Extended adolescence. It’s something we’ve all heard about, seen, and maybe experienced: people are taking longer and longer to reach adulthood. What is adulthood? They say you’ve reached it when you finally leave home, finish school, become financially independent, get married (and possibly have a kid). In one of his lectures for the class Leadership and Family Ministry, Timothy Paul Jones identifies six reasons why adolescence is being pushed back into a person’s late 20s and even early 30s.

  1. Culture-wide loss of rite of passage. We don’t celebrate a young person’s coming of age, like many other cultures do.

  2. Affluence. To put it bluntly, we’re rich enough to feed people who are unwilling to work. Solomon wisely observed that “a worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (Proverbs 16:26). But in an affluent society such as ours, hunger is generally not a pressing motivation to seek financial independence, which is one of the marks of adulthood.

  3. Postponement of marriage and parenthood. Since marriage and parenthood are marks of adulthood, this point seems to simply repeat the statement rather than offer a reason for it.

  4. Insufficient generational interaction. Dr. Jones cites Barbara Hersch’s book A Tribe Apart, which claims that many adolescent issues are due to the lack of meaningful connections between teens and older adults. Dr. Jones observes that this trend is observable in evangelical churches that over-segregate the age groups.

  5. Insufficient training as a Christian to know what it means to be a follower of Christ to become mature. As a reason for the extension of adolescence, this point is less helpful since this can be said of nearly any culture and generation.

  6. Establishment of the teen and young adult years as a time to be wasteful. Our culture promotes the adolescent years as a time of maximum indulgence and minimum responsibility.

Dr. Jones suggests that churches should focus on moving young people toward mature Christian adulthood by re-envisioning the teenage years as a time of spiritual growth rather than as a time to indulge in trivial pursuits before burdened by the responsibilities of adult life. Churches can develop “rites of passage” to assess and celebrate movements toward maturity, and develop programs that integrate rather than segregate teens and older adults.

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