Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) have articles about how adolescence is increasingly being stretched into adulthood. The Wall Street Journal article describes parental involvement in their children's college education. It looks like the baby-boomers are presenting a problem not only for the social security system, but college administrators. The article describes this social phenomenon as "A new generation of overinvolved parents [who] are
flooding campus orientations, meddling in registration and interfering
with students' dealings with professors, administrators and roommates".
The article points to two causes. First, many parents no longer see college as an opportunity for their children, but rather in financial terms. Education is no longer about expanding the mind or a means for becoming a better citizen, but as an investment. Consequently, parents expect a return on that investment. They also expect colleges and universities to treat them like "customers." Second, the article suggests that students themselves have become enfeebled. A bottle-fed upbringing has created a dependent generation that expects their parents to solve all their problems. The children, in other words, have been socialized into stunted adulthood. Psychologists call this dependency phenomenon "learned helplessness." I think there is a another sociological phenomenon going on here as well. First, many of these parents are part of the 1970s generation. This generation, as Daniel Yankelovich noted in his groundbreaking values study, represented a distinct break from the values that had characterized post-war America. This generation is skeptical of all institutions--big or small, private or public.
The relationship of this "new breed" of Americans to their children is also quite different, some social scientists now argue. Whereas American parents had traditionally seen socializing independence into their children as their most important role, this new group sees their children as extensions of their own identity. Their childrens success or failure is seen as a marker of their own success or failure. This group, nurtured on EST and the self-help movements that characterized this period, often describes its goals in abstract, fuzzy terms, such as 'self-fulfillment', 'growing', 'being happy'. [I should note that I don't think there is nothing wrong with these goals but they are difficult to achieve because they are so fluid.] There is very little, Yankelovich argued, that is other oriented, it is all inner-directed. That is, "it is all about me." When they think about others, it is usually refracted from their own viewpoint.
The New York Times article focuses on kids "lifting" things from their parents. Apparently, there is a significant enough group of thirty-somethings who visit with their parents and raid their underwear drawers, if not the drawers themselves, to merit an article.
I myself don't think there is much difference between the current generation and previous generation. The difference may be in sampling. There have always been dependent and independent children. However, given the increased competition for college admissions, it is possible that certain schools are likely seeing more of the "dependent group." The reason is that this group is more likely to have been walked through the college application process, had their essays re-touched, if not actually drafted, by their parents. I imagine that parents who are obsessed with where their child goes to nursery school, may be of a certain type that is concerned with where their child goes to college. So, the result is a selection in type, not an overall generational effect.