In a Saturday piece in the Wall Street Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz suggests that many men in their 20’s are living in an “extended adolescence”. The essay is adopted from her book “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys”. You can (and should) read the whole article here.
Essentially, Hymowitz argues, guys (too old to be called boys, not mature enough to call men) are living in this extended adolescence of bachelor pads, low responsibility, singleness, video games, etc. She suggests that this is not just a few guys, a rising phenomena and an identifiable demographic group.
Within the church world, this dynamic has been being talked about for a while. Mark Driscoll regularly preaches against this “crisis in manhood” challenging “boys” to man up. Pastors like Perry Noble (and others) have also made that a central message in much of their preaching. Counselor and church planter Kit McDermott has actually been blogging this week about raising boys into emotionally mature men (here and here).
I think Hymowitz is largely correct (as is Driscoll, Noble & McDermott). And this certainly raises a serious challenge to people looking for husbands and partners, to the workplace, to the church, and probably to society at large. As a pastor working with 20-somethings for several years, I saw first-hand this dynamic at play. Often the differences between high school ministry, college ministry and young adult ministry were blurred as the issues and attitudes wedre pretty similiar.
One of the interesting things is that this demographic might be here to stay. Adolescents, as we know it, did not exist prior to the 1930’s & 1940’s with the advent of compulsory high school. (There is a reason that groups like Young Life and Youth for Christ emerged in ’40’s). Hymowitz writes:
Pre-adulthood can be compared to adolescence, an idea invented in the mid-20th century as American teenagers were herded away from the fields and the workplace and into that new institution, the high school. For a long time, the poor and recent immigrants were not part of adolescent life; they went straight to work, since their families couldn’t afford the lost labor and income. But the country had grown rich enough to carve out space and time to create a more highly educated citizenry and work force. Teenagers quickly became a marketing and cultural phenomenon. They also earned their own psychological profile. One of the most influential of the psychologists of adolescence was Erik Erikson, who described the stage as a “moratorium,” a limbo between childhood and adulthood characterized by role confusion, emotional turmoil and identity conflict.
This new suspended adolescence is very similiar.
I am not sure what the answer is broadly. But I do know that churches can play a significant role in helping guys become men and navigate through this period of time — just as the church as been helpful in helping kids navigate through traditional adolescence.
Here are some thoughts:
While I don’t always love Mark Driscoll’s style and even all his content, I appreciate that he teaches on these issues straight up. I think we need to be intentional about addressing these issues from the pulpit and teaching on the ideas of Biblical manhood, womanhood, etc. We also need to address the tension and acknowledge this new extended adolescence. As part of that, we need to avoid judging. There is nothing morally inferior about this stage of life (any more than being an adolescent is a moral failure) — it just is. We need to not yell at people to “grow up” (often the approach), but rather help people navigate through this stage of life successfully.
Vision is powerful — without it, the people perish. As the church, we need to do a better job of casting a bigger vision and inviting young adults to be part of the greater vision. Great vision… great causes… will always be more exciting and interesting than beer, porn and video games. Sadly, few churches have cast a vision great enough.
Similiar to vision, but more on the individual level… we need to help guys discover their life purpose and how that purpose plays into a plan for their lives. We need to do a better job at exposing people to the ideas of vocation, calling and moral responsibility in the world.
As effective as teaching can be, 1-on-1 mentoring is really the thing that will make the most difference. We need adult Christian role-models — Christian men — to come alongside these guys and help them walk through this period. It used to be that fathers, uncles and grandfathers did this. Increasingly, there is no extended family, fathers are absent, and guys are left on their own. The church is the perfect place to mentor and walk with guys as they become men. This mentoring needs to include everything from spiritual discipleship, practical coaching (on finances, career, buying a home, etc) and life coaching.
We have to be willing to say the hard things to people. “Dude, you can’t spend your whole life playing video games and jerking around…” (etc etc)
As a follow-up to truth-telling, we need to challenge people (and help them) develop a “man plan”. In other words, “what is your plan to become a man?” It might be okay to be in this extended adolescence st age 23 or 24… but not at 33 or 34. So what is your plan to become a “man”? I’ve talked about this with guys in premarital counseling. Often they are “guys” and not “men” and I challenge them on what their “man plan” is. I think this would be great language for churches to start using.
7. DROP THE JUDGEMENT
There is a reality (and a lot of complex factors) involved in this extended adolescence. And it has redefined what we expect from people in their early 20’s. Again, it is like adolescence. We don’t blame the 16 year old for acting like a 16 year old — though we recognize that (a) a 16 year old 100 years ago had very different expectations; and (b) you can’t stay 16 forever. Are there some advantages to an extended adolescence? Possibly… and would even say probably. (That is a post for another day). The point is to help people through it… if we start with judgement, we will lose the right to be heard.
I have believed for a long time that this age group is a sleeping giant — both in terms of the church and society at large. We must figure out how to engage and awaken this generation so that they can realize their full God-given potential.
What do you think?