This book is about the lives of 18- to 23-year-old Americans, who we call “emerging adults.” We do not pretend to present here a comprehensive view— the complete picture—of emerging adult life. We are focused on the darker side of emerging adulthood.1
It is true that there is also a bright side. Some of the lives of emerging adults are full of fun, freedom, new growth, and promising opportunities. There is much good in and about emerging adult life. And many emerging adults we have studied are interesting, creative, and sometimes very impressive people. But the happy part of emerging adulthood is already well documented and only part of the story.2 There is a dark side as well. We think the dark side deserves more attention. It is of course more enjoyable and reassuring to focus on what is fun and happy and good in life. But at some point that becomes unrealistic, onedimensional, even fake. If we care to know more of the fullness of the truth about emerging adults, we need to attend also to their mistakes and losses, trials and grief, confusions and misguided living. Those aspects of emerging adult life are what this book is about.
The story of this book points to one conclusion and raises some questions. The conclusion is that—notwithstanding all that is genuinely good in emerging adulthood—emerging adult life in the United States today is beset with real problems, in some cases troubling and even heartbreaking problems. Arriving at that conclusion will involve our describing some key parts of the outlooks, experiences, and practices in emerging adult life today. What we describe comes from what we heard in the course of interviewing hundreds of emerging adults in a national research project on American youth. By our reckoning, much of what we describe damages people, relationships, a sense of a richer purpose in life, a rational social order, and perhaps even the earth’s environment. We think these problems are worth describing, pondering, and discussing.