Years ago, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was teaching the Beatles about the wonders of transcendental meditation, I set out on my own path…to transcendental adolescence.
My mother would often complain that I was going to be a teenager for the rest of my life, to which I’d respond, “What’s so wrong with that?” Partying, playtime, the Rolling Stones and more partying. In my defense, I knew other guys who were committed to lifelong adolescence. They behaved like teenagers well into their 30’s, and they were just as immature when they became parents.
If I was afflicted with chronic immaturity, there was only one person to blame. Certainly not myself… it was my mother. You see, in those days there was a long and honorable tradition of blaming your parents for everything that was wrong with you.
And there’s a not so honorable tradition in Italian families, known as “mammoni” — mamas’ boys whose mothers put them on pedestals and treat them like little boys and do everything from ironing their underwear to making their beds and preparing them homemade ravioli with meat sauce when they want a nighttime snack. (In Italy a third of guys over 30 still live at home with Mama. Can you blame them?)
Let me say unequivocally that I’ve never been among their ranks even though I’ve known quite a few over the years and tend to envy them. Girlfriends and wives just don’t give you the respect that your mother does. It’s also hard to get a good home-cooked meal, and if you’re Italian, you know that nobody cooks like your mother.
This reluctance to grow up was a trait I shared with members of the Baby Boomer Generation, which is something we apparently have in common with Generation Z or Y or Q or whatever they’re called.
A recent study published in the journal Child Development compared today’s teenagers with their counterparts from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s — fortunately not the 60’s — and concluded, in the portentous words of one headline writer, “Teens aren’t grasping ‘the responsibilities of adulthood,’ new study finds.”
And what might those responsibilities be? The lede paragraph in a USA Today story put it this way: “Today’s teens are on a slow road to adulthood, putting off risky behaviors from drinking to sex, but also delaying jobs, driving, dating and other steps toward independence, according to a new study based on 40 years of survey data.” Hey, that sounds pretty positive to me.
The author of the study, Jean Twenge, who is a psychology professor at San Diego State University, said, “The whole developmental pathway has slowed down and today’s 18-year-olds are living like 15-year-olds did. The bottom line is that young people in their early 20’s exhibit teen behavior and young teens act like children.” There are many causes for this phenomenon, including the Internet, social media and helicopter parenting, according to experts.
Researchers say that America’s youth are engaged in a “slow life strategy” rather than a “live fast and die young” approach to life. The survey looked at different trends and the results were startling. For example, with 9th graders, 29 percent had sex, down from 38 percent in previous generations; 29 percent of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56 percent, and 32 percent of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63 percent.
In my defense, let me say I started work at 13 and haven’t stopped, so there was no question of irresponsible behavior when it came to making money, which you needed for other teenage vices like drinking and smoking. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t start working so young. Instead, I’d enjoy my teen years in preparation for the grueling decades ahead.
With the miracle of modern longevity, people like Larry King want to live forever and many will reach 100, which leads me to conclude if you’re going to be around that long, why should you be in a hurry to grow up? If 60 is the new 40, I guess 30 is the new 18, and 18 is the new 10.
So I raise my glass of cranberry juice to the young generation. May they always remember something my father once told me: The slow horse finishes the race.