Sunday, February 17, 2008

Adultolescents

Considering I have my own child now, I've begun to resonate more with articles on parenting and the issues parents face raising their children as I watch the news.

Thus, it hit me when I recently read two articles on the growing problem of children from affluent Christian settings not being ready psychologically or emotionally for adulthood. First, I noticed where John Piper wrote about "'adultolescence'—that is, the postponement of adulthood into the thirties." He references another work that defines further what this phenomenon entails. Then, he goes on to discuss how the Church should respond:

How might the church respond to this phenomenon in our culture? Here are my suggestions.

1. The church will encourage maturity, not the opposite. “Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20)....

He adds a total of 15 suggestions. Good stuff, and especially important to keep in mind if we're working with youth or college students.

It all reminded me of this post by Anthony Bradley I read entitled The Suburban Church: Ushering Kids Into Counseling In Their 20s and 30s. Anthony notes,

Raising church kids in the suburbs may be setting them up for psychological distress in their 20s and 30s. A few weeks ago at a youth group from a very large church in a middle class suburb of St. Louis, I asked the following question: 'What are your parents doing to you right now that will probably guarantee that you will be in counseling when you’re in your 20s and 30s?'

I knew about the nearly irreversible lacerations of divorce or the nuclear fallout when negative comments about appearance are delivered to daughters. I was shocked by the other laments. Here is just a small sample from that night...


He concludes,

Once this dam broke the youth pastor had to cut it off so he could give his talk about how the Gospel addresses all of their issues related to past pain. Many hands were still up in the air. It was sad. Dr. Madeline Levin, in The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, summarizes new national data saying, 'America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.' It seems that this is no different in churches of affluence. What happened?

And I think we can all wonder that question. The question for us as parents now, though, is how do we prevent this from being the case for us too?

4 comments:

Chairman said...

Westy - it strikes me that a symptom of youth is that it is self-absorbed. And I think that people grow out of it and develop into reasonable people. Of course, if youth is being extended into the 30's and 40's, then it's problematic. Reality TV offers a strong example of this, as does our obsession with celebrity culture. We excuse immature behavior from adults simply because they are famous. My life is another example of this, where I will manage to extend my adolescence well into my 30's and 40's, and perhaps 50's, at this rate.

The whole materialism issue is a very relevant one to this issue in Western society right now. But I have a suspicion that it comes from people never learning how to relate to other people in a meaningful way. When that happens, then you're left with only things. When things matter more, then you get onto that hedonic treadmill.

A lot of what we're seeing is that people are chasing the goals that they think will bring happiness. However, once they get there, they find that it's not the case. Ecclesiastes is the case study here. Study after study suggests that the wealth carries only so much ability to make you happy. After a certain amount (generally around $30K in today's dollars), wealth is no guarantee of any sort of well-being. And if the wealth comes at the expense of social relations, then it is likely detrimental.

There's a little article in the NYT that's talking about suicide rates among those in their 40's and 50's. These folks spent much of their adult lives in the 80's and 90's, where fortunes were made and the goal was to not only get rich, but to get more than the next guy. What someone had was at the forefront of their image. That's a recipe for disaster because someone always has more.

The social conscience didn't really shift until 9/11/2001, I'd say. And even then, there were mixed messages. Sure, people were more civil and focused on their relationships more, but one thing that Bush wanted us to spend money and buy things to show the terrorists that we were going to win. But since then, the social conscience has shifted. There's a growing trend for the most talented student eschewing law and medicine because of the time required of those professions. Similarly, in B-schools there is more and more demand for training for working in emerging economies or for non-profits. More and more people are considering programs like Teach for America, the Peace Corps, etc. Some of that becomes commercialized, which is hardly surprising, but the sentiment is interesting.

What's interesting is that in any situation, all things being equal, the player who has more motivation, who is hungrier, and needs it more, wins. We have a relatively egalitarian society. If you assume that natural ability is randomly assigned (and there's evidence that it is, towards the right side of the bell curve), then who's hungrier? Certainly not the kids of the upper-middle class who have a lot, but only see those who have more.

Greg said...

The question for us as parents now, though, is how do we prevent this from being the case for us too?

Arranged marriage. =)

Westy said...

The whole materialism issue is a very relevant one to this issue in Western society right now...
A lot of what we're seeing is that people are chasing the goals that they think will bring happiness.

Reminds me of what Gregg Easterbrook has written in his book The Progress Paradox.

I think a big part of this is parents pushing their kids, and pushing them towards what they think will make them happy. And often, pushing them to succeed, which in turn will make themselves as parents seem successful, enabling them to be 'happy'. What kids find out when they grow up is that they've never had time to be themselves, and they go searching for it. No longer living their parents' dreams, or discovering that what their parents dreamed for them was inadequate, they go seeking.

Chairman said...

Agreed. You see a lot of parents living vicariously through their kids, which leads to a lot of problems.

Of course, this is a very new issue in the history of man. In the Western world, we're still learning about what it means to live without truly worrying about basic needs.

In the past, the sons would typically take up the trade of the father, and that was that. Now, our employers are corporations, and our choices are wide open. The path to a vocation is much less structured. If you buy into the notion that children are training for a vocation, that's part of what we're seeing here.