Nancy E. Hill (Harvard Graduate School of Education)
Freshman Seminar 72U       4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Debates about when adolescence ends and adulthood begins often lead to judgements about how long youth today are taking to reach adulthood and uncertainties about what it means to become an adult. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is often fraught with anxieties about realizing one’s dreams, getting into college, succeeding in the job market, and finding a life partner. Have the definitions and markers of adulthood changed across generations?  Should these conceptualizations change or adapt to the times? Are young people today trapped in an extended adolescence? Some experts and the popular press contend that young people today are coddled and more resistant to growing up than were those who came of age a generation or more ago. Conversely, other experts and many young adults today find that growing up is harder—harder to launch a career, burdened by student loan debt, harder to find a compatible life partner—in general, harder to achieve the life their parents have. Amid these debates, it is unclear what is meant by adulthood and whether it can or should be defined by the same markers as have been used in the past.  Today’s young adults are charting their own path…or are they?

In this seminar, students will define and redefine adulthood based in multiple contexts, considering catalysts and impediments on the pathway to adulthood. Using a historical lens, we will examine and understand the contexts that elicit longer and shorter pathways to adulthood, including the role of the economic context, educational and occupational opportunities, gender, and the need to co-construct adulthood with others.  Whereas societal factors are often considered contextual, this seminar focuses on societies as active agents in shaping adolescents’ beliefs about adulthood and struggling with and sometimes against adolescents as they navigate their place as adults. This seminar takes a global lens and focuses on the ways in which the transition to adulthood is a dynamic and co-constructed concept and will aid students in developing an integrative understanding on societal needs and pressures and young adults’ tools in navigating the path to adulthood.

See also: Fall 2022