Is extended adolescence a natural and beneficial sign of social evolution? Or is it a symptom of something more ominous festering in our hearts?
Meet Matt Swann. Matt is a 27-year-old American male who took six and a half years to graduate from college with a degree in cognitive science, and is just getting started figuring out what he wants to do with his life.
Matt was asked if he was looking forward to marriage, family and owning a home. His answer? "I don't ever want a lawn. I do not want to be a parent. I mean ... why would I? There's so much fun to be had while you're young."
Matt's living in what social scientists have identified as a new stage of life development: extended adolescence. Dubbed "adultescence," it covers the ages of 18 to 29 and beyond. Sociologists claim that putting off adulthood has become a permanent trend among American youth, and now, young adults. As young adults ourselves, and as Christians, we have no choice but to come to grips with this social phenomenon.
Adultescents (we'll refer to them as "kidults") often live with their parents, even after college, while hopping from job to job and relationship to relationship. They generally lack direction, commitment, financial independence, and personal responsibility, while somehow managing to spend more time and money than the average American on clothes, movies, music, computers, video games and eating out.
For kidults marriage and family fall in the zone of "maybe, someday, but that's years away." The typical kidult isn't committed to any particular local church. They're doing all sorts of things, but getting nowhere, just living from day to day in their own Never-Never Lands. They're Peter Pans who shave.
Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) some sociologists see all this as a positive development. "This is the one time of their lives when they're not responsible for anyone else or to anyone else," says developmental psychologist Jeffrey Arnett. "[Kidults] have this wonderful freedom to really focus on their own lives and work on becoming the kind of person they want to be."
His advice to kidults? "Enjoy it.... Once it goes, it ain't coming back. Sooner or later, you'll have a family, a mortgage and a retirement plan."
Arnett and those in his camp favor "emerging adulthood" to describe kidults. Their argument goes something like this: "After decades of American affluence, society has finally evolved to the point where pursuing the pleasures of irresponsibility is practical into your late 20s and beyond! Adultescence is good!" In their minds, to fight this development is to fight progress.
According to other scholars, it's just the opposite. For them, the world has become increasingly complicated, and because of that they worry that young people are trying to grow up, but can't. To these researchers, adultescence is a desperate attempt at self-preservation.
So who's right? Good question. Both of these positions are rooted in distinctly Darwinian principles (i.e., "we're evolving, habitats are changing, some are surviving, others are not"), but to properly address this problem, we need to go to the only source of ultimate truth: God's Word.
You can't read very far in your Bible before God addresses two things at the very heart of the kidult controversy: living with your parents and getting married. In Genesis 2, we read, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (ESV). The biblical pattern is for young people to leave their parents' household in order to begin their own.
This strongly implies that living with your parents before you get married can be a very good thing; provided you're doing it for the right reasons. If you haven't found Mr. or Mrs. Right, and it's more helpful to you and your family for you to remain at home, it's not just fine, it's biblical! Unfortunately, most kidults "stay-and-delay" not out of biblical conviction, but out of self-indulgence and sloth. And even more unfortunately, many of us tend to think and act more like kidults than biblical young adults.
For kidults, Mom and Dad's house just means easier access to Mom and Dad's checkbook and credit card. With the 'rents paying for food, electricity and insurance, the kidult's limited income can be funneled into more "important" things, like clothes, eating out, lattes, flat-screen TVs and video games. As one columnist put it, "I'll bet Mom does a great load of laundry and makes a mean lasagna."
Sarcasm aside, the kidult mentality that uses Mom and Dad to subsidize an extravagant lifestyle is blatantly unbiblical. It directly violates the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." Sometimes we need to be reminded that this commandment doesn't expire at age 18.
Kidults aren't using their time at home to prepare for marriage or to serve others; they're using it to stall and to serve themselves. Sadly, just like Matt Swann, who we met earlier, marriage is exactly what kidults are trying to avoid.
And his sentiments aren't atypical. Consider 26-year-old Jennie Jiang, for example, who admitted, "I want to get married, but not soon. I'm enjoying myself. There's a lot I want to do by myself still." Or Marcus Jones, another 20-something, who stated that he might be interested in marriage, just not anytime soon. "It's a long way down the road," he said. Right now, Marcus explained, "I'm too self-involved."
What are all these "important," self-involving things that kidults are delaying marriage for? Well, it's embarrassing to say it, but it's for toys, games, fun and "stuff." According to Dan Morrison, president of Twentysomething, Inc., kidults have become the dream demographic for a host of products and services, from consumer electronics, Game Boys, flat-screen TVs, and iPods, to tailored and designer clothing, cars, and vacations.
"Most of their needs are taken care of by Mom and Dad, so their income is largely discretionary," explained Morrison. "[They're] living at home, but if you look, you'll see flat-screen TVs in their bedrooms and brand-new cars in the driveway."
The sad thing is that we know people like that. The scary thing is that we're often like that ourselves. We may not be splurging on video games or brand-new cars, but are we spending our time and money right now to prepare for what God has called us to?
In 1 John 2:15-16, we're commanded, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world."
The desires of the flesh and the eyes? The pride in possessions? Sounds just like a kidult, doesn't it? Do you think that Scripture could be telling us that "adultescence" is really just a symptom of a culture in love with the world?
This looks like the answer to the puzzle. With a biblical understanding, we can forget all the complex sociological and psychological theories about what produces kidults. According to the Bible, a "kidult" is just a world-focused young person.
Think about it. Kidults are self-absorbed. Everything is a means to feed their own selfish desires, whether it's college, parents, a job, a girlfriend/boyfriend or even a church. If something threatens to get in the way, like marriage, family or other responsibilities, they just avoid it. Besides, if they can get many of the worldly benefits of those things without the cost of commitment, why commit?
The answer to that question is found in 1 John 2:17: "The world is passing away along with its desires...." John is telling us that this world won't be around forever. More importantly, neither will we. If we're spending our time and money on our earthly desires and lusts, we may gain the world, but we've lost our souls.
Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters." If Jesus is Lord in our lives, then the world is not lord. And neither are we.
Our culture constantly lies to us, telling us to just goof off, have fun and live for the next "buzz." It pretends like it's giving us something, but in reality we're being robbed. We're buzzing ourselves numb — losing out on the delights of knowing God and His ways, the joy of godly marriage, the beauty of sexual intimacy as God intended it, the incalculable reward of fatherhood and motherhood, and the blessings of genuine, responsible adulthood.
So how do we fight against the kidult mentality and for God's plan in our own lives? To start, we have to be willing to surrender every aspect of our lives to Christ (not just Sunday morning, not just 20 minutes a day) and embrace the God-given responsibilities and calling that accompany adulthood.
Paul instructed Timothy, "Let no one despise you for your youth." But he didn't stop there. He went on, "but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." It's not just that we aren't to let people look down on us, we're actually supposed to set an example for our fellow Christians by how we live and interact with others. Interestingly enough, the Greek word Paul uses for "youth" denotes the Hebrew military age, which covered ages 20-40. It's like this verse was tailor-made for kidults! This is quite a mission, but it's the only way to truly live life to the fullest.
Practical steps? Try some of these:
- Identify at least one good friend who's willing to join you in holding each other accountable.
- Tell your friends that you refuse to be a consumer only. Then back it up.
- Don't waste time surfing the web, watching TV and movies, or reading magazines. Instead, read some great books and talk about them with your friends. If you want, start a blog to write about what you're reading.
- Don't eat out so much. Instead, learn how to cook (no microwave dinners). It's healthier, smarter and gives you an opportunity to serve others.
- Don't buy more clothes you don't need. Instead, donate some to people who really need them.
- If you live at home, volunteer to help with jobs around the house (the word "volunteer" is key). In fact, initiate some of the big, important maintenance projects that your parents have been putting off.
- Commit yourself to a local church and find a way to serve. Remember that it's participation and support that makes a member, not just attendance.
- Spend more time reading God's Word. If you've never memorized, start memorizing verses. If you've done verses, start memorizing sections. If you've done sections, go for a chapter. Nothing will better equip you than to have "the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16).
- Write out a list of things you want in a spouse and a list of steps you need to take to be ready for him/her. Don't waste time with uncommitted relationships.
Be creative. There's no limit to the things you'll come up with once you get past yourself and start loving God and the people around you as He intended. This is an uphill battle, but if you've ever wanted to be counter-culture for the right reasons, this is it. Our world will not survive another generation of Christians who fit in.
Adultescence represents our culture's addiction to the world and to self. It's time we kicked that habit.
Copyright 2006 Alex and Brett Harris. All rights reserved.