Monday, February 6, 2012
Lost in Transition. . .
Lost in Transition sets the stage by identifying six “macrosocial changes,” building over the past several decades, that Smith and colleagues believe have combined to dramatically alter the experience of life between 18 and 30.
The big six changes, in Lost in Transition’s view, are: (1) the extension of formal schooling into the 20s and the consequent postponement of entry into careers; (2) the delay of marriage; (3) a changing national and global economy that has replaced the prospect of stable careers with frequent job changes, a need for ongoing training, and a heightened sense of insecurity, all contributing to a general disposition in young adults to maximize options and postpone commitments; (4) the willingness and ability of many parents to support their children well into their 20s and even 30s, thus enabling them to take a long time to settle down into full adulthood; (5) readily available birth-control technologies that have severed the link between sex and procreation and fostered uncommitted sexual relationships; and (6) postmodernism, a philosophy that has promoted subjectivism (there is no objective truth) and moral relativism (what’s moral depends on your point of view), both of which now thoroughly permeate the educational ethos, mass media, and youth and adult culture.
As a result of these six converging cultural changes, Smith says, the transition to adulthood today is significantly more protracted, complex, self-absorbed, anxiety-burdened, and dangerous. It is not all bad. On the positive side, teen pregnancies and abortions have declined in recent decades, the percentage of youth starting and finishing college has increased, and youth as a whole are less prejudiced against people of other races and ethnicities than earlier generations.
Individualistic in their moral reasoning, focused on material comfort, frequent abusers of alcohol and drugs, disposed to temporary sexual relationships, and civically disengaged—that, without the nuances, is the picture of most (not all) emerging American adults that Smith gives us.
I am not generally a "sky is falling" sort of person but I think the book chronicles the very stuff that most of us have already presumed and surmised from anecdotal evidence and personal observation. The point is that the change is not without its consequences -- especially bad change. The consequence for the Church mean that our youth have less in common with their for bearers than we thought and that what religious and moral foundation we provide for them may give them what few ties they do have to generations past. This is important for so many reasons -- and not just for the future of the faith -- but for the very health and life of those young people. The bad news in this study chronicles the descent into bad behaviors that can steal away their very lives from those captive to the culture and to the often poor parenting choices we have made for them. I am not about to blame the young people for all of this -- the bulk of the responsibility goes to people of my generation, to economic and social changes they inherited as well as participated in, and a scientific viewpoint which detaches truth and morality from choices and feelings.
I have not read the book yet but it seems an important work that does more than wave the red flag. I know that David Brooks in the NYTimes has made this a subject of a couple of columns and I expect we will be hearing more... What do you think?