youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.
we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.
by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.
so, here’s the fourth bit, from chapter 2:
The growth of youth culture
The emergence of adolescence – and, particularly, the expansion of adolescence and the rise of youth culture – is the result of a symbiotic dance between physiology and culture. Here’s what I mean: in 1904, when Granville Stanley Hall (Yo, G!) published Adolescence, he placed the boundaries where, in a sense, they still are. In another sense, the boundaries have completely changed, radically changed.
Adolescence is the period between puberty and adulthood; or, more accurately, the period of life between puberty and a culture’s expectation of adult-like engagement in culture at large (historically put: being a fully contributing member of society). That’s the part that hasn’t changed.
What has changed, among other things, are the actual ages these descriptions represent. Funny thing is: the low-end marker has changed due to physiology, and the upper-end marker has changed due to cultural issues. And, of course, it’s never quite that simple (as if the pubertal entry-gate into adolescence didn’t have any cultural input or implications).
When Hall described the adolescent task, he was talking about a period of time 18 months long. That’s right: a year and a half. That’s it. No wonder there wasn’t much of a “youth culture” at the time! At that time (in the early 1900s), the average age for the onset of puberty in girls was 14.5 . And Hall suggested that our shifting culture was allowing an 18-month window of time – until about the age of 16 – to wrestle with the adolescent tasks of identity, autonomy and affinity.
Fast forward to the 1970s. The entry-point marker to adolescence (the biological marker of puberty) had dropped, for girls, to an average of 13 years old. And the “exit point” (of course, it’s not a hard-and-fast exit point) had seen a cultural shift to 18 years old. Now teenagers had an average of 6 years to wrestle with these adolescent issues. And – this is important – this quantity of years also meant that the quantity of teenagers engaged in this process was a massively higher percentage of culture at large (not only due to population growth, but due to the span of the demographic), and, therefore, had significantly more sway over culture at large .
Fast-forward again to the turn of the millennium. The average age for the onset of puberty in girls is now 10.5 to 11 years old. And the culturally accepted norm for when an adolescent is expected to function as a contributing member of society (and have made significant progress in the three tasks of adolescence)? The number is fuzzier than ever; but most agree it’s somewhere in the mid- to upper-20s.
So – hold onto your youth pastor job descriptions – adolescence is now 15 or more years long. This reality is both impacted by culture, and has a massive impact on culture .