Communication during emerging adulthood

Document Type

Book Chapter


Young adulthood has always held a prominent place in the study of families and family communication. Young adulthood has traditionally been seen as a period of individual transition and union formation that was accompanied by vast changes in family dynamics and communication patterns. Arnett (2000, 2007) has suggested that the phase of life from 18 to 25 represents a new developmental stage for most young adults, a stage he designated as emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood represents a unique moment in the life course, unique in terms of the content, quality and mediums of communication with family, friends, and romantic partners. In this chapter, we seek to place emerging adulthood in the context of family communication. Since Arnett (2000) formally proposed emerging adulthood as a distinct, developmental period more than a decade ago, scholars have eagerly sought to understand how emerging adulthood and the changes associated with this time period are linked to communication trends with parents, peers, and romantic partners. We first introduce and summarize the scholarship which has outlined how and why emerging adults are a unique developmental population. We then discuss and summarize relevant research on communication patterns during emerging adulthood with three vital systems: parents, friends, and romantic partners. We then overview the unique place technology has on the communication that takes place during emerging adulthood. We then turn our attention to priorities and avenues for future work on emerging adulthood and family communication. We first discuss how two social science theories, social learning theory and family life course theory, might be particularly useful in conceptualizing communication patterns during emerging adulthood across multiple systems. Finally, we highlight several major limitations of current scholarship in this area and suggest directions for future research on communication during emerging adulthood. We note that our discussion (and the research in general) largely centers on communication among emerging adults in Western, industrialized countries and refer the reader to the excellent chapter by Gaines and colleagues (this volume) for an in-depth discussion of ethnic and multicultural issues and differences in relation to family communication.

Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook of Family Communication

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young adulthood, emerging adulthood, communication