In a study that will be published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers have just discovered that 80 percent of parents in the US do not consider their 18-25 year-old college students to be adults. At least in the group of people they surveyed.

Strangely enough the students had the maturity to agree with their parents assessment, so that’s a start.

The conclusion of the study was that parents are responsible for their kids for longer and longer periods of time. A new period between adolescence and adulthood is now common, and in this period people are called ‘emerging adults’.

I don’t have similar research for China but 20 years living in Asia has taught me that the same is probably true here, except that these emerging adults are working in your office. This period in China is likely to extend a few more years than the US.

The problem is obviously connected with the one-child policy and the fear that parents have that they might lose their precious bundle. So when the child asks ‘Can I ride a bike?’, the answer is ‘No, too dangerous.’. ‘Can I swim?’ ‘No, too dangerous?.’ ‘Can I stay in stay overnight in my friend’s house?’ ‘No, too dangerous.’

Survival is the key issue and anything that does not involve danger is likely to be approved. As they become adolescents, and even adults, little responsibility is expected of the current generation because to give them any decision making powers would involve some small amount of danger. The longer this continues of course the more likely it is that giving decision making powers would involve danger. A little power late in life, when you have had no real opportunity to get the normal feedback from failing, is a dangerous thing. Who knows what you might decide?

As a result of this, in your office you have professionals who have never gone through many of the normal rights of passage for a child, never mind those for an adolescent or adult. Young staff in China are roughly hewn from stone, and the final scupture has still to emerge.

Your job is to finish off the sculpture.

You might baulk at the suggestion that this is your job, but given that no one else is doing it, you don’t have much choice. As a manager you also have to recognize that you are seen as a replacement father in the business environment, and your screening processes will not be able to identify sufficient numbers of people who are genuinely mature for their age. That’s like believing you can stop the tide with your hand.

So forget the standard training courses, and push for acceptance of responsibility. The addition of more and more responsibility will ensure that eventually your staff will fail, and you can wipe their noses and rub their knees, and you can do root cause analysis with them. Only failure can have sufficient personal impact to change the pre-wired immaturity you face.

Anything less is insufficient to the task.

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