Tag Archives: teenagers

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?

youth ministry in light of adolescent brain development

these past couple days, i was at a small gathering of youth workers in millersburg, ohio (not far from canton), called seismos. joel daniel harris organized this event last year, focusing on youth ministry 3.0, after ys canceled the “future of youth ministry summit” he had planned on attending. this year, he asked me to join them as a conversation facilitator, with a focus on adolescent brain development. everyone had (in theory) read barbara strauch’s important book, the primal teen, in preparation. there were about 30 youth workers present, and our dialogue was rich (as were the times of play!).

two of the guys there, in particular, have been blogging notes. here are some of their posts:

from tom roepke…

seismos 2010 – the adolescent brain day 1

seismos 2010 – day 2 – “journey not destination”

siesmos 2010 – the image of a 15year old disciple

seismos 2010 – day 3 – the practical

from adam lehman…

seismos 2010 – rules of engagement

great quotes from seismos 2010

a 15 year-old disciple #seismos2010

faith development in relation to brain development

failure friendly youth ministry

i’m guessing both guys, along with joel daniel, will be posting more in the days to come; so check back to their blogs for more.


last year, a bunch of youth workers in the midwest gathered for a dialogue around the ideas in youth ministry 3.0. i followed joel harris’s blogging about their conversations, and thought it was a very cool gathering — robust dialogue about youth ministry.

here’s how joel describes the event:

The goal of Seismos when it was started was to host a gathering (not a conference) of youth pastors that promoted dialogue and discussion among participants, was affordable, and dealt with issues that were relevant to the youth ministry that we love. Last year was a great start, with a gathering of 20 youth pastors from 4 states discussing “Youth Ministry 3.0” for three days. The conversations begun during these three days have had lasting results in our ministries, in our continued relationships, and in our personal lives.

so i was stoked when they asked me to join them this year for the second seismos event. check out joel’s post about it here. we’ll be wrestling with adolescent brain development (and its implications) as our primary theme. the event is cheap, and should be a kick.

it’s limited to 40 people, and is currently half-filled. so if you’re in illlinois, indiana, ohio, michigan or something else in that general vacinity, consider joining us!

one “no duh” research fact, and one interesting one

researchers in england looked into what factors help make a smart student also popular (rather than labled a ‘nerd’). the first bit of what they found has that “you needed research to figure that out, didja?” feel to it. but i thought the second factor was interesting.

here’s a link to the article.

but here’s how it was reported on neatorama:

Research in nine state secondary schools in England found that the vast majority of “alpha” girls were thought of as physically attractive by classmates, had long straight hair, wore make-up to school and used lots of hair accessories, when this was allowed by the uniform code.

The “alpha” boys, were perceived to be “cute”. Many had gelled or styled shorter hair, carried banded sports bags and wore their ties in a “jaunty” or casual way.

Bright boys’ prowess on the playing field was also an important factor in ensuring they avoided derision.

… and two: have a “fall guy” as a friend:

Researchers also identified a “fall guy” phenomenon whereby alpha pupils gain kudos by having a best friend who is more disruptive at school, while avoiding facing the discipline that is meted out to the friend.

links to check out

my friend bob carlton sends me lots of really helpful links to check out on the ‘net. i put most of them into a temporary folder until i have a chance to catch up on them. these links are all from a wad i just got caught up on. really interesting stuff for youth workers (and parents, in some cases):

— study shows that teenagers (at least in the UK, where the study was done) spend an average of 31 hours a week online (and, an average of 2 of those hours are spent looking at porn).

The Idea Camp: a free hybrid conference for idea makers (Feb 27-28, 2009 in Irvine, CA)

The Idea Camp is a FREE, open source hybrid conference designed to help people move from the realm of ideas to implementation.
We are gathering some of the most innovative and creative leaders from around the country (this means YOU!) to share ideas, intentionally network, and move collaboratively into idea-making. Whether your passion is church leadership, non-profit work, social entrepreneurialism, technology, media, creativity, culture making, church planting, spiritual formation, compassionate justice, etc., this is the conference for YOU.

Spirituality, Not Religion, Makes Kids Happy (on livescience.com)

The link between spirituality and happiness is pretty well-established for teens and adults. More spirituality brings more happiness. Now a study has reached into the younger set, finding the same link in “tweens” and in kids in middle childhood.
Specifically, the study shows that children who feel that their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships — both measures of spirituality, the researchers claim — are happier.
Personal aspects of spirituality (meaning and value in one’s own life) and communal aspects (quality and depth of inter-personal relationships) were both strong predictors of children’s happiness, said study leader Mark Holder from the University of British Columbia in Canada and his colleagues Ben Coleman and Judi Wallace.
However, religious practices were found to have little effect on children’s happiness, Holder said.

Teens send 10,000 text messages per year, study finds (this study is also from the UK, where — i’ve observed — the texting craze amongst teenagers happened earlier than it did for american teens). the article is about more than just texting, btw.

The average teenager sends almost 10,000 text messages per year, and is so worried about missing an important call that they leave their mobile phone switched on overnight, according to the latest survey into the digital habits of young people.

Youth No Longer Defined by Age; Consumers Stay ‘Younger’ Longer

The traditional demographic definition of “youth” is no longer applicable in today’s society, and marketers should target consumers based upon their engagement and participation in youth culture rather than by chronological age, according to the “Golden Age of Youth” study from Viacom Brand Solutions International (VBSI), writes MarketingCharts.
As people worldwide delay the onset of adult responsibilities and stay emotionally and physically younger for longer, it is becoming more acceptable for older people to participate in youthful pursuits. To support this trend, marketers should routinely consider the often-overlooked 25-34 age group a part of the youth market, VBSI said.
“Contemporary youth should now be defined as ‘the absence of functional and/or emotional maturity,’ reflecting the fact that accepting traditional responsibilities such as mortgages, children and developing a strong sense of self-identity/perspective is occurring later and later in life,” the study said.

“Please don’t bring your teenager to Nebraska”

interesting little scramble of panic happening in nebraska right now, due to their “save haven law” which allows parents to drop off children at hospitals if they can’t care for them, without being charged with abandonment. the law extends to 17 years-old. but as lawmakers are working to lower the age to 3 days old (that’s quite a change, but apparently reflects the original intent of the law, which was to provide for infants whose parents don’t think they can care for them), a small number of parents are actually flying their teenagers into nebraska to drop them off before the law gets changed. wow.

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.

evangelical teenagers and sex

interesting article in the new yorker about evangelical teenagers and sex. important reading for youth workers (and parents).

here’s an extremely key sentence:

Regnerus argues that religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical.

(ht to ypulse)