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A Parent's Guide to Understanding the Quarterlife Crisis

The 20-something years are tumultuous for a reason


Woman holding empty savings jar
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We spend our children’s youth fretting about everything from toilet training to college prospects, but we tend to forget what happens after graduation. For many 20-somethings, acclimating to real life can be a major adjustment, a Quarter Life Crisis. Suddenly, they have to figure out who they are and where they’re going. There are student loan payments, rent and the teeny tiny matter of groceries… plus the search for love, fulfilling friendships and a sense of purpose.

Some will change jobs five or six times. Some will move back home. And others will muddle through a deep sense of the blues. There are six things going on that may be helpful for parents to understand:

  1. Too Many Possibilities: It’s not so much that your adult child has no idea what to do after college. If anything, he’s grappling with too many possibilities. The result, says Christine Hassler, author of "20 Something, 20 Everything"  is not just an emotional rollercoaster. It's downright paralyzing. Your 20-something isn't an aimless slacker. She's overwhelmed by possibility.
  2. The College-Career Disconnect: Perhaps once upon a time, colleges prepared students for life outside their ivy-covered walls. But between a hyper-competitive global economy and massive outsourcing, the world has changed dramatically in the last decade. There may be a massive disconnect between what your child learned in class and what employers actually need. And there is the, ahem, matter of their having been told from age 2 that they can "be anything they want to be" and "have it all." It sounds nice, but life doesn't actually work that way.
  3. Neighborhood Pressure. It’s one thing to re-start a career again and again. It’s another to do it while Aunt Madge, next-door neighbors and family friends are watching every misstep. Thanks to Facebook, all their college buddies are watching too.
  4. Scattered Support Network. Remember when your child took off for college and suddenly realized his high school friends were scattered to the far winds? That happens after college too, but now there’s no dorm filled with instant new friends, says Abby Wilner Miller, co-author of The Quarter Life Crisis. Your child is starting over in every respect, rebuilding a support network and a social life too. (Click here to compare book prices.)
  5. Crafting a New Life. It takes more than a diploma and a job application to transition from college to the working world. In order to craft a new identity, your adult child has to leave at least a portion of his old identity behind – which can be quite the trick when you’re still living at home with the parents.
  6. Finding a Passion. Some lucky 20-somethings always knew what they wanted to do, or they embarked on a series of summer internships to scope out possibilities. But many leave college equipped with a degree – architecture, for example, or accounting – whose real world applications don’t hold as much appeal as expected. Better that they find that out now, instead of when they’re 40, with a mortgage and a family.
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