Tag Archives: emerging adulthood

escaping neverland (extended adolescence article)

some weeks ago, i spent an hour on a phone with a reporter for World Magazine who was doing an article on extended adolescence. i’m often a bit skeptical about what sort of reporting someone’s going to bring to this subject, since i usually disagree with the “why can’t this narcissistic generation grow up?” perspective i’ve seen so often. my belief is that adolescence has extended because we (adults, culture at large) have:

  • isolated teenagers (and now young adults)
  • increasingly treated teenagers like children
  • removed opportunities for teenagers and young adults to spend time with adults in the world of adults
  • ceased pretty much all practices of giving teenagers an opportunity to be “apprentice adults”
  • removed opportunities for responsibility and expectation
  • and, removed all the onramps to adulthood

not to mention the “it’s all about me and my needs” worldview that today’s teenagers and young adults have seen modeled for them their whole lives by baby boomer parents.

so i did the interview, mostly because i wanted to offer what i assumed might be a different perspective. i also suggested the writer connect with rick dunn (author of Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults), and i’m glad she followed through on that. the result, i think, is a good article. what do you think? responses, thoughts, reservations or disagreements?

peter panEscaping Neverland, by Caroline Leal

If the fictional character, Peter Pan—“the boy who would not grow up”—was alive today, he’d have little need to run away to the magical isle of Neverland to escape manhood.

“You no longer have to shut your eyes and pretend you are in Neverland—it is all around you,” wrote sociology professor Frank Ferudi in online publication Spiked. “Our society is full of lost boys and girls hanging out on the edge of adulthood.”

Meet Generation Peter Pan, the ever-expanding band of twenty-, thirty- and even forty-somethings living in a state of extended adolescence, avoiding the trappings of responsibility—marriage, mortgage, children—for as long as possible. Sociologists traditionally mark the “transition to adulthood” by the milestones of completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by age 30. But among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in December 2011 found 53 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are living with their parents or moved back with them temporarily during the past few years. In 2012, another Pew poll found that in 1993, 80 percent of parents with children age 16 or younger said they expected them to be financially independent by age 22. As of 2011, only 67 percent of parents agreed.

With more people embracing the Peter Pan promise to “never grow up,” researchers and psychologists believe a new life phase—emerging adulthood—has developed as social and economic forces make maturing more difficult in the 21st century. But Christian leaders contend otherwise, saying prolonged adolescence is avoidable through discipleship, service-oriented ministry, and higher expectations for today’s wandering “kidults.”

“Extended adolescence is a culturally created phenomenon we must respond to,” said Mark Oestreicher, author of Youth Ministry 3.0. “Culture is obsessed with perpetually infantilizing young people, so we’re creating the low expectations. The first step is to stop coddling them.”

With an extensive background in youth ministry, Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, an organization that provides consulting and resources to help churches and businesses connect with young people. He believes the solution is not “adult” youth groups ghettoizing twenty-somethings from the rest of the church, but rather discipleship and mentoring with an intergenerational focus.

Oestreicher cites a real-life example reflecting his ministry vision: When he was a junior high pastor, the church usher team consisted entirely of men over 60 until an usher began involving his developmentally challenged grandson. The boy learned ushering and participated in the group’s barbecues and prayer sessions, and soon other ushers started involving their grandsons. Then the grandsons invited their junior-high friends to join. “Eventually the usher team became a group of old guys gently mentoring these junior-high boys, not just in ushering, but in life and spirituality,” Oestreicher said. “These young men were offered a chance to become apprentice adults. It’s a vision for how we can view young adult ministry.”

Some churches are already working to make that vision a reality. At Fellowship Evangelical Church in Knoxville, Tenn., 65 percent of the congregation is under 35. Its pastor, Richard Dunn, co-authored the book, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, and believes ministry to extended adolescents isn’t rocket science: “It’s just discipleship.” At Dunn’s church, young adults are intentionally given opportunities to use their gifts in leadership positions alongside older adults who function as role models.

Fellowship Evangelical also has weekly “college life” groups of about 800 students. The young people split into groups with leaders for Bible study and mentoring. Some of the twenty-somethings in these groups have already been divorced, and a large portion are sexually active. “That brings a whole new set of complications for ministry to this demographic,” Dunn said. “We have to address those issues and be willing to walk with them in authentic, mentoring relationships. If you’re going to be successful, you need patience and a long-term focus.”

Greg Matte, who began as a campus minister at Texas A&M University, now serves as senior pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church. He carried his philosophy for young adult ministry to the church, which has a singles group of about 1,000: “That’s where we see more of the prolonged adolescence happening,” Matte said. “But we’re intentional about not segregating them.” The singles are involved in many different activities in the church, regularly leading worship, teaching Sunday school, and working with seniors. And every Saturday, single young men join older men to serve different widows in the community, changing light bulbs, doing yard work, or pressure washing their houses.

“This kind of approach is relational and serving,” Matte said. “We don’t define our young adults by their marital status. We don’t babysit them. They mature in productivity and leadership.”

Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX)—the largest national Christian fraternity in the United States—also reaches out to the “kidult” crowd through activities designed to help them launch. Formed at The University of Texas at Austin in 1985, BYX is active on 28 campuses nationwide. Brian Lee, chief development officer for the fraternity, says young people today lack motivation, often defaulting to graduate school after college or moving in with their parents. “Because it’s culturally appropriate now, with no negative stigmas or a sense of failure attached, the pressure to grow up just isn’t there anymore,” he said.

BYX counteracts the extended adolescence trend through the rigorous process of service and commitment. Prospective members do community service projects like yard work, house remodeling, and other physical activities. During small group meetings, members share their struggles and hold each other accountable, a difficult process that spurs spiritual and emotional growth, Lee said: “If a freshman comes to college and wants to play video games for twelve hours and attend class for two, he’s not going to make it with us. They learn how to give, work and sacrifice, so they develop maturity and are prepared for a successful life outside of college.”

Young adults’ mental and emotional growth depends on their spiritual development, which is why Christian leaders should be on the frontlines of helping them transition from mediocrity to maturity, Matte said: “If you choose culture over Christ, you’re going to become an extended adolescent. Ultimately, the maturity of your faith determines the maturity of your life.”

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…

why churches should care about extended adolescence

i wrote a short piece on extended adolescence for churchleaders.com recently, on why churches should care about extended adolescence. here’s a snippet, from the middle of the piece:

Churches are realizing two things: teenagers leave after youth group, and there are no young adults in our church. Sure, there might be a lame and weird little young adult group of some sort; but in many churches, you know your average high school graduate wouldn’t be caught dead going to that group.

In response, churches around North America are creating young adult youth groups. Really, that’s what they are (of course, they wouldn’t call them that). And this, my youth worker friends, is only perpetuating and extending some of the very problems we’re discovering about how we’ve approached youth group for the past 40 years or so. Isolation isn’t the church; homogeneity doesn’t have much of a scent of the Kingdom of God. And creating these pockets of isolation only further removes the onramps to adulthood that teenagers (and now “emerging adults”) so desperately need.

Here’s why I care about this: just like I don’t want my 13 year old son to have the same faith he had when he was 8, I hope he isn’t stuck with his current faith when he’s 26. And, I feel the same for every teenager in my church. To be honest, I feel the same about every teenager in your church.

go here to read the whole thing.

join us in atlanta on november 21 for the extended adolescence symposium, where we’ll wrestle with these important issues with the help of three of america’s leading experts on the subject.

only three days left to order your ‘extended adolescence symposium’ mp3 or ebook

i’m stoked. i wasn’t sure it would happen. but it did, thanks to some very gracious supporters who believe in what we’re doing.

so, yes, it’s official: the extended adolescence symposium is officially on.

i’m still a little in shock.

first, i thought it was such a crazy long shot that we could get our first pick of presenters. dr. robert epstein is a freakin’ grenade launcher. he has messed with my mind over the past year when it comes to thinking about adolescence and youth ministry and parenting. then there’s dr. jeffrey arnett, the dude who literally wrote the book (and came up with the phrase) on emerging adulthood. i think i’m a decent moderator; but when both epstein and arnett said they’d love to be a part of this thing, i knew we needed someone with much more significant mental chops. enter dr. kara powell. yup, her.

seriously, i designed this event for me! i want to learn from these people. i want to understand what’s going on in american adolescence. i want to more deeply think about the questions of why? and so what? i want to be challenge to rethink things. and, to be honest, i’m hoping to see a few sparks fly!

but the second shock was that people rallied to our kickstarter page and we have the majority of the funding we need to make this puppy a reality. i’ll try not to be hurt that no one opted in for the $500 steak dinner with me (sniff). i am a little surprised that no one wanted the $250 ‘lunch with one of the speakers’. heck, i think an hour with epstein or arnett or kara would, literally, be worth 5 times that, easily. but, hey, i’m not complaining. and mucho, mucho thanks to those who have pitched in, especially when getting the swag wasn’t your primary motivation (i know of many who just wanted to play a role in seeing this conversation take place).

next week, adam and i will launch a page on our website with regular ol’ ticket sales for this ain’t-been-done-before-and-might-not-be-again event. but, in order to get this thing approved on kickstarter, we had to come up with a couple non-event thingies. that’s where the mp3 of the event and the abridged ebook of choice quotes came from. but i only asked permission from the speakers to use their stuff for people who paid for it during the fundraising efforts on kickstarter.

in other words: the mp3 of the entire event, and the abridged ebook of selected content from the event will only be available until our kickstarter deadline this saturday, september 17. after that, we hope you’ll attend the event, but there won’t be any other way to get that stuff.

oh, and the regular ticket price will be $100. on the kickstarter site, you can still get ‘pre-sale’ tickets for $75. that price won’t be offered anywhere else.

so i’m just, ya know, givin’ you a heads up. (and, full disclosure, the money we’ve raised still won’t cover our actual costs.)

help the youth cartel with the extended adolescence symposium

some time ago, i started to read and learn about the phenomena of extended adolescence. the short story is that adolescence, in the united states, is now considered to be close to 20 years in duration, from about 11 on the young end, all the way to about 30 (on average) on the upper end. of course, with the loss of high school graduation and the marker of turning 18 as fairly accepted ending points, the ‘normal distribution’ is very wide — there are young adults who are fully functioning as adults in their early 20s, and others who stay in adolescence into their 30s.

the inertia on this thing is around commodifying this ‘new developmental life stage’ — the upper end commonly referred to as ’emerging adulthood.’ culture at large, as well as businesses and churches, are quickly buying into this as the new normal. some are even saying it’s good.

but there are a few voices (in the minority) who are saying, “what a minute; maybe this isn’t good, and maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.”

i started to dream about an event where we could explore this tension, particularly around it’s implications for youth ministry and the church. i talked about it with my partner in the youth cartel, adam mclane, and he had a bunch of energy around it also.

we put together an A-list of who were would love to have — long shots, really. and we thought about how great it would be to offer it in atlanta the day after the YS national youth workers convention (monday, november 21). with the blessing of YS, i went after our long-shot A-list: Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, the author and academic who coined the term ’emerging adult’; Dr. Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0 and a leading dissenting voice; and Dr. Kara Powell, a brilliant youth ministry academic who we felt would rock it as a moderator (and youth ministry interpreter). somewhat to our surprise, they all said they would love to be a part of it!

so the EXTENDED ADOLESCENCE SYMPOSIUM was born… kind of.

the plan is for a one-day event, rich with presentations, dialogue, and moderated debate.

but we still had a significant problem: how to fund the thing. we’ve enjoyed seeing how kickstarter has become a very cool platform for people trying to fund creative ventures. steve taylor’s film adaptation of don miller’s book blue like jazz was, for a period of time, the highest funded project on kickstarter, after the film lost its funding and fans came to the rescue.

we’re not blue like jazz, or don miller, or steve taylor. but then, we don’t need to raise a quarter million dollars either. we only need to raise $6000.

we’re hoping you’ll help us. there are a cool variety of sponsoring levels, each with their own benefit to the donor. you can get an mp3 of the event, an abridged ebook of some highlights, a reduced price ticket, lunch with one of the speakers, a nice steak dinner with me and adam (!), or even become an official sponsor of the event.

but we only have a few weeks to nail down the funding, as the speakers have all graciously agreed to wait until then to see if we can pull it together. so september 17 is our deadline.

click through to our kickstarter page to learn more about the event and the various donation levels. spread the news — please — via your own networks (email, facebook, twitter, G+, etc).

we really think this thing could be significant in helping us all wrestle with this juggernaut of extended adolescence, and its implications for us in the church who care about teenagers and young adults.

will you help us? better yet, will you join us?