Extended Adolescence

Adam Mclane has a rather interesting post on extended adolescence in the west and what he thinks we should do about it. I’ve touched on the topic recently. I think that Adam is probably right on in most of his thoughts on the causes of the extension of adolescence in America and the west. He might want to tweak the “allure of marriage” point a bit. I’m not sure how it needs changed, exactly, but it doesn’t completely jive with me. Maybe I just need to think it through some more. As I addressed in my earlier post I think the biggest issue is simply that we don’t expect older teens and younger twenty-somethings to act like adults. This is something that Adam mentions as well. My own thoughts go something like this:

When someone is eighteen they should be expected to behave like an adult. They should be expected to handle being a student, to manage their time, to avoid stupid things (staying up all night drinking before a test, for example). They should be expected to hold down a job, do what their boss tells them to, make their own dinner, do their own laundry, and a whole list of other things that adults do. They should be expected to have the maturity level of adults and be able to hold adult conversations.

Forgive me, I digress. More on the topic of Adam’s post, I think that he gives some excellent thoughts about how to handle the situation and things people (read: parents) can do to be sure that their children don’t end up living in their basement until they’re thirty. I do think Adam might be a bit harsh in a few things. We do, after all, need to realize that we can’t just dump unprepared teens onto the street (he’s not suggesting we do). Somehow his suggestions need to be tempered with a little patience and love. Parents should work with their teens to get them ready for the transition to adulthood. Adam suggests this at first, but I think some of his final points lack the same focus on parents really helping and nurturing their “older teens” through the transition.

I’ll add a suggestion of my own to Adam’s list. Within the Christian sphere, we in youth ministry are partly to blame. We have created youth ministries which feed adolescent consumerism. We expect students to consume our youth ministries until they turn 18, then we can pass them off to a college ministry which is hardly different from our youth ministry. We teach students that we want them to come to our events, play games with us, and basically be served. Then, if we’re trying to help them grow closer to God, we take them on a mission trip where we assure them – and their parents – that “God will speak to them,” or “they’ll have a spiritual experience,” or “a mission trip really changed me when I was in high school.” It’s not that any of those things are untrue, but we’re still teaching students to focus on what a mission trip can do for them. When we take a missions trip we should be more concerned with what we can do for those we’re supposed to be serving on the trip.

Perhaps here I have veered somewhat away from simply extended adolescence into the realm of rampant consumerism and self-focus. But I believe that there is some connection between the two. We as youth pastors, ministers, or lay-people should be seeking to help students grow into maturity in their faith while also helping them grow into adulthood as people. We need to expect seventeen and eighteen year olds in our youth ministries to act like adults (and we need to teach them as if they were adults). Maybe we are part of the problem, when we should be part of the solution.

One final thought: I am not trying to be overly harsh on youth ministry or youth workers. I am a youth pastor, and I think that youth ministry is needed in our churches. It just so happens that I also see a lot of the problems that youth ministry can bring about and I think we need to own up to them and think of ways to adapt our youth ministries so they no longer cause similar issues.


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