My Daughter Took Me to Burning Man

Originally published by the Huffington Post on September 10, 2014.

I checked my packing list for the long Labor Day weekend: antler headpiece, hair extensions, hot pants, fur coat, support hose and estrogen cream. My husband and I were going to Burning Man for the first time -- under the tutelage of our 26-year old daughter, Zai, her partner, Phil, and a large group of their friends.

We packed up the car with food and water for five days, drove to the Nevada desert, and, after a three-hour wait at the gate watching the sunset -- some waited 23 hours while the gates closed for rain on the playa -- it was our turn at the entrance. A distant din and twinkling lights beckoned in the otherwise dark void ahead.

"Welcome home," the young attendant smiled as she took our tickets. "First time?" We told her it was. "Birgins! Please get out of the car, roll in the dust, and ring the bell!"

It's easy to make fun of Burning Man from a distance, and many have. It's even easier up close: People stroll naked or half-naked, in Star-Wars-meets-Mad-Max-meets-Indian-guru garb. Sessions are offered on respectful fisting, penis worship, and making your own greeting cards by stamping your genitals with colorful paint on cardstock -- a craft I typically enjoy, though I've never used that particular stamp.

There is no Internet or cell coverage, no plumbing and no power grid. My husband Arjun gravitates to new experiences, and while I'd rather meditate in a lush forest, I was determined to keep an open mind. I respected our daughter and trusted that what she valued here would be revealed to me. After all, her visit the previous year had inspired her decision to leave a secure job and pursue her passion for metal working and furniture design. I wanted to know -- what could be so powerful here?

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How to Parent Emerging Adults

Compared to my or my parents' generation, young people today are taking longer to reach adulthood, thanks to the social and economic changes of modern society.  They take more time to explore relationships and to educate themselves for the complex information-based economy. Many face unemployment and have to live longer at home--and if they do work, it is not unusual to change jobs many times before they turn 30. Fewer are getting married and if they do, they marry later and have fewer children. Scholar Jeffrey Arnett, of Clark University in Massachusetts, now calls this period from ages 18- to 29-years old, emerging adulthood, a period so unique it deserves to be considered its own distinct phase of the lifespan.

Parenting this age group is also a new ball game. The biggest challenge--since emerging adults are in some ways grown up and in other ways not--is to figure out when to step in and assert parental authority and when to hold back...all the while remaining emotionally connected and respecting their growing autonomy. Arnett teams up with Oakland, CA writer Elizabeth Fishel to interview parents, professionals, and emerging adults, themselves, in order to gather the best advice on just where to find that parenting line... in areas of romance, job-hunting, communication, the Internet, and more.

I reviewed their book, When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult, on the Greater Good Science Center website.

The important news is that our emerging adults still need our continued parenting. Rest assured, it does not mean that something is wrong. In fact when parents step in and help appropriately, their emerging adults do better in the long run--in their psychological well-being, their self-esteem, and even the standard of living they achieve.

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Parents' Support is Good for Young Adults

Parents often feel guilty or conflicted about offering help to their young adults, ages 18-34. Research shows that both parents and their kids can feel that help at this age is "abnormal," but the young adults who are helped do better psychologically and professionally in the long run than those who don't receive help. Attaining adulthood in today's complex and harsh economy remains a "joint enterprise" between young people and the adults who love them.

See my full article here as part of the Greater Good Science Center's focus this week on Generation Y.

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