Man, 41, evicted in court by his own parents
Should parental responsibility end at 18? Judges all over the world are forcing young people to leave their parents’ homes. Now some argue it is time to redefine our notion of adulthood.
Sitting beneath the palm trees at their mansion in sunny Dubai, the couple waited with anticipation as the video call connected to their beloved son in London.
It may sound like a scene from everyday life in 2020, but this family gathering was far from normal.
At a virtual sitting of London’s family court this week, a judge finally told the wealthy couple’s unemployed son that he could no longer depend on his parents’ support.
Instead, at the age of 41, the qualified solicitor will now have to pay his own bills for the first time.
The judge described the case as “most unusual”, but for legal experts drastic divorces like this one are becoming an increasingly familiar story.
In 2018, the parents of New Yorker Michael Rotondo won a legal battle to evict their 30-year-old son, who admitted in court that he never contributed to household chores.
And this July, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that adults do not have the automatic right to financial support from their parents after a 35-year-old music teacher complained that his parents were not supplementing his salary.
In Italy they are called “bamboccioni”, or “big babies”, a phrase coined by former Prime Minister Mario Monti to describe the 65% of 18 to 34-year-olds who still live at home, but it is a phenomenon that is identifiable all over the world.
South Korea is home to the “kangaroo” generation, in the US “boomerang children” return after university to their family homes and in Japan, unmarried women living with their parents endure the unflattering nickname “parasite singles”.
To explain this situation, many look to the economy. In the 1980s, a typical British couple in their 20s could expect to save for just three years for a deposit for a house. Now it would take them nearly two decades.
Others blame the parents themselves. “Italian young people must be more courageous, but that’s difficult if your mum keeps on bringing a cup of coffee to your bed every morning,” says lawyer Gian Ettore Gassani.
The laws on parental responsibility have changed drastically over the last two centuries.
In the UK, the 1833 Factory Act declared that a second molar was acceptable proof that a child was old enough to work. From the time they could haul coals or clamber up chimneys, children were expected to contribute to the family finances.
In comparison, parents today are expected to feed, house and educate their children until they turn 18.
And now some scientists are saying that we should once again reconsider our understanding of when childhood ends and adulthood begins.
For child psychologist Laverne Antrobus, “the idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t ring quite true”.
Today, research shows that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which affects emotional maturity and reasoning, does not fully develop until a person is 25 years old.
Instead of cutting children off at 18, says Antrobus, young people should be supported through their entire late adolescence.
So, should parental responsibility end at 18?
Failure to launch
Yes, say some. Parents should stop infantilising their children and instead encourage them to explore the world and live on their own. Adults are supposed to take care of their elderly parents, not the other way round. Young people like Michael Rotondo should be responsible for earning their own money and paying their own bills, not using up their parent’s retirement funds.
No, say others. New research shows that adolescence does not simply end at 18. Parents should keep supporting their children while their brains continue to develop. As house prices rise and wages fall, young people today cannot afford to stop relying on their parents. And as coronavirus hits the economy, youth unemployment is likely to rise — it would help no one to make youths homeless as well.
- Do you want to leave home when you turn 18?
- When does a person become an adult?
- Write a letter addressed to yourself when you turn 18. What advice do you have for your future self?
- Research the percentage of young adults who live with their parents in your country. Is the answer higher or lower than you expected? Write half a side explaining your thoughts.
Some People Say...
“I spent my whole childhood wishing I were older, and now I’m spending my adulthood wishing I were younger.”Ricky Schroder, American actor and film director
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- It is generally agreed that for many young people today, leaving home is simply an unaffordable option. This is especially true in Italy, where 30% of those aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed. As a result, approximately 8,000 disputes between parents and children over financial support end up in Italian courts each year. In the UK, meanwhile, the average age of a first-time home buyer is now 34, compared to 28 in 2007.
- What do we not know?
- One main area of debate surrounds whether or not it is bad for society for adult children to live with their parents. Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent, believes parents today infantilise their children, causing them to lose the “aspiration for independence”. However, in many non-Western cultures, it is normal for grandparents, parents and adult children to all live together in multigenerational households.
- Although he has degrees in modern history, taxation and is a qualified solicitor, the man’s lawyer said he had mental health disabilities and had not been in work since 2011. He lives in a flat owned by his parents.
- A type of lawyer in the UK who is trained to prepare legal cases, give advice and can represent people in some courts.
- In 2010 one Italian cabinet minister, Renato Brunetta, proposed a law that would make it compulsory for teenagers to leave home once they are legally adults.
- Gian Ettore Gassani
- The head of the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers. He called the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling a “warning for everyone in this country.”
- Second molar
- A second molar tooth normally appears between the ages of 11 and 13.
- Prefrontal cortex
- Sitting at the very front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex undergoes key changes during adolescence. Brain scans of children, adolescents and adults show differences in the way people of different ages process information.
- Late adolescence
- Neuroscientists suggest that there are three stages of adolescence: early adolescence (12–14 years), middle adolescence (15–17 years) and late adolescence (18–25 years).