In her look at neural plasticity, Jessa Gamble observes that when "careers require years of internships and graduate degrees, the age of adulthood is receding, practically into the 30s:"
Adolescence, loosely defined as the period between puberty and financial independence, now lasts about 15 years, twice as long as it did in the 1950s [...] when an increasing number of young people are still dependent on their parents. There is some concern that all of this dependence could lead to a lasting immaturity and failure to take on responsibility.
On a positive note, Gamble writes that "according to developmental researchers, there is one lasting gift that extended adolescence can bestow, and it resides in the brain:"
"Neurobiological capital" is built through a protracted period of learning capacity in the brain, and it is a privilege that comes to those lucky enough to enjoy intellectually stimulating environments in late adolescence. Far from a contributor to emotional immaturity, the trend toward an adolescence that extends into the mid-20s is an opportunity to create a lifelong brain-based advantage.
"Some of this evidence," she writes, "comes from brain studies of those who have had access to higher education:"
The window for developing self-regulation closes when adult life settles into a routine, and the brain begins to exchange growth for efficiency. But if an adolescent continues to be stimulated intellectually--through higher education or travel, for example--their brain remains in its formative stage into the mid-20s, and even primes itself for future learning in adulthood. Dubbed "metaplasticity," changing brain circuits through learning during adolescence can make subsequent modifications easier in those areas.
There is, of course, a cost that makes this stimulation an "economically exclusive" prospect:
Protracted brain plasticity often depends on access to a stimulating environment--and the money that entails. Instead of falling into the rote tasks of an entry-level position after college, a debt-free graduate might volunteer overseas for a year and learn a new language and culture.
To maximize neurobiological capital, it soon may not be enough for parents to sock away money in college savings accounts. Some may need to budget for a Neurobiological Runway Fund to cover the post-college years, too.