extended adolescence

lots of adolescent specialists have been talking and writing, for a number of years, about the upper-end extension of adolescence (at the same time as puberty has dropped, creating a greatly lengthened adolescent experience). people have started to talk about adolescence in three phases:
– young teen (roughly 11 – 14)
– middle teen (roughly 15 – 19)
– emerging adulthood (roughly 20 – 25 or longer)

but this article in ypulse, referencing this article on vox marketing is the first time i’ve heard about research saying adolescence is, in some ways, extended well into the 30s! holy cow.

this is a result of our cultural descriptions of adulthood:

Because the traditional duties that come with adulthood, like mortgages, children, marriage, and developing a strong sense of self-identity now happen later in life, 52% of 25-34 year-olds said they still have “a lot of growing up to do.”

another key quote:

“Even in these financially challenging times, people are trying to stay younger for longer,” said Kevin Razvi, EVP and managing director of VBSI. “25-to-34 year-olds are continuing to consume music, gaming and the internet and are enjoying the pursuits of their younger years while benefiting from a greater level of personal and financial freedom.”

they talk about three phases of “youth” this way:
– “discovery” is defined as 16-19 years old
– “experimentation” is 20-24 years old
– and “golden” is 25-34 years old.

interesting how these ideas align (though the ages don’t at all!) with stephen glenn’s old model, that i’ve taught for years (i might not have the age brackets right here, but this is how i’ve talked about them):

birth – 2: discovery
3 – 7: testing
8 – 10: concluding
— puberty —
11 – 13: discovery
14 – 17: testing
18+: concluding

given this new extending of adolescence, i’m wondering if there’s almost a third turn of glenn’s cycle. interesting stuff for thought.

8 thoughts on “extended adolescence”

  1. marko…
    i’ve been talking to folks for the last two years or so about how people go through this cycle three times. i work full time with middle school students and volunteer time with college students and people would always ask me why…it seemed like such a stretch for them. but i’ve found that they’re going through very similar phases…discovery especially…where they’re both open to new ideas & exploration.

  2. “are continuing to consume music, gaming and the internet and are enjoying the pursuits of their younger years while benefiting from a greater level of personal and financial freedom”

    It’s these kind of comments that always make me suspect of these definitions of adolescence and how far they claim it’ll stretch, it seems like a certain generation’s interests, worldviews and ways of life have been dubbed “adolescent” and they keep the label as they grow, meaning in forty years if any of those researchers get into their 90’s and 100’s, we’ll be seeing 60 year olds who are classified as adolescents just because they like similar music, video games and technologies as they did in their younger years.
    Like video games, good music and spending time on the internet is somehow a adolescent pursuit. Or that personal freedom is somehow a young person thing.

    I think it’s a problem of static definitions, that somehow video games are “kids stuff” or using the internet to it’s fullest is somehow an adolescent habit. I think this is because many of the researchers didn’t have these things in their adolescence and saw teens adopting it, so thus it’s a teen like behavior.

    I have the same problem with texting, I always view it as a teen-tech because I didn’t have it in my adolescence, I tend to look at adults who text a little sideways, it’s my own inflexibility that prevents that but I don’t run around labeling adults who text a lot as adolescents. It’s a bias to be broken, not to be included in a study of what it means to be a grown-up!

    Or that boomerang kids in a terrible economy with a dwindling and unhealthy job market is somehow an extension of adolescence instead of a community living plan to handle tougher times or as a way to reach your goals. Most of the houses in my old neighborhood have grandparents, parents and children living together to gain a better quality of life. It’s not an arrested development, its wisdom.

    Or when an interest in pop culture or entertainment is seen as adolescent instead of a difference of taste, that somehow there are genres of these things that are somehow regulated to grown ups, and others to kids. Quality is quality.

    It just seems like another game of fault labels based on our biases, when the actual marks of adulthood, the ability to manage your life, to accept responsibility for yourself and your own actions and choices, to be teachable while having a sense of self etc. often fall off the radar because the “responsibility” aspect gets tied only to certain choices (above it was listed as marriage, children and a mortgage. Which with our current housing crisis we’ve seen plenty of mortgages sold that where the irresponsible thing to do), the “sense of self” gets muddled with this idea of being unteachable and a having a lack of openness

    I think we’re going to see this definition of adolescence snap back when the researchers involved age out of it, and the video-game playing, hard music listening, internet savvy adult researchers replace them, and it’ll be replaced by a whole new set of biases of how their kid generation seem to still enjoy their new ways of life and entertainment longer.

  3. as someone on the “far end” of this article’s adolescence (i’m 34), i have to agree i’ve seen much of this in my own (and many friends’) life. i often tell people i feel like i’m at least “5 years behind” developmentally in many ways. i just think that many folks nowadays aren’t forced to deal with the “adult stuff” as early as even my parents did… we stay in school longer (i wasn’t done with school until I was 27), marry later, have kids even later…and yes, i still feel like listening to my loud hard rock, wearing t-shirts and flip-flops, etc., instead of changing it to polos, khakis, and smooth jazz…and NOT just because i’m trying to be “relevant to teens in the ministry i serve”…it really seems to be me!

  4. This is amazing to me in that I know some people well into their 50’s that still seem to be involved in this cycle. Somehow never making it past the “concluding” phase.

    It really puts things into perspective when dealing with my children, my youth girls and parental types.

    Angus, I completely agree! I’m turning 31 tomorrow and I’m tired of wondering if I missed the mark somewhere in turning my style into loafers and nylons or wondering when that change is suppose to occur.

    Kevin, I took that quote as directed toward those who are actually consumed by those things. Those “adolescents” neglect things like their own families or other “adult” responsibilities to pursue music, gaming and the internet. I have a close family member who neglects his own bills, children and wife to consume those things.

  5. it’s interesting that the shift in the definition of adolescence is occurring at a time where there is an absence of specified boundaries from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. as a society we don’t celebrate the transitions in life when a boy becomes a man and a girl becomes a woman. perhaps this all motivated by our consumer based culture that deceives us into thinking we are younger than we are just to buy into their “youthful” products. unfortunately this is affecting our ministries in that the pursuit of youth that is occurring on the outside of an individual is also helping to limit their growth in a spiritual sense.

    in the past the transition from childhood to adulthood was hard and usually involved a test of some sort. but people today stay away from the hard things in life if they can. spiritual growth requires work: suffering, perseverance, character and hope.

  6. This also has implications as life expectancy increases and having a very healthy quality of life is extended into ages that were previously unfathomable. It would make sense that if the 60 year olds were as healthy at 50 year olds a few decades ago that youth might also be extended. What is going to bring the health part of this (and not the sociological component you are talking about) is obesity.

  7. I have a pastor friend who went from working with middle schoolers to working with college students. He once, and not too publicly, compared the two stages in life. College students and middle schoolers are both going through these ridiculous changes like puberty or looking for a spouse, growth spurts and hair loss, they both experience freedom in new ways, and they are both learning in different ways that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Anyway, I always found that interesting.

Leave a Reply