Child development experts are increasingly worried about a new trend they’re witnessing. It is characterized by a child’s desire for independence paired with a reluctance to forgo reliance on adults. Some may think this sounds like the terrible twos, a condition experts have known about for years. However, an increasing number of cases involve young adults, leading some parents and researchers to label this new phenomenon the terrible twenty-twos.
While the condition doesn’t affect all young adults, it seems most prevalent among the most prosperous and privileged of our society. Recently, a group of students at Sarah Lawrence College, an elite institution of higher learning in Yonkers, New York, published a list of demands of college administrators. The list requires the college provide free housing when the school is not in session, and provide access to free food when the dining hall is closed. Apparently these young adults are incapable of feeding themselves in the traditional manner of going to the store, purchasing food items, and preparing them for consumption. Issued under the heading of Food Security and Accessibility, the list also includes demands the crusts be removed from all cafeteria sandwiches and 24 hour access to free juice boxes.
Temper tantrums are a hallmark of the terrible twos. Children will often lay on the floor, scream and cry to challenge the authority of adults. But don’t think just because you’re old enough to vote, get married, serve in the military, or buy alcohol, you can’t throw down an emotional meltdown with the best of them. At Sarah Lawrence roughly 140 students occupied the administration building, sat and lay on the floor, and refused to budge for several days until administrators engaged with their demands. In 2017, a group of Yale University students surrounded a professor, openly wept, and screamed at him to apologize for an email his wife wrote. The email urged school administrators to treat the students more like adults. Apparently, she jumped the gun on that one.
The terrible twenty-twos is also marked by a childish inability to engage with any speech or language with which the individual disagrees, or doesn’t comport with their worldview. The young person will often make irritating noises or scream loudly to disrupt and drown out the offending speech. At Middlebury College, students caused a speaker to flee the stage for his own safety, and assaulted a professor who organized the event. The incident has caused other speakers to be disinvited out of safety concerns. Not all students take such an aggressive approach to stifling speech. Some just stick their fingers in their ears and run to their nurseries…er… safe spaces, where cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play Doh, pillows, blankets, calming music, and videos of playful puppies are waiting to calm their triggered emotions.
Experts are hopeful that, like the the terrible-twos, the terrible twenty-twos is just a phase the afflicted young adult will eventually outgrow. As the individual progresses into adulthood, the hope is they will emerge from their cocoon of narcissistic, coddled privilege transformed into resilient, thoughtful, well-rounded individuals. Or they could just emerge as rich, entitled assholes.