Tag Archives: robert epstein

summary of the extended adolescence symposium

adam and i were thrilled with how the extended adolescence symposium played out. we had a nice intimate turn-out that lent itself to robust dialogue and engagement. the speakers dove in, and kara powell did a great job of translating and fielding questions.

the ‘launch ministry’ blog has a great three part summary of the day:

part 1 – short overview. a snippet:

While in agreement on the general characteristics and trends of young people, the two presenters had vastly different responses to the data. Dr. Arnett views himself as a researcher and is very hesitant to create prescriptive responses to emerging adulthood. When pressed, he seems to indicate that this new stage of life is an unavoidable reality. This is the way things are now and are likely to be in the near future. As a society, we need to begin thinking about how to change our systems and structures to adjust to this new reality. He used the example of young adults being able to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26 as one positive idea for what this might look like.

Dr. Epstein, however, views himself as an agent of social change. He believes that emerging adulthood is a problem to be fixed. T0 him, the immaturity and delay of adulthood means that our social structures are broken. We need to change our parenting methods and our educational system to stop infantilizing young people and make them take responsibility for their actions while teaching them the competencies they need in order to make it in the world.

part 2 – framing a response. a snippet:

As I wrote at the end of the previous post, while I appreciate Dr. Epstein’s ideas about stopping the infantilization of young people and instilling competencies, the reality is that even if as a society we fully engaged his suggestions, we would still have generations of emerging adults that are experiencing difficulties. Because of this, I believe our response must include a directed response toward emerging adults and those that soon will be as well as a component that seeks to prevent the more destructive elements of this life stage.

Additionally, since this is a broad sociological issue throughout (primarily) western culture, our solutions and responses must include both activity within the church as well as beyond the walls of the church. My quadrant, then, will include reflections regarding earlier prevention as well as a direct response working with the current generation of emerging adults both inside and outside the church.

part 3 – implications for churches. a snippet:

A role in the community is something that young adults need and lack. This is especially true of emerging adults that do not attend a four year college. Those that do have a culturally defined role of ‘college student’ that has certain expectations around it. Those that do not, however, are left floundering in a weird in-between place where there is no role that helps define who they are. Could churches intentionally engage emerging adults, creating opportunities for leadership within the church and in the community? Maybe there could be post-high school internships or leadership development programs than intentionally seek to provide a role for emerging adults. Perhaps in some contexts there is room for a specific emerging adult ministry (a more mature youth group for college aged young people?), though I think that this could be problematic if the group does not intentionally find ways to connect emerging adults with older adults in the church.

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?

the future of youth ministry, episode 3

i led a late night discussion at the national youth workers convention this past fall on “the future of youth ministry”. in preparation for that discussion, i emailed a few dozen friends with better youth ministry minds than my own, and asked them to complete the sentence, “the future of youth ministry….” about 15 of them responded (often with more than a sentence!). i’m posting them here as a series, sometimes with a bit of commentary from myself, and sometimes merely as a reflection-prod. would love to hear your responses.


kara powell and brad griffin’s responses are a nice pair. and as it should be — kara and brad are two halves of the team at the fuller youth institute. and much of their “sticky faith” research and writing these days has been focused extensively on the content of both of their responses…

Kara Powell
I think the future of youth ministry is one in which the age-segregation that has dominated the church ends and we move toward the type of intergenerational community and integration God intends. We’re seeing in our research how important intergenerational community and relationships are to Sticky Faith.

Brad Griffin
The future of youth ministry must move toward more intergenerational connectedness, more valuing of and partnering with parents, and less programming fluff.

i really resonate with what kara and brad say. it’s hard to argue with, since it’s coming straight out of their research. it’s also representative of the research of the national study of youth and religion, conducted by christian smith and others. kenda dean reports on this latter research most directly (for christian youth ministries, at least) in her book almost christian. and, as i’ve posted about here multiple times, i’ve found a good deal of resonance with robert epstein‘s teen 2.0 (and conversations with him).

all of this research and writing, blended with my own observations, leads me to this conclusion: most of our approaches to youth ministry, developed in an era when autonomy was a primary need of teenagers, and when the american church was particularly gung-ho about creating age-based autonomous ministries, has resulted in a church experience, for most teenagers in churches with active youth groups, that isolates teenagers from the adults in the church. one of the many results of this (certainly there have been positives, as well as negatives), is that we don’t provide teenagers with meaningful adult relationships outside of those adults who are either paid to be with them (youth pastors) and those who volunteer to spend time in the age-based ghetto (youth ministry volunteers). in other words, most teenagers in our churches with youth ministries don’t rub shoulders with adults being adults.

teenagers don’t get to watch adults doing adult things.

teenagers don’t get to practice being “apprentice adults” in the adult bits of the church.

by the way, this is true for teenagers in most areas of their lives, not only in our churches — we’ve just bought into the way culture at large addresses teenagers, either with good motives or not-so-good motives: put them over there.

this isolation from the adult world that most teenagers experience lacks on-ramps to the world of adults. no wonder extended adolescence has become our new cultural reality.

i’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater and completely do away with youth ministry. there’s a small, hipster movement of churches doing just that (“we don’t have a youth ministry, and we’re proud of it!”). i find that most of those churches are really just saying that they have other priorities that are much more important to them. but i do wonder if it might be wise for lead youth workers to intentionally choose a new job description (yes, easier said than done), from “lead programmer for teenagers” to “champion or lead banner bearer for teenagers”. the former is all about creating the ultimate space of isolation (stating t it negatively, to be sure); and the latter could be about being the voice — the gadfly — in the congregation, charged with the role of finding ways for teenagers to connect with adults, of not letting the congregation forget the teenagers in their midst.

what are your thoughts?

leadership as facilitating competencies

i’m presenting a seminar at the national youth workers convention this week called “leading without power“. i stole the title from a book i read years ago by leadership guru max depree (author of leadership jazz, and leadership is an art). it’s not depree’s best book, by any stretch. but the title alone has captured my imagination for years.

in preparing for the seminar, i quickly re-read (skimmed) the book again. it didn’t as much give me seminar teaching points as it prodded some creative thinking on my part.

but one story in his book so completely and wonderfully captured a shift in my thinking that’s been fermenting for a few months: a shift from control to facilitation. the language of this mindset shift came from the conversation my youth ministry coaching program cohort had with dr. robert epstein. we were talking about parenting, and someone asked him how he’s changed his parenting approach from his first round to his second round (he has adult sons from a first marriage, and now, a grouping of 6 – 12 year olds from his second marriage). he briefly unpacked this notion of moving from control to facilitation, with facilitation meaning ‘identifying and nurturing competencies.’

this idea deeply resonates with me. i’ve been trying to apply it to my parenting.

but i’m seeing the spill-over into every other area of leadership. we’ve had some great discussions with my coaching group about what it would look like for us to be champions of competencies in teenagers, rather than program creators.

and, while preparing this seminar on powerless leadership, i’m realizing how this mindset shift so directly applies to all contexts of leadership.

with that in mind, this little story of max depree’s is priceless:

esther and i have eleven grandchildren. one of them born weeks premature is now in 3rd grade, and while she has some special challenges, she is really doing quite well. one day when she was three years old, she came to visit me in my office, which is in a small condominium. she said, “grandpa, would you like to see me run?” and i must tell you, my heart jumped. i thought to myself, this little girl can hardly walk. how is she going to run? but like a good grandparent, i said, “yes, i’d like to see you run.” she walked over to one side of the room and started to run, right across in front of my desk and directly into the side of a refrigerator. it knocked her on her back, and there she lay, spread-eagled on the floor with a big grin on her face. like any good manager, i immediately went over with a solution. i said, “honey, you’ve got to learn to stop.” and she looked up at me with a big smile and said, “but, grandpa, i’m learning to run.”

three helpful epstein tests

i’ve mentioned dr. robert epstein‘s book, teen 2.0 on this blog a few times. it continues to shape my thinking (and, i can tell, the thinking of those in the one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts that read the book).

i’d been aware of a couple of dr. epstein’s simple, online diagnostic tests. but i finally looked at them in more detail the other day, after he emailed me to tell me about his newest online test.

first, the ones i’d already been aware of:

how adult are you?
this test is based on the competencies of adulthood that epstein developed in conjunction with writing teen 2.0 (and it’s earlier version, the case against adolescence). not only is it interesting to take (i was VERY relieved to score 96%, btw!), the results show the categories that epstein describes as the primary competencies of adulthood.

and, there are a couple things worth mentioning here:
first, epstein found that, when he administered this test to a sizeable group of mid- and older teens, as well as a sizeable group of adults, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups. what that reveals, or at least suggests, is that older teenagers (say, 16 – 20 year-olds) have the capacity for living as adults. capacity is an important word there — because, as the book unpacks, and all of us youth workers are observing, teenagers and young adults are postponing adulthood longer and longer.

how infantalized are you?
this second test measures teen and young adult infantilization, or, to what extent they are treated as children, rather than aspiring adults. it didn’t make sense to take this one myself; but i’d be very interested to have a group of high schoolers (and even moreso, young adults) from my church take the test.

epstein’s newest online tool is based on what he’s now considering a “disorder” (of sorts):
extended childhood disorder
this would be interesting to use with young adults who seem stuck in extended adolescence, and would be good to use as a 3rd set part along with the other two.

all very useful, i think, for our youth ministry contexts.

btw: ys booked epstein to speak in a ‘big room’ at next fall’s national youth workers convention in san diego. should be very interesting!

confronting adolescence: thoughts from a meeting with robert epstein (part 1)

yesterday, one of my youth ministry coaching program cohorts had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with dr. robert epstein for 90 minutes. epstein graciously welcomed us into his home, served us iced tea and cookies, and engaged with us is a pot-stirring exploration of ideas. for an academic with such polarizing (and, some would say, extreme) ideas, we were pleasantly surprised by his warmth, humor and listening ability. we knew we’d enjoy his thought processes, which we did.

for those who don’t recognize the name: epstein has been a fly in the ointment of adolescent sound-bite propogandists for the last few years. particularly in light of the “new brain research” on adolescents, revealing a host of implications, epstein has consistently been the lone voice crying out as the antagonist: no, you’re drawing wrong conclusions from the adolescent brain scans. you’re assuming causality when there is no indication of causality.

epstein put his exhaustive study (and strong opinions) into a book released as the case against adolescence, then re-released a few years later (just recently) as teen 2.0. i’ve blogged about it a couple times here already, but most recently here (mini book review here).

when our group got back to our meeting place after our time with epstein (and a lunch stop that had a side-by-side in-n-out burger and chick-fil-a; possibly the 7th level of heaven when it comes to fast food — yes, a few of us ate at both), we debriefed our time, and created a list of the things that stuck out to each of us the most, or the things that would have implications for our thinking and practice of both youth ministry and parenting. here’s that list, in short-hand. in the days and weeks to come, i’m planning on writing posts about some of these, expanding and reflecting…

— our culture is awash in negative messages about youth. when we hear them enough, we believe them; but they’re not true, and are often driven by pr from drug companies who benefit from these views of adolescents. be hyper-aware of those messages; look for them. and be highly skeptical of what you hear. understand that they are a prejudice (comparisons to 1800s thinking about women and blacks, based on wrong assumptions about their brains).

— parenting needs to shift from a position of “control” to one of “facilitation”. facilitation = look for and encourage competencies. this has enormous implications for youth ministry.

— there are very few age restrictions in the OT, none in the NT. we need churches to return to a biblical concept of adolescence.

— what can we do? create “local culture” (micro-culture) in your home or youth ministry. repeat often that what teens experience ‘out there’ is not right, it’s broken. help teens understand that they do not have to live like the system says they have to live. (this fits in so nicely with the ideas i wrote about in youth ministry 3.0)

— “repetition is the mother of wisdom”

mini book reviews, part 2 (of 2)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
5 stars

what a romp! grahame-smith (also the author of the similarly-genred pride and prejudice and zombies, which he “co-authored” with jane austen!), constructs a fantastical tale, from the fictitious journals of old abe himself, of the entire life of our 16th president. the true parts, the historic stuff, is based in fact. but this story adds the secret life of lincoln, as one of america’s best vampire hunters. his passion for killing vampires (born out of his own mother’s death at the hand — or drops of blood, as it were) becomes the driving force behind most of abe’s public life, including his presidency and his passion for abolishing slavery (which he hates at face value, for the reasons we would all know, but also because he comes to understand that slavery is supported by a nasty network of vampires and slave traders, for their own feeding purposes). no question, this book is dark! but i got a total kick out of reading it.

Wonder Boys: A Novel, by Michael Chabon
3.5 stars

on a recent trip to guatemala, i finished another book too quickly, and realized i couldn’t stomach the long flights home without a book. so i found my way to a large bookstore that had a few shelves of english titles. this book caught my eye, since i’d read chabon’s the yiddish policeman’s union, and knew he won the pulitzer prize for the amazing adventures if kavelier and clay (which i still need to read, at some point). wonder boys is about a pot-smoking, burned out professor/fiction writer (with some moderate success in his past), who can’t seem to finish his current novel (currently at 2600 pages, and only about 40% through his intended storyline). the lead character takes a young, conflicted writing student under his battered and malfunctioning wing, simultaneously corrupting him and promoting him to his first book deal. the whole thing takes place in a couple days, and is a snapshot of a guy who makes continual bad choices and doesn’t have the stones to own up to them; that is, until the partially-redemptive ending, where there’s at least a hint of phoenix-like resolve emerging from the complete pile of ashes he’s made of his life). a bit depressing, to be sure, but still well-written.

Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, by Robert Epstein
5 stars

more than any other single book i have read in the past decade, this book has rocked my thinking about youth and youth ministry. epstein’s contention — extremely well documented — that we “infantilize” teenagers, keeping them in a protracted form of childhood, resonated with me (not that it sits easily, though, or is simple in any way). he claims (and, again, documents) that adolescence as we know it in the states (and, increasingly, in cultures impacted by american adolescent culture and the systems that exist to perpetuate it), does not exist in many, if not most, cultures around the world. we have invented it, and we are lengthening it, keeping teenagers (and now young adults) from living into the adult world that most of them possess the competencies for. the stereotypical brooding, emotionally-volatile, irresponsible, short-sighted teenager is a creation of our own invention. this book will call for a longer post or two from me, i think, than i have space for here. but i’ll say this: if i’ve ever said another book was a must-read for parents and youth workers, ignore that, until you have read this book. i’m already thinking, almost daily, about the implications for my own home (with two teenagers), my small group of 7th grade guys, and the many arenas i have for speaking to and (occasionally) influencing the thinking and practice of youth workers.

the myth of adolescence

adam mclane stirred some interesting discussion with his blog post on the ys blog the other day, called “is adolescence a myth?” he highlights the perspective of robert epstein, who has been, for a few years, making the case that adolescence is not real (or, at least it wasn’t, until we created it).

a bit from adam’s post:

Youth ministry is built upon the assumption that there is such a thing as adolescence.

But one Psychologist, former Psychology Today editor Robert Epstein, is questioning this basic assumption that the teenage years are a time of turmoil where a person figures out who they are as an individual. His theory is that adolescents aren’t that different from adults after all, we just don’t expect them to exhibit adult competencies.

then he links to this u.s. news & world report interview with epstein.

i also notice that epstein has a new book out (called teen 2.0). at 500 pages, it’s even longer than epstein’s first book on this subject, the case against adolescence (450 pages), which is part of why that book has sat on my shelf for more than two years without being read.

all that said, i’ve come to believe that the long-winded dr. epstein has a point. i don’t think we should pendulum swing. but i think he raises some extremely good points that have slowly infiltrated their way into my thinking in the last couple years.

here’s my 2 cents (my comment on adam’s post):

i’ve been stewing on epstein’s contentions for a couple years now, since i first saw his articles and quotes (first in response to jay geidd’s discoveries about adolescent brain development, most clearly reported in barbara strauch’s book, the primal teen). at first, i was angry. after all, i’ve spent my adult life pouring into this age group. and, as an adolescent development buff, have always viewed adolescence as a distinct life phase.

but, over time, epstein’s thrust has found some resonance in my thinking. i’m not ready to chuck adolescence as a unique life stage; but i have started viewing it (and talking about it) as a cultural construct, rather than merely a physio/psychological phase. it’s a chicken-and-egg question, really. i DO think we (our culture) “created” adolescence, in a sense (though there are god-design aspects built in also). but even if it is a social or cultural construct, it’s still the reality that our real life teenagers are living in! epstein’s stuff has implications, to be sure; and i really need to get around to reading his massive book that has been sitting on my shelf for almost 2 years (The Case Against Adolescence). but i also want to live out my youth ministry calling by doing ministry WITHIN the culture i and teens live in.

an important quote from Epstein’s book, fwiw:
“…Until about a century ago… adolescence as we know it barely existed. Through most of human history, young people were integrated into adult society early on, but beginning in the late 1800s, new laws and cultural practices began to isolate teens from adults, imposing on them an increasingly large set of restrictions and artificially extending childhood well past puberty. New research suggests that teens today are subjected to more than ten times as many restrictions as are most adults, and adulthood is delayed until well into the twenties or thirties. It’s likely that the turmoil we see among teens is an unintended result of the artificial extension of childhood.”

this is important stuff for youth workers and parents. what are your thoughts?