How to raise a Millennial

July 13, 2012, 3:55 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Americans like to label their generations. Members of what journalist Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” are known for their heroic sacrifices because they grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight World War II. The Baby Boomers stereotypically rejected and redefined traditional values. Today’s young adults, liberally clumped as generations Y (or Millennials) and Z, are known as digital natives who thrive on social media and prefer texting over talking. Beyond that, they’ve been a fairly ill-defined bunch.

Enter Sally Koslow, a veteran magazine editor and mom whose entertaining new book argues that many young adults today are more focused on self-discovery than on working 9 to 5. In Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest, Koslow provides a witty take on parenting what she calls “adultescents” who get stuck in the safe harbor of mom and dad’s house.

Koslow speaks from experience. In 2001, her 25-year-old son returned to Manhattan from the West Coast and moved in with his parents. A music job fell through after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Koslow found herself living with an unemployed college graduate who had few qualms about waking at noon and partying all night.

Koslow survived to tell her story and those of other parents struggling with feelings of guilt and obligation to the not-so-little princes and princesses under their roofs. She’s a thorough and fair-minded reporter who interviews everyone from self-explorative yogis and ski bums to therapists and other experts on the economic and social forces that have helped create this new class of quasi-adults.



She suggests that many recent college graduates have become spoiled, whiney and indecisive because they are overwhelmed by choice. That may be true for a select group, particularly those with parents who can afford to subsidize their children’s hippy-dippy soul searching.

But the vast majority of graduates seem to long for financial security above all other life goals, according to a recent survey of juniors, seniors, and graduate students at four-year colleges, conducted by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. In the survey, 91% of college students and 95% of Millennials (defined as college graduates aged 21 to 32) described financial stability as either essential or very important.

While these results might bring a sigh of relief to Koslow and many other parents, they are also somewhat worrying. After all, great men and women before us tried many occupations before settling on a final career. Before Benjamin Franklin became one of America’s founding fathers, he was a musician, a politician, a newspaper editor, and a scientist who invented the lightning rod and bifocals, among other things. And the late Nora Ephron was a journalist before she was a filmmaker, director, producer and screenwriter.

Franklin and Ephron may or may not have crashed at their parents’ pads while they pursued their passions, but that’s not really the point. Both were curious and followed their interests wherever they led.

True, there’s a Koslow in all of us who wants to strangle Hannah, the character played by Lena Dunham in the popular HBO show Girls, when we learn that her parents had been subsidizing her life in New York City while she worked at an unpaid internship and pursued a writing career. At the same time, it’s hard not to admire Hannah’s passion to become a writer, and to sympathize when she blames the terrible economy for her financial woes.

To be fair, Koslow criticizes clueless parents as much as their narcissistic offspring. She argues that babying adult children tends to yield entitled progeny who can’t launch their way into the conventional phases of adulthood. Koslow offers excellent advice, which makes this book worth reading to the end.

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