Friday, April 20, 2018

Late bloomers or the new norm. . .

The age old question has long been when does adulthood begin.  Any parent knows the urgency and relevance of this query.  I know my own parents wondered if the day was ever going to come for me and my own children married, got a permanent job, and began family life later than either me or my wife.  For some time people have been targeting the age downward -- the age to drink, to have sex, to buy cigarettes, to move out, to get married, to have children, to go to war, etc...  Now it seems that the age is swinging upward and it does not appear to have an end point in sight. 
According to an article in The Telegraph, adulthood does not begin until 24.  They report that some scientists have factored in the longer time in college and delayed marriage and parenthood to come to this conclusion. While the traditional age range for adolescence has been from 10 and 19, this was based largely on the onset of puberty and biological growth.  Now some are pointing to other factors such as the age at which the brain matures (beyond age 20) and even point to the fact that wisdom teeth do not generally come in age of 25.  Some places show that the average male enters a first marriage at 32.5 and female at 30.6, an increase of some eight years since the 1970s.

Age definitions are always arbitrary but some complain that the current definition of adolescence is "overly restrictive.”  These social scientists believe that 10-24 is a more accurate description of modern day adolescence.  Others wonder why being in school longer, single longer, or without children longer automatically means a delay in being a fully functional adult.  Some worry that delaying the expectation of adulthood and providing protections to those in their 20s that normally accord to juveniles would only undermine maturity and would work against adulthood.

In the Church we face a significant challenge.  Boys and girls reach sexually maturity earlier than in the past, are without marriage and family longer, and face the daunting challenge of what to do with their desires between those two markers.  Some have given up on youth and insisted that there is nothing anyone can do to stop the train toward full sexual license.  Others have comfort in readily available birth control to prevent undesired outcomes from this sexual activity.  A few, and seemingly fewer than ever, still hold up the Biblical model of fidelity in marriage and chastity outside out of marriage for all.  In the meantime, people are delaying marriage and having children (if they have them at all) at a later age than ever before.  Certainly this has a profound impact on the family shape of most church ministries (from Sunday school to Bible study to social groups).

In addition to this, the Church is looking for leaders from within the groups often missing from the demographics of Christendom.  The ages 16-24 are not well represented in most congregations and it is clear that some of the best means of addressing those who have fallen away is through those of the same age group who remain faithful.  What impact would the shift in adulthood and expectations of maturity have on those already missing in action among the pews on Sunday morning?

Finally, what impact does this have on the moral shape of the Christian life?  Does extending adolescence also mean delaying the accountability of living within the ethical dimension of Christian identity?  Does it mean that we do not hold folks in this age group responsible as informed and mature Christian people who are called to love righteousness and hate evil?

Big questions. . . Big challenges. . .


John Joseph Flanagan said...

These so called studies fall under the category of "social science." However, often it is merely a post graduate thesis published to justify free grant money to do research. In my view, maturity is highly individualized. I have known very mature young people, and very immature and puerile older folks. Some people are more thoughtful and reserved, polite, and pleasant to be around. Their age does not matter. Life experiences can mature people faster. For example, when I was in the Marine Corps (1963-70), I found the average 18 year old male to be much more mature, motivated, and reliable than their civilian counterpart. In Vietnam, 18 and 19 year old infantrymen were older than their years after a few months of combat and hard conditions. Maturity in Christian growth is also something we can measure.
In my opinion, our society generated a lot of immature and narcissistic people who are acting like spoiled and undisciplined children these days.

James Kellerman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Kellerman said...

Many societies--ancient Rome and ancient Israel come to mind--offer us a different way of handling the post-puberty transition into adulthood. Both recognized a category of people who were legally adults and thus charged with certain adult responsibilities, but who also needed mentoring and guidance in order to reach their full potential as adults.

In Latin a "iuvenis," commonly translated "youth," is actually someone in their late teens to about 30, maybe even slightly older. Such youths would have taken up the toga virilis (the plain white toga worn by men as opposed to the toga with a thin border worn by boys) at age 15. Such a iuvenis, if he came from a moneyed, political family, would have spent the first few years of his "manhood" studying in Athens studying philosophy, Greek literature, and other such matters. Then he would have spent his early twenties as an aide-de-camp for some general. He wouldn't have been put in charge of actual troops--unlike Americans, the Romans were too smart to entrust a "ninety-day wonder" with leading so much as a squad into battle--but he would have picked up a lot of military knowledge by seeing the headquarters in action. As he gained experience, he might be gradually entrusted with some light battle duties, but always under the watchful eyes of his commander. After doing this for a few years, he might work in some minor capacity in the government of Rome until he was ready to ascend the cursus honorum (the succession of offices that culminated in consul). Thus, in a certain sense a Roman became a "man" when he turned fifteen--but then again you could say that such "manhood" and a sesterce would get you a loaf of bread at the local Roman caupona. Instead, the Romans recognized that being legally an adult wasn't enough to make someone truly one.

Similarly, Hebrew has the word na"ar, which is often translated as "lad" or even (wrongly) as "boy," but refers to men from the age of 12 or so to around 25 or 30. We see this illustrated in the life of our Lord. When he was 12, He was legally entitled to come and go as He pleased without His parents' permission. But He was still under their authority and didn't set out on His own until He was 30.

So my problem with the prolonged adolescence in America isn't that it lasts a while, but that society isn't helping the young adults mature during that time. They are in the cocoon of youth, but they aren't developing into butterflies. The twelve year old playing video games all day Saturday while still in his bedclothes becomes a thirty-two year old playing video games all day Saturday while still in his bedclothes. The only difference is that the thirty-two year old is probably also suffering from a hangover from the night before.

Anonymous said...

It all began when “The Greatest Generation” made it their goal to protect their progeny from the same rigors and privations to which they, themselves, were subjected during the Great Depression and WWII. I can still hear their voices echoing, “I don’t want my kids to have to work two or three jobs like I did just to make ends meet.” Some of us remember how they sacrificed to provide privileges for their children they did not enjoy at the same age. “As long as you don’t flunk out of college, I will pay for it.” And, “Yes, you can use the car and don’t worry about paying for insurance as long as you keep the tank full.” Again, “Don’t worry about working during the semester or paying rent, as long as you keep your grades up.” Finally, “Haven’t declared a major yet? No pressure, just make sure you follow your heart and choose the right one.”

My Dad was combat wounded in 1945 – his contribution to keeping the world free and safe for democracy. He wanted more than anything for his sons to have a good education and to get good career jobs “working in an office” and not have to struggle with menial labor as he did. And maybe he was guilty of coddling us along the way. And why not? My brother and I had a lot more options than he did. The succeeding generations’ expectations continued to grow with an increasing sense of entitlement. The perception was that, “Hey, I’m an American so prosperity should come automatically and without much effort.”

We have made life convenient and tidy for successive generations, a curse of prosperity and affluence that allows a child to stay a child indefinitely and renders society less accountable for its collective choices. Mix into that the pill, porn, and technology and you have a witch’s brew of anti-social ingredients that militate against the civil society, a perfect storm for a series of unfortunate events. So I ask, was it a good idea for us to smooth the way for our children and allow them to ease into life or not? Should kids be made to struggle more and learn problem solving skills and how to live with the consequences of their actions?

BTW, thank you Vietnam Veterans for your courage and valor that made it possible for me to go to college at the age of 18 in the fall of 1973 eight months after the draft was ended.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous:

Like they say: "One generations luxury is the next generations necessity."

I have spent nearly 10 years ministering to the "Greatest Generation." It has been an honor to minister to men who landed on the beaches of Normandy, were aboard ships on the Pacific, and also saw the flag being raised on Iwo Jima. These men and women of this generation made our country prosperous and have ensured our freedoms we enjoy today. No they are/were not perfect, but I would take one from that generation over a hundred from mine (born in '82).

Padre Dave Poedel said...

On a more practical level, I believe it is time to end the “ritual in search of a theology” called Confirmation at the end of the 8th grade. In my last 10 years of active ministry, one of my joys was teaching Theology at our Lutheran high school. Over and over I, when I reminded them that they learned this in Confirmation, I heard “that was so long ago, Pastor. We were way too young to learn and actually remember that stuff”.

I actually agree with them. Since Confirmation = Graduation from Church, let’s delay it until post-high school and provide lifelong catechesis in the Church. When we divide life into arbitrary periods, different generations will adapt differently to that division. This has happened, but now they don’t even bother to wait till after Confirmation before leaving the Church. We need to work harder, on different schedules, to continually catechize our FAMILIES, not just folks in arbitrary age divisions?

Carl Vehse said...

"Since Confirmation = Graduation from Church, let’s delay it until post-high school and provide lifelong catechesis in the Church."

Is this notion prevalent in Missouri Synod?!? Is that what catechumens pick up from their instructor or his attitude?

In the Missouri Synod, confirmation is NOT a "graduation" but a point (for youth typically after two years) in the congregational member's lifelong catechesis that the member publicly and unconditionally subscribes to all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Unfortunately there are so-called Lutheran churches in the Missouri Synod that have only a short (hours to days) shake 'n bake catechesis for adults.

This public confession to Scripture and Lutheran doctrine (contained in the Lutheran Confessions) is required to become a communicant member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation, which subscribes to the same confession in its Constitution. In addition the confirmand promises to remain diligent in the use of the means of grace, and in faith, word, and deed, and to be faithful to that confession even until death.

"Graduation from (i.e., leaving) Church" more accurately describes the failure to maintain those confirmation vows.

David Gray said...

You can't be a communicant member without confirmation and I wouldn't want my children to wait until after high school to participate in the sacrament. Fortunately our pastor takes confirmation very seriously.

And Mr. Strickert again misrepresents the membership vow of the LCMS. It almost went without saying but not quite.

Anonymous said...

My old church tried to change the rite of confirmation from 8th grade to 9th. Parents objected as many young people had looked forward to quitting church after confirmation. Moving it back a year seemed like they were changing the rules on them. This 9th grade confirmation lasted one year. It’s back to 8th grade, They get 2-3 kids getting confirmed every spring.