It used to be that when parents learned that Larry Nelson taught child development at Brigham Young University, they would pepper him with questions about how to deal with their 2-year-old or how to get their toddler to sleep through the night.

"But when people find out I teach child development now, 90 percent of my questions are, 'Tell me what to do with my 20-year-old,' 'Tell me what to do with my 22-year-old,' " said Nelson, an adjunct professor. "Parents don't know what to do because in generations past, you were done parenting by now. Kids were getting married, moving on. But since they're not, parents are at a loss."

Trends in the ways young people view adulthood have some observers suggesting that when faced with the complexities of growing up — getting jobs, dating, attending school — many in the current generation are unprepared or unwilling to just get on with it. Emerging adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a religion and culture to give them added structure, as well as different expectations, though they still may not be ditching adolescence and embracing adult responsibility as quickly as their parents or leaders did.

Though in many aspects young adults in the church are doing "incredibly well," Orem Institute of Religion instructor Blair Van Dyke said, "They are in some cases paralyzed by life.? They feel the weight of this world — the pressure and the strains."

Van Dyke spoke at BYU's Campus Education Week in August in a four-part class about how parents can better understand the causes of their children's behaviors, as well as what church leaders and sociologists have to say about them. Like with Nelson, Van Dyke had parents approach him at the close of his lectures asking what advice and insights he could give on how to get their 20-somethings out of their basements.

It's not that they don't have the same goals of family and career that their parents had, sociologist and retired BYU professor Bruce Chadwick said. It's that many don't feel quite "ready" for such responsibility. In observing young adults in his 35 years of teaching and research, Chadwick found that uncertainty and fear prevented some students from embracing adulthood.

"The change that I saw was not that they didn't want to be adults, (or that) they didn't want to accept responsibility or that they didn't want to get married," he said. "The biggest (change) was fear.? I think they've been frightened by divorce and what they see on television and they're concerned."

The unstable economy contributes to that fear, Chadwick said.

Andrea Jensen, a young single adult who will graduate in Spanish teaching from the University of Utah in the spring and is planning to start a master's program next fall, said finances are a big concern for some of her peers. "I know a lot of guys who (think) 'I'm not ready to be a provider and to take on that role.' Or they feel like they need to have a master's degree or a doctoral degree before they get married because they think that's the only way they'll be able to provide for their family."

Chadwick said this way of thinking is "a function of the way American society has pushed up the threshold of education." He said when he graduated from high school in 1958, many of his friends went straight to union jobs at places like Geneva Steel that paid well. But now getting a career takes longer because some form of education — vocational, university or otherwise — is generally needed. "It's just tough for a high school graduate to walk out and get a job that will pay the type of salary and the benefits required to live as an adult and to have a family.

What's more, education itself is very expensive, which leads those students who need excellent grades to get into graduate programs to either rely on loans or their parents for financial help or take fewer credits each semester in order to work and pay for school, thus prolonging their college years.

If societal changes are contributing to the young adult trends, U. student Blake Paullin said it's important to keep in mind that parents are part of that evolving society. "I kind of blame the adults," he said, referring to "helicopter parents" who fuss over their aging children's lives, sometimes offering so much support that they make emerging adults even more dependent.

Van Dyke echoed Paullin's observation, stating that he has noticed how involved parents are in their kids' affairs even at the university level. He said there's an environment of protectionism in the schools, where parents try to prevent their kids from academic, social or athletic failure.

Nelson said he found in surveys he conducted that "what (LDS students) believe they need to acquire for adulthood looks different" than what those outside of the church think they need to acquire. While both young adults in and out of the church believe financial independence and accepting responsibility for their actions are hallmarks of adulthood, the BYU sample he surveyed also considered being in control of their emotions, developing concern for others and preparing for family relationships to be signs of maturity.

Marriage and family are given such importance that some adults think that until a 20-something is wed, they aren't mature. Graduate student Joseph Anderson said he thinks some adults in his hometown only sort of consider him an adult because he's getting his master's degree but will see him as a full-fledged adult once he gets married.

While Nelson's research is ongoing, he said it appears that those surveyed in the BYU sample group "are further along. They tend to be further along in their identity development. They just seem to be further along in the process than their peers to becoming adults.

"You can tell they're hearing both messages loud and clear," Nelson said. "The message of the world that this is the time period to focus on yourself and have fun, but at the same time they were hearing the message on Sunday that 'now you need to be focused on others, and you need to prepare for family roles."

Matt Cowan, a Utah graduate and assistant relationship officer at Zion's Bank, said, "A lot of people put too much pressure on themselves." They want to do it all and get stressed when they can't.

Nelson said, "On one hand they're concerned they're not married because they feel they should be, and then the voice in their other ear is saying 'I'm so glad I'm not married because I just don't feel ready.'"

Elizabeth Andreadakis, 25, who is getting married in December and will graduate in May, said she can relate. "For a while ? I never felt old enough to have the responsibilities. It took me longer to mature than other people, but I feel ready now."

All the observers were quick to point out that plenty of young single adults jump right into responsibilities. T.J. Connolley, 21, said that despite some concerns about being a provider, he's not going to put off marrying Andreadakis, his fiancee, next month. "It's a huge leap of faith," he said. "We're going for it."

This importance placed on family relationships sets Mormons apart from their peers, as marriage and family are way down the road for many of them. Van Dyke said preparations for these family roles are of the utmost importance to church leaders.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about the national trend of dating versus hanging out in a Church Educational System fireside in 2004. The talk detailed the ways dating patterns have become much more complex than when Elder Oaks was a young adult, with dating being pressure-filled and rarer.

Van Dyke said he observed the trends Elder Oaks was referencing at his sons' high school. "Every single date was seemingly a life or death experience. The girl went to great expense to ask the guy out, the guy had to go to great expense and enormous creativity to respond to that.? By the time they come (to college), dating and courtship has become something very complex."

These high expectations cause some young people to not date, or to put it off, which is a serious concern for leaders, Van Dyke said. It's evidence of the way secular practices have influenced young people by "convincing the rising generation that dating and courtship and marriage is not essential to progress. The principal point is ? that the process itself, this traditional process of moving from an acquaintance toward marriage, is watered down. And as you water down the path, and you make the path hazy, you're not going to get as many people into the holy temple."