WHITNEY: Prolonged adolescence no excuse for vandalism

A couple weekends ago, a group of college-age kids walked past our house around midnight and smashed the lights alongside our sidewalk. That sucked. Thanks, idiots.

The next morning, my in-laws happened to pull up for a weekend visit. I explained to my father-in-law what happened, that it’s the second time it’s happened in the year we’ve lived in this house, and how much it would probably cost us. He got livid. He was angrier than we were.

“These are supposed to be college kids,” he said. “Just by going to college, you’d think they’d be smarter and more mature than high school kids, and not out destroying property.”

You would think.

Days later, fraternity and sorority members from University of Michigan made headlines after destroying dozens of hotel rooms and condos at Treetops Ski Resort in Gaylord and Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs.

U-M officials said the Greek orgs at Treetops Resorts were Sigma Alpha Mu and the sorority Sigma Delta Tau, Mlive reported. The fraternities at Boyne Highlands were Pi Kappa Alpha and Chi Psi, while the sororities were Delta Gamma and Alpha Phi. The university followed up by suspending Sigma Alpha Mu from any further activity for the school year.

Mlive.com reported an estimated $50,000 in damages at Treetops alone.

Suddenly my little light bill doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Certainly there’s an inclination here to ask, as my father-in-law did, “Where are these kids’ parents? Didn’t they raise them better than this?”

Except these aren’t kids. These are college students — actual, full-fledged adults ranging in age from 18 to 24, subject to laws applied to adults in court — who still feel entitled to acting up, to wreaking havoc and wrecking stuff just because they’re having a good time.

The problem doesn’t lie just with the parenting they received, but with our cultural acceptance of their status as “kids” well into their 20s.

It’s called prolonged adolescence, this new term researchers are applying to the stage millenials go through in their college or otherwise post-high school years. They aren’t yet feeling the weight of adult responsibility, but they’re experiencing more adult-like freedom than ever before.

This label, it’s a bit of a free pass, and we seem to agree as a culture that it’s one worth giving out.

I’m hesitant to agree, but I’m also hesitant to say prolonged adolescence isn’t a real phenomenon. I’m afraid of how close I’m coming to literally writing “get off my lawn” as this column goes on.

Put it this way: When my kid goes off to college, I hope she lives it up, screws up a bit and takes the time to figure out who she is and what she wants in life. I’ll sign that portion of the prolonged adolescence contract.

I also hope I’ll have done a good enough job raising her that she knows not to steal, break stuff and generally engage in petty crimes that certainly aren’t worth the “fun” if she gets caught. Having done my due diligence as a parent by the time she leaves the nest, I hope I’m in the clear if/when she does something stupid and ends up in trouble.

Before we start looking around for the adults in the room to explain the actions of their children, try to remember these ARE the adults in the room, and treat them accordingly.