Extending Adolescence, Avoiding Adulthood

adolescentsMark Twain once quipped: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow as well.”  This should be the new motto of today’s adolescent.  While adulthood has many benefits to be desired, its responsibilities make it something to be put off until many days after tomorrow.  The good news for teens today is that the mental health experts (at least the ones in the UK) will now officially enable young people to delay adulthood at least until the age of 25.  It’s time to party in the streets for years on end, British teenagers!

Here’s the official headline from the Daily Mail (UK): “An adult at 18? Not any more: Adolescence now ends at 25 to prevent young people from getting an inferiority complex”.  Anyone over 40 with some amount of common sense has observed more and more teenagers being far from responsible adults by the age of 18.  Just go to your local college campus and watch the future leaders of America for a while.  Unfortunately, over the last few decades, a growing amount of college students are ending up on their parents’ couches, avoiding as much adult responsibility as possible.  But is this a new development in human behavior that we are to condone?  Apparently so. according to the experts.

The movement to officially delay the start of adulthood has been going on for quite some time in America and Britain.  Much of the conversation has surrounded new research that the brain actually continues to develop well into a person’s twenties.  That has led some experts to advocate for extended adolescence.  So what’s laughable is not that child psychologists announced that adulthood now starts at 25, but WHY it must be this way–to prevent young people from getting inferiority complexes!  Obviously teenagers have a need to be saved from the horrors of adulthood.  Here’s more from the Daily Mail article:

It is hoped that the initiative will stop children being “rushed” through their childhood and feeling pressured to achieve key milestones quickly…Some adolescents may want to stay longer with their families because they need more support during these formative years and that it is important for parents to realize that all young people do not develop at the same pace.

Now I get the fact that not all adolescents develop the same way at the same pace.  But what are these “key milestones” that they are felling pressured to achieve?  Graduation from high school and college?  Getting their first job?  Marriage?  Voting?  And who is doing the pressuring?  Parents?  Society?  It’s all just silly.  Let’s remember that for centuries, there were only two recognized stages of human development: Childhood and adulthood.  Long story short, adolescence is a hastily invented category that has a long history of being stretched an manipulated just to enable people to avoid responsibility.  Of course there are teens that want to put off key milestones like a career, marriage, and family.  They’re hard!  They require work, commitment, and sacrifice!

So what if we also delayed other key components of adulthood for today’s teenagers.  Let’s make driver’s licenses only available at 25.  And cell phones.  And, of course, we need to move the drinking age to 25 as well.  I don’t think our mental health experts will be recommending these changes to societal norms any time soon.  The reality is that our young people are just sinners like the rest of us.  They want to enjoy the privileges of adulthood without the commensurate responsibilities of adulthood.  Adolescents aren’t really longing for more years as children–they simply want to the spoils of adulthood much more quickly than they can handle them.  Case in point for another post: Cell phones and social media.

If child psychologists were truly observant about teenagers suffering from “inferiority complexes” they would understand that the problem occurs when they aren’t challenged and “pressured” to grow up and become adults.  Allowing our children to languish in extended adolescence only enables and encourages them to become fools (in the Book of Proverbs sense of the term).  With the requisite love, compassion, and patience, adults are responsible to press teenagers to grow up, mature, and become full-fledged adults.  And, as Christians, we should be leading in this area and fighting against the cultural trend–preparing our young people to become responsible, Jesus-loving, people loving, young adults.  Our children need to be challenged to avoid the pitfall of extended adolescence and embrace the calling of adulthood!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Trey says:

    While I agree with both your analysis of the study and conclusion, I thoroughly disagree with a historical detail presented in your argument. World cultures throughout history have recognized a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood, especially for males. What IS new is our expectation and acceptance of the “teenager,” its culture, and its attitudes. Whereas the transition from childhood to adulthood has historically been swift and conclusive through a series of objective rites of passage—the goal being to encourage a boy to become a man—we now encourage our youth to cherish and extend their adolescent years and put off adulthood. We do this through 1) accepting a self-centered lifestyle through this phase, 2) encouraging teenagers to pursue their dreams, find themselves, and pursue their education prior to settling down in the form of a steady job and especially, ESPECIALLY marriage, and 3) making the transition to adulthood a primarily subjective event, rather than objective.

    The problem is not merely spiritual. It is societal. We neither expect, nor encourage, nor assist young men and women to become responsible adults in a timely fashion. But we should. I, for one, believe the local church—as a community in covenant—is the primary social context for this to happen for the children of believers. We have a responsibility to encourage our young men and women to Christian maturity, which entails ACTUAL maturity. I believe we should encourage our youth to settle down earlier in life, to manage their income well, to give of their time, talents, and treasure to the church, to get married earlier in life. We do not need to encourage them to chase after the idols and ideals of the culture. They get plenty of that elsewhere.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for your comment. I think we actually totally agree. You are correct that world cultures throughout history recognize a “transitional phrase”–but not one so extended as even the original adolescence phase. Yes, transitional phases in most cultures are/were brief and with the effect of actually transitioning children to adulthood! So I accept your critique and appreciate your thoughts.

  2. shostagirl says:

    I guess as one from the generation you are talking about I don’t have a very clear understanding of how things worked in other generations. My comment is that while I was in college the US economy changed. My friends who graduated just a few years ahead of me got steady jobs and moved off on their own rather quickly. By the time I graduated the job market was much more difficult. It took me 10 months of searching to land a higher than minimum wage job. That time was much longer for many of my friends, many of whom were living at home, none of whom desired to be crashing on their parents couch. I’m just wondering if and how that circumstance may impact your analysis.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for the comment. You are certainly correct in observing that things have changed in our economy which has made it much tougher for 20-somethings to find work. And, added to that, a federal government which tends not to reward work nor understand how to get out of the way so more jobs can be created. There is no doubt that many “stuck on the couch” hate being there and are working hard to get out. To me, those are real adults, not people avoiding adulthood!

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