Failure To Launch, featuring a trim and fit Matthew McConaughey and slim and curvy Sarah Jessica Parker, made Emerging Adulthood look cool: sexy. Emerging or postponed adulthood is the term used to describe an entire generation of humanity caught somewhere between the ages of 18 and 30(ish).
Emerging adults struggle with their journey into the world of adulthood. Apparently emerging or postponed adulthood is more of the norm than the exception these days.
Consider the following excerpt from a piece in the NY Times a few years ago:
“The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.” (See, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,)
Some conclude that postponed adulthood is a reality to be embraced.
It may be an anomaly we should resist.
A leading voice on this cultural phenomenon, Jeffery Arnett, embraces postponed adulthood as a reality that is here to stay. He notes five unique characteristics that indicate why:
- Identity Exploration
- Self Focus
- Feeling in – between
- Sense of Possibility
Arnett would have one believe that these five characteristics are unique to the world of emerging, twenty-something adults.
This is simply not the case. These characteristics are experienced during another season of life. This other season of life is not one our culture clamors to embrace and extend!
Just ask any parent who has raised teenagers. Those of us who have – or have even minimal experience with young teens – know that all five of these characteristics are the common place, day-to-day experience of a teenage existence!
Wondering if I am right?
Speak with anyone who works with young teens on a regular basis. Or, better yet, go find a friend who has kids ages 9 – 15. Ask them the following questions:
- How often does your teenager struggle with their identity and the concept of who they are?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, ten representing stability and one representing instability, at which number would you place your teen?
- Would you say your teen is often self focused and significantly concerned about how they appear or present themselves in public?
- Does your teen exhibit maturity in some situations while reverting to immaturity in others?
You get the idea. What’s said to be exclusive to a rising generation of young adults is actually more prevalent and deeply felt in the young teen years. No parent of a middle school aged teen EVER wishes to embrace and or extend this season of life! That’s probably why Twain once said, ““When a boy turns 12, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.”
What is described as a new reality to embrace, should be recognized as a cultural failure to fully engage our young people in significant adult centered interaction during their formative years.
Currently the question being asked is ‘how can this phenomenon be embraced and encouraged?‘
Perhaps a better question is, ‘Why has this happened and what can be done to reverse the trend?‘
WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED?
There are many reasons for postponed adulthood. Each of which can be traced back as far as the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Below are five cultural indicators I have observed that may give us insight into this slide toward postponing adulthood:
Cultural Indicator #1: The assumption and prevalence of Age Segregation.
Cultural Indicator #2: Our obsession with and promotion of Instant Gratification.
Cultural Indicator #3: The development of an Entitlement Mentality.
Cultural Indicator #4: The replacement of meaningful human connection with the growth of Virtual Reality.
Cultural Indicator #5: Our digression toward an Everything is Fraught with Peril Parenting Philosophy.
All five are important. In my mind, Cultural Indicator #1: The Assumption and Prevalence of Age Segregation, is the doorway into the world of instant gratification, entitlement mentality, virtual reality and over protection.
Bottom line: if we can effectively address this, then the others may actually self-correct.
MORE IS CAUGHT THAN TAUGHT
In many areas of a young person’s life, his or her activities involve little or no significant interaction with adults in their community and their world. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
If we believe the truth behind the cliche, more is caught than taught, then much of what our young people learn (i.e. ‘catch’) comes from their peers, not from adults.
Consider the life of most people younger than the age of fifteen. They experience few significant and intentional relationships with adults on a consistent basis. In every segment of society we put teenagers (a word birthed in the past 100 years) in their own separate category and encourage their own separate experiences.
For example, children and teenagers are regularly segregated and isolated in the following arenas,
- The home. Modern dwellings are riddled with separate and often self sufficient rooms of personal space and calendar commitments.
- The neighborhood. We yell at teens when they drive to fast or do something stupid – like most do – but it’s rare that we stop and engage them in a meaningful way.
- School. Our entire educational system is based upon this flawed system. We are just now reaping its rotten rewards.
- Church. This is no more powerfully felt in today’s world than it is in the church.
At nearly every faith community in this country the only time the family is together is just before they leave their home (most drive two cars) and drive to church.
Upon arriving at church we are granted many wonderful options to choose from that assume and promote age segregation. Honestly many most parents long for this – they want to find a church that has ‘something for their kids.’
Many churches and their leadership are all too ready to jump on board this fast moving train. Never measuring the unintended consequences of where its track may take us.
So . . . . What ought one do?
Perhaps we should explore and engage in consistent and meaningful inter-generational experiences. Perhaps we ought to actively participate in arenas (homes, neighborhoods, churches, school, etc.) where cross-generational experience is encouraged.
If we desire that our children grow and mature into healthy adulthood at an earlier age – which has been the norm for centuries – then our young people should be invited into our corporate settings. They should also be welcomed warmly and given meaningful opportunities to develop their skills, gifts and talents within corporate settings; among adults!
I like the way Ruth Haley Barton puts it when she discusses the necessity for community in Spiritual Transformation:
Spiritual transformation takes place incrementally over time with others in the context of disciplines and practices that open us to God. In general, while we are still on this earth, our transformation will happen by degrees (II Corinthians 3:18) and we need each other in order to grow. (I Corinthians 12).
Bingo! Change; transformation; growth; our children’s movement into adulthood takes place incrementally over time with others!
Yes, change and development can happen in an instant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I also recognize that God most often moves through those steady and consistently practiced rhythms or habits.
I want my children to experience and practice the habits of worship, relationship, community, interaction, gentleness, kindness, goodness, etc., in the same setting in which I practice them. In these settings -where we are together – she/he notices my own change and the power of habit over my own life. In these settings my inconsistencies are exposed and remedied as my child experiences his/her own inconsistencies and hopes for remedies.
In these settings my child will hear the same scriptures, songs and prayers, etc. that I hear. He/she will note how I respond to and apply each of these in my own life.
Over time, with consistent exposure to this ‘adult’ world, my child may intuitively understand (because of experience) what it means to be an adult and all that encompasses (identity formation, purpose, possibility, etc.).
In other words he or she will catch it by virtue of such consistent and intentional experience and practice.
Unfortunately most of us have bought into cultural indicator #1: The assumption and prevalence of Age Segregation, hook line and sinker.
Some things may have to be Disrupted if we are to reverse the trend toward postponed adulthood.
Disrupting to Renew,