emerging adults and middle schoolers, twins separated at birth?

last november, at the youth cartel’s extended adolescence symposium, jeffrey arnett was describing “emerging adults”, and i kept thinking to myself, “man, those descriptions totally sound like middle schoolers!” (i’ve often thought, through the years, that junior highers and college students have more in common than either do with high schoolers. the world is all new for both young teens and college students — they feel like they have a whole new level of freedom, and they’re exploring, sampling.) anyhow, back to last november: during a Q&A time, i mentioned this similarity, and asked arnett for his response. he looked at me like i was an idiot, and dismissed the idea. shut down.

but, i forgot that i’d clipped this quote from Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults (by Rick Dunn and Jana Sundene), when i’d read it last fall.

check it:

In his seminal work Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett identifies five distinguishing features that universally characterize the post-adolescent journey:
1. It is the age of identity exploration.
2. It is the age of instability.
3. It is the most self-focused age of life.
4. It is the age of feeling in-between, in transition.
5. It is the age of possibilities, when hope flourishes, when people have an unparalleled opportunity to transform their lives.

ok, i know it’s not a perfect match for middle school. but, really, can’t you see the similarities? where my middle school peeps at?

talk to me…

20 thoughts on “emerging adults and middle schoolers, twins separated at birth?”

  1. I love that idea Marko…I think the 5 features truly match up well with middle school students and college students. I am a Middle School minister and have been for about 3 years and I am here because someone had the same vision for me when I was in middle school. He didn’t throw dodgeballs at me and play with puppets but challenged me and led me through those years of transition and instability.

  2. I guess I should say he didn’t JUST throw dodgeballs at me…we had lots of fun elements but he also say the need to challenge.

  3. This idea makes a lot of sense! So, how can we connect the two groups? Could they learn from and with each other?

  4. When I was doing full-time junior high ministry, I had a conversation with our college pastor once where we described all the similarities between our roles. There were so many that it almost felt interchangeable. The identity questions and struggles, the desire for a place to belong, the rethinking of friendship circles, the disequilibration and reintegration of one’s faith–all are present in early adolescence and emerging adulthood. I also had a friend who was both the middle school and college pastor at his church, and it seemed like such a unique yet natural fit.

    You could potentially (and sadly) add “reliant on parents” to that list, btw.

  5. Interesting that the term “Emerging Adult” made its way into culture in 2000, and the term “tween” came up around 2004. And both define as “the stage between…” As the term “adolescent” began with that similar definition, and has now developed into its own demographic and culture. I wonder if in 50 years the tweens and emerging adults will no longer be “the stage between”, and what will be the new “between” stage. Yikes!

  6. Marko, I absolutely agree. Throw 2-4 year olds in the mix too. Preschoolers, middle schoolers, and emereging adults are all on the beginning of a new journey, all sampling, and are all at pivotal points in their development that shape who they will become in that next stage of life. Just a thought.

  7. If you use those 5 distinguishing characteristics – Yes, I can totally see the comparison.

    However – I can see how life can be cyclical and go through those stages again. Marriage, Having Children, New Job and/or Move, Retirement….

    There must be more to it that revolves around developmental abilities and levels.

    Though I will agree that there’s much more of a correlation between Jr. High and Today’s college students than the instances I described.

  8. Marko,
    This is right on! I’m moving from Middle School Ministries to College/Young Adult ministries where I will be planting a college church in Pittsburgh’s college part of the city called Oakland. Many people keep asking: “Isn’t it a whole new world? how are you going to handle the transition?” My response is always the same: they’re not as different as one would assume. Their sense of freedom (as you mentioned) is heightened, the experiences they are about to have hit them are all new and they are eagerly anticipating them, their friends structure must again be rebuilt and they are walking into a complete unknown with large challenges…I’ve been saying this stuff for a couple years now and in fact just mentioned it the other day! Just picked up the Dunn & Sundene book and am looking forward to cracking it!

  9. The identity development theories give insight into why this is.
    Let’s not look at the instability and exploration as a bad thing though. Those things produce identity and development.
    Thanks for the post Marko.

  10. I’ve been noticing that for a while too. I think for me it comes across in both the conversations I have with my students (issues of identity) and many of my college leaders (issues of identity). The way it plays out is different at times (choosing a major vs. dealing with a bully), but there are a lot of commonalities with both (say body image). Oddly enough, I even find a lot of my talks are, at least in my head, written for both those groups and the good ones hit both groups just as well.

    I think they are really similar at the end of the day because in both of those developmental stages you are wrestling with who the basic idea of who you are in ways that you don’t at other stages.

  11. lem, i TOTALLY agree that it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. in fact, this particular reality of the young teen years (exploration!) is one of the biggest draws for me to keep doing this!

  12. totally with you marko – i’ve often felt the exact same thing. even thinking back to my years in college. I remember feeling like it was my last chance in life to be really juvenile… crazy. wish I could go back and kick that guy! though I see that in some ways I was working through some of those issues of identity and so on.

  13. While there is so much talk about the danger of giving too much leadership and responsibility to the “extended adolescents” (or college students), I think this conversation is exactly why we NEED college students leading in middle school ministry. I think they are much more adept at validating the emotions our middle schoolers are facing because they feel them all the time as well. I’m not discounting the wisdom that comes from our much older leaders, but when a sophomore in college who is having dorm roommate issues can connect with a 7th grader who is in constant conflict with her friends at school, the result is a stronger connection and relationship.

    Marko thanks for posting this. I first started thinking about this when they released the Sticky Faith book. Though as a middle school pastor I don’t really have a big role in prepping students for college, whenever I read the comments and stats from college freshmen I began to see a huge correlation between them and my 6th graders. In Sticky Faith they were advocating for more reaching out from the HS pastor/leaders once a HS student leaves for college; perhaps we need to advocate for more reaching out from the Elementary pastors/leaders when their kids enter 6th grade and our middle school ministries? Just a thought…

  14. same with Seniors (70+)…different energy levels but LOTS of similarities

    I’m also convinced the height of marturity is somewhere between getting your license in your Sophomore year (probably after you get your first ticket and you wake up and start driving right) and the end of your Junior year when you start getting Senioritis
    Then everyone reverts back to Junior High maturity levels only with bigger bodies, more authority and some money

    Look at the majority of people…they act just like Junior Highers but without any of the excuses to make the behavior understandable and even endearing

  15. I think a big difference between the two is the role the parents play. As a middle schooler parent, sometimes it feels like an all-out emotional wrestling match to achieve an understanding. Yet with college age kids, I think there is more of a willingness and acceptance and trust level that parents give to their college age kids to test the waters, strike out on their own, etc. The issues feel as big (sometimes even bigger) during middle school than college, in my opinion, b/c the middle schooler isn’t as equipped to discern on his or her own. And yet choices are being made that will really define and shape their path. Lots of pressure on parent and kid at such a young age.

  16. As a Middle School Pastor in the same church for the last 12 years. I agree that there really are alot of similarities. In fact, I find it interesting how many college students reconnect with me when things are going on in their lives.

    Here’s my question and concern:

    1. How do we describe this to parents without them looking at us like we are speaking a language from another planet. Most parents that I talk to are very resist to their middle school students being influenced or mentored by a college student.

    2. We need to be cautious about overselling this or over assuming bases on what we see here.

  17. I do see the similiarities, but you can also attach the same ideas thruought life, as Jeff Pom said above. We are all looking for acceptance, trying to fit in, trying to be autonomous during different stages of life. And I don’t think high school is exempt form this. Case in point, at the high schools my kids have attended, a cast list, for play, musical etc.) is put up at the end of the day, the last day of that week, to alleviate any meltdowns and drama students may have on the outcome of this list. So, they (high school students) want to be treated as more adult, but they still can’t handle rejection. Just a product of our society today.

  18. Yes, its interesting to see how these same categories of concerns keep coming around regardless of our age. I’m almost 50 and I still see these things kicking me around. Maybe we are not looking at a list of things typical for an ‘age’ but typical for things that make us grow. Maybe the difference age makes is not so much the category of concern (identity exploration…) but how we think about these things at a given time.

  19. Jim, you said it right! And I am in the over 50 catagory, and still deal with these issues, especially being single.

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