and they are expected to become less reliant on their parents or guardians. Every individual experiences the inevitable changes of adulthood in their own way.

**Markers of becoming an adult

Economic independence is one of the main markers of adult status yet achieving this today remains hard, and this is the case the world over. Research shows, for example, how in the United Kingdom, people in their 20s are struggling to find work.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that in the UK, average incomes for people in their 20s fell by 13 percent between 2007/08 and 2012/13, compared with an average fall for all workers of 10 percent, and only 7 percent for 31 to 59-year-olds. Finding a job proved to be a difficult task for those in their 20s, while the employment rate for 22 to 30-year-olds fell by four percentage points during the five years to April 2013, while the rate for the over-30s remained at pre-crisis levels.

“Young adults have borne the brunt of the recession,” said Jonathan Cribb, a research economist at the IFS, and an author of the report.

“In the United States, says Santrock, the most widely recognised marker of entry into adulthood is holding a more or less permanent, full time job, which usually happens when an individual finishes high school… college or graduate/professional school.”

Youth employment in Namibia remains a challenge, one that has reached its climax, as parliamentarians and politicians attempt to make amendments to the constitution which has resulted in a public outcry saying that said amendments are in favour of the rich minority at the expense of the rest.

Namibia’s Prime Minister, Hage Geingob, touched on the issue when he challenged the youth and dispelled governmental responsibility in job creation saying it (the government) “is not an employment agency”, and that the youth should not talk too much and rather bring something to the table.

Addressing the audience at an information-sharing event organised by the National Youth Council to discuss the proposed constitutional amendments, the Prime Minister warned that a war would break out if people were not careful. “You talk too much […] all you want to do is just complain. As government, we can only provide a conducive atmosphere for jobs to be created, but we are not an employment agency.”

In response, Swapo Party Youth League Secretary of Information, Job Amupanda disagreed with the PM saying his remark evaded the problem at hand.

“It is basically sending young people to hell. The government is the biggest employer, how can the PM say the government is not an employment agency? In fact, we are at a primitive stage of development; we can’t [therefore] leave the employment of our youth in the hands of the private sector. Our government must remain an employment institution.”

Studies show that taking responsibility for oneself is also an important marker of adult status for many individuals. In a recent study (Nelson and others) both parents and college students agreed that taking responsibility for one’s actions and developing emotional control are important aspects of becoming an adult.

Another prominent marker for entry into adulthood in Africa is marriage and this can occur much sooner that other markers.

Youth empowerment is essential considering all the odds against them. The international Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that although 73 million new jobs were created in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2008, only one-fifth of these went to young people. Considering that the future belongs to the youth, and that between 2000 and 2008 Africa’s working age population increased by 25 percent from 443 million to 550 million. If these trends continue, by 2040 the working-age population in Africa will be 1 billion, the largest in the world.