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Are You Too Close to Your Kids?

New AARP study confirms that when it comes to raising children, we don't take after our parents

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Emerging Adulthood

Jeffrey Arnett, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, suggests that young people ages 18 through 29 go through a new stage of life he calls emerging adulthood — a period of searching and self-discovery when people make the choices that will define their adult lives.

Young people face a more complicated job landscape than their parents did, he argues: Modern fields like computer technology offer greater choice, but they also require more education. Young people also have a wealth of options in their personal lives, facing fewer strictures about marriage and sexuality. Parental support and advice, when it's available, can be invaluable.

Take Conrad Fountaine, 59, and his daughter Ariyon, 25. Conrad's father was a janitor, and his parents stressed education: Five of their six children went to college and straight into careers. Conrad works as a therapist at a private school for autistic children in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Ariyon has a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and is, like her father, a social worker. But unlike her father at her age, Ariyon still lives in the family home. "I had wanted to be out by 25 but decided I'm not beating myself up about that," she says. "I don't want to rush out to something I can't afford." Ariyon values the time she spends with her father. They talk "about everything," she says. "Even relationships. He understands my personality."

Closer Is Better

Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, studies parent-child bonds, and she confirms they're getting tighter. Furthermore, she says, these closer bonds "should be celebrated."

When I called Fingerman to chat about her findings, I was skeptical. All this help flowing from parents to grown children can't be entirely good, I said. Doesn't it encourage some kids to remain kids forever?

"Initially, I shared the same bias," she responded. "So God knows I looked for it." But in some 3,500 interviews with parents and offspring over the past two decades, she found that, across socioeconomic groups, grown children do better in life when their parents are more involved.

Next page: Good parenting fosters both affection and autonomy. »

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Family Matters: Members of "the Sandwich Generation" are having to care for elderly parents while still parenting their own children.

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