Oct 2, 2007

Perpetual Teenagers

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a great commentary on and review of Diana West's new book The Death of the Grown-Up. You can link to it here:


The book and Mohler's commentary lament the cultural phenomenon of near-perpetual adolescence. Many pundits and scientists in our society are telling us that adolescence now extends from puberty to age 34. Age 34! Can you believe it? We live in a society that refuses to grown up. West suggests that it's worse than that--people in our society don't know how to grow up. Moreover, the adult generation seems to work hard to emulate teenagers and 20-somethings. The young people set the cultural agenda and the older folks bend over backwards to accomodate and imitate them. This is, as West points out, a new phenomonon. In earlier times, the young folks looked up to adults and sought to imitate them. What kids wanted to do was to grow up; to become part of the larger (adult) society. But, apparently there is no more adult society. The adult society is collapsing into a perpetual teenager society.

Truth be known, the whole idea of the "teenager" as a distinct demographic entity is a late 20th-century invention. Before the 1950s, there was no such thing as teenagers. There were simply human beings in their teen years working hard in preparation for an adulthood that came very much sooner than age 34. Prior to the 20th-century adulthood usually arrived around age 16 or 17 when the average young man had to go to work an contribute to the family or start one of his own. And the average 16 or 17 year-old woman got married and started having babies. And these young peope were NOT children! The average 16 or 17 year-old a century or more ago was a mature-thinking adult! He/she could handle the reponsibility of adulthood because he/she had spent his/her early teen years learning to do so! But no more. Now we have 34-year-old teenagers who have no desire to grow up and probably couldn't if they wanted to!

Now I'm not saying that we need to return to a culture in which people have to grow up by age 16 or 17. After all, growing up by that age was somewhat a matter of economic necessity. But, there is no virtue in prolonging adolescence (you will only think there is if you think that the purpose of life is "living for the weekend"--which it's not). Requiring our kids to grow up by 20 or 21 isn't asking too much. Maybe even 18 or 19 is reasonable too. Of course, those of us who have "put away childish things" will have to teach them how. Are there enough of us left?

1 comment:

Sarah Scott said...

This is certainly a cause for lament (I do frequently, and I am a college student). College students have come to resemble high school students, and in some cases, junior high students. One sees this within the church, especially when youth ministries become devoid of gravity and depth (fequently), as well as when the college ministries begin to look and act suspiciously like the high school groups. There are no longer high (or any) expectations for the maturity of children! Good post.


(I found your blog from your post on Dr. Groothuis' blog)