Book Review: Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve created lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone.  See our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.

Emerging Adulthood by Jeffrey Arnett is slightly different from many of the other books we recommend for college parent reading.  This book was not written specifically for college parents, but is of value and interest to parents, students, and college faculty and administrators alike. Dr Arnett, a researcher at Clark University, has focused his research on adolescents and young adults.  His research has led him to propose a new phase of development for this age group — what he calls ”Emerging Adulthood”.

According to Arnett, the years between approximately 18 to 25 mark a unique phase of development, as long or longer than any other stage of development in childhood or adolescence.  He advocates recognizing this phase as a distinct period.  Arnett recognizes that college students today often define criteria for adulthood differently than their parents’ generation did.  For today’s students the psychological markers of accepting responsibility for one’s actions, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent become more important criteria than the sociological markers of finishing their education, entering the workforce, marrying or parenting.

Parents who read Arnett’s book, Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens though the Twenties will look at their college age children differently.  They will have a new understanding of the unique dilemmas and developmental strides that face students at this age.  Although not specifically a ”how to parent college students” book, this work, and Arnett’s theory, are essential reading and understanding for any parent of ”emerging adults”.  Arnett’s theory is also becoming more widely accepted by college personnel, so understanding this theory may also help parents understand the motivations behind many college policies and practices.

Arnett’s entire book is important reading for parents.  He explores topics ranging from relationship with parents, love and sex, marriage, college, work, and religion.  However, if pressed for time (and we hope this isn’t the case), the first chapter alone will give parents new insights.  As Arnett explores the definition and description of emerging adulthood, he describes the phase as the age of identity exploration, instability, self focused attention, feeling in-between, and the age of possibilities.  Most parents will recognize their children in these descriptions.

We highly recommend this book to parents of college students.  It is not a quick-read, how-to manual.  But it is not psychologically technical either. Its straightforward, comfortable, yet highly documented style makes it approachable and readable.    It is essential reading and understanding for anyone who knows, loves, or works with emerging adults in the 18-25 year age span.

About the author:

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University.  He has also taught at the University of Missouri and has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is the editor of the Journal of Adolescent Research.

Arnett has two children, twins Miles and Paris, born in 1999, and his wife, Lene Jensen, is also a professor at Clark. He has appeared on television and frequently in print media, including a cover story in the New York Times Sunday magazine in August, 2010.

What the author has to say about the book:

”This is a book not just for scholars but for anyone interested in this topic and this age period.  I hope many emerging adults will find it provocative and informative, and I hope their parents will as well.  It was my goal to write a book that would make an important contribution to scholarship on emerging adulthood but that most people could read and find engaging whether they are scholars or not.  There are no complex statistical analyses, and most of the information comparing my results to other studies on the age period can be found in the notes rather than in the main text.  What I have focused on instead are the voices of emerging adults, that is, what they say about their lives on a wide range of topics.”

”I believe that in all psychological research it is important to listen to how people describe and interpret their lives . . . but it may be especially important in emerging adulthood, because it is a highly self-reflective time of life, a period when they think a lot about who they are and what they want out of life.  And it’s fun to listen to them, as you’ll see in the course of this book.  No matter what their educational background, they are remarkably articulate, often funny, sometimes moving.”

What others have to say about the book:

”Engaging . . . informative and insightful . . . charts a new terrain that is only likely to grow in the 21st century.  His sense of optimism and advocacy for young adults is infectious.  This work is likely to help build a field of scholarship that is urgently needed to renovate policies, programs and general understanding of the lengthy and arduous process of becoming an adult in American society.”

The Washington Post


”Jeffrey Arnett’s fascinating book gives us the clearest picture yet of the way young people today are making their own ways in the world.  The compelling accounts that Arnett has drawn from his extensive interviews with young people give us reasons to be optimistic, yet warily vigilant, about the future prospects of this coming generation.”

William Damon

Professor of Education, Stanford University


”This engaging account of emerging adulthood in American society provides an optimistic perspective on a rapidly spreading global phenomenon that is transforming societies as well as individual lives and families in our time.”

Ann S. Masten

Director, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Note: Some links in our post are for affiliate products. If you use our links, College Parent Central receives a small percentage of your purchase price. This does not change the cost to you.  We think it’s only fair to let you know that.

Related Posts:

Parenting College Students: Recommended Reading List

Parenting College Students: More Recommended Reading

Parenting College Students: Still More Recommended Reading

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