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The Emerging Adult

In recent years, a number of psychologists have argued for giving young people a kind of trial run at maturity by recognizing a new developmental phase known as “emerging adulthood.” Think:  emotional upheaval, finding yourself, a revolving door of new experiences, a protracted coming of age for the millennial and post-millennial generations. Yet, my experiences as an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) instructor have given me good reason to believe this newly carved-out psychosocial territory should not be the exclusive purview of American twenty-somethings.

A recent New York Times article — though focused on American college students — made me think that a strategy of supporting “emerging adulthood” might be useful in intensive English settings where students have to quickly negotiate a cultural shift — not only from one kind of “culture of learning” to another; but also between a changing menu of societal expectations.  

In particular, the article outlines a program of tasks to address not only a deficiency in “adulting skills” but also a stifling surfeit of “social anxiety”– both of which can be detrimental to students’ academic careers.  In my own context, these two issues roughly map the terrain of our two largest learner populations: one demographic tends to be low in both social anxiety (that’s good!) and “adulting skills” (that’s not so good…), while the other demographic has the opposite profile — meaning they’re prepared for class, but too afraid to show it.


What’s great about this article is that it gives a list of possible “exposure tasks” to help cultivate a more mature and engaged mindset in students.  These activities could easily be folded into new student orientation programs, in the form of workshops, mentoring sessions, or orchestrated group activities.

The tasks fall into three categories:  “Emotional Readiness Challenges,” such as delaying self-gratification; “Academic Readiness Challenges,” like approaching an assignment proactively;  and “Daily Functioning ‘Adulting’ Challenges” — for example, being able to cook three basic meals in which eggs, cereal, or pasta do not figure as the primary ingredients.

According to Rachel Ginsburg, a clinical psychologist at New York Presbyterian Youth Anxiety, the purpose of these tasks is to “shrink anxiety and avoidance down to size.”  And isn’t that, after all, one of our primary goals in the classroom: negotiating the interplay of learning and the “affective domain”?