youth ministry 3.0, part 3

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 third bit, from chapter 2, “A proposal for framing change in youth culture“:

Adolescence (as you likely know) is a fairly recent cultural phenomenon. Wait. Let me be Captain Obvious and take a step backward to this: Adolescence is a cultural phenomenon (recent or not).

Sure, there are loads of physiological markers, transitions and uniquenesses. We can talk about (or, more accurately: I could write about) cognitive development and emotional changes and relational groupings and moral/spiritual shift for a long time. I could write a long chapter or two about the exciting new developments in adolescent brain research, and what some of the implications might be for youth ministry. These excursions are tempting, as they are both a passion of mine, and a way to bulk this book up into a “real book” size. But I’ll resist, as it’s not my point. That said, adolescence clearly has biological, developmental, physiological markers and boundaries.

But adolescence is still a cultural phenomenon.

Let’s face it: girls, pretty much from the first daughter of Eve, were having a first period (menarche) – the physiological marker of the onset of puberty in girls. But there was no adolescence – at least not a culturally acknowledged period of time – until about 100 years ago . There was “youth”, but not adolescence. Youth was merely another word for child. And that made sense, given the context.

So what was it, about 100 years ago, that caused G. Stanley Hall to use the term adolescence, in his book by the same title? Hall had observed a new culturally accepted “holding period” – a pause button – between the carefree life of a child and the expectations of adulthood. This pause, which Hall called adolescence, was culture’s way of providing teenagers with a respite to wrestle with a few particularly adolescent issues.

Hall talked about adolescence being a time of “Storm and Stress” (a hat tip to the German Sturm und Drang movement). Hall wrote that this developmental phase had three key elements, common to all: conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risky behavior.

Furthermore – and central to the notion of this book – Hall began (in the book Adolescence, and in subsequent books and lectures) to talk about the tasks of adolescence in a three-fold manner which, while exact wording gets bantered about and tweaked by different people, hasn’t really changed much in more than 100 years. I’ll return to this in a moment. [ysmarko comment: i think i might not have this paragraph correct, and am researching more. i know erickson, in the 50s, was the one who popularized the notion of identity being a key task of adolescence, and i’m not clear — yet — if these three tasks were defined in any substantive way prior to that time. i have hall’s thick and old book, and am looking; and i have the manuscript out to a few professors to check for accuracy.]

10 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 3”

  1. Ironically, this coincides with the increase popularity of fathers leaving home to work with the shift from the agrarian economy to the factory laden economy and the World Wars. There came a decreased influence of the father on the home (the parent that is naturally more challenging), allowing Mom to nurture children for longer and thus causing a state of arrested development known as teenagers today. It is an oversimplification but fairly accurate.

  2. I know you’ll probably address this, but not until we had the term “adolescence” did youth ministry, in ways recognizable to us today, really take off. Similarly, when society realized that “20-somethings” became a popular category (thanks to “Friends” and other pop culture phenomena), the church took notice and started forming “young adult” ministries and the like.

  3. Have you read his book he wrote a few years later ?

    Youth: Its Education, Regimen, and Hygiene

    I think some educators may roll their eyes or flip the pages of the book when they see “Hall”. Most people would say that it is outdated and even discredited.

    HOWEVER, I think that this is the key that still remains (foundational):

    conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risky behavior.

    These are three elements that we need to take a look at and maybe even “embrace”. If we can allow families to journey through these areas and be there for support and encouragement; we can help them “ride the storm” and when the adolescence becomes an adult, they will be stronger as an individual and able to “function” in society better.

  4. What’s intriguing to me about trying to understand adolescence is the reactive way kids try to resist whatever categorizations we place on them. I found this to be true when at a parent’s night where teens were present I tried to help parents understand that we were presenting “basic Christianity” to middle school students, “complex Christianity” to high school students, and “theological Christianity” to college students. I’ve since rethought those categorizations (so don’t hold me to them), mainly because afterward every age group came up and told me they were more mature than the category I’d put on them. I wonder if the greatest thing we can do in our attempt to understand young people is to keep a question mark at the end of every “conclusion” – it helps them to feel less generalized and helps us to stay on a journey.

  5. There’s a book out right now called “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein that proposes that adolescents are really just young adults and need to be treated as such. I haven’t made it through the book yet but his perspective might be interesting for this project too, Marko.

  6. i haven’t read epstein’s book, but i’ve read articles and interviews with him. he’s gotten a lot of press, because he’s been disagreeable with most of the popular thinking and research. i think he has a point in general (a “which is the chicken, which is the egg?” point about youth culture and development), but i think he overstates his case quite a bit — or, at least, is guilty of assuming his suggestions are actually scientific.

  7. So if adolesence is a cultural phenomenon (to an extent) isn’t it entirely possible that we are embarking on a new cultural development, where everyone becomes adolesent-like? (We could call it post-adolesence if we wanted to sell books)

    Perhaps, this rapid culture change is going to demand new words as we frame change in youth ministry…perhaps even the words “youth ministry”, “youth group” and “youth pastor” need to be pahsed out.

  8. My first thought when I read this is that if there really are “tasks” to adolescence, maybe a big thing we need to do as youth workers is let our teens know what these tasks are. They probably already sense that there’s something they need to achieve, but if they don’t have anyone to clarify what that is or how to get there, should we be surprised that they experience stress and confusion?

  9. I think this could be a very fruitful exploration for youth ministry. Some ways to broaden and deepen the project and increase its fruitfulness (imho) would be:
    1)Examine differences in adolescence among different ethnic groups. I believe this could be particularly fruitful as we will soon have no true ethnic majority, only ethnic minorities in our country.
    2)Examine differences in adolescence among different economic and geographic groups. Again, this could be very fruitful for people ministering with youth in different places.
    Of course, I’m assuming that such differences exist.

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