Top 5 Research + News Posts of 2013

top5_NewsThe “Research + News” section is one of my favorite features of this website. There you will find news articles, archives and links to important research pertaining to emerging faith and college transition. It allows me to get interesting information out to you quickly, without having to do a full blog post about it.

My hope is that students, parents, and church leaders would find this section helpful (especially the “view by topic” list) when doing research on a specific area of interest. It also provides a space to alert you to new research or noteworthy upcoming events.

Here are the top 5 “Research + News” posts of 2013:

1. What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Freshman Year (USA Today)

2. The Real Reason College Grads Can’t Get Hired? (Time Magazine)

3. 5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church (Barna Group)

4. Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2017 (Beloit College)

5. Poll: Parents And Teens Share (Unrealistic) Dreams About College (National Journal)

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Top 5 Blog Posts of 2013

Top 5The “new” website for CPYU’s College Transition Initiative was launched in September of 2012. So 2013 marked the first full-year of its existence. It has been interesting to track the top posts and to see what is of interest to others. My hope and passion for this website is to provide resources for those who care about college transition, emerging adulthood and building lasting faith in young people. Thanks for reading!

Here are the top 5 blog posts of 2013:

1. An Open Letter to First-Year College Students

2. College Stress: What Parents Should Know about Student Depression

3. Help Students Transition to College by Hosting a Panel Discussion

4. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: David Setran Interview

5. Early Decision: A Novel Based on a True Frenzy

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the website and/or the mission of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. I want to make sure I continue to provide the kinds of resources you are looking for as you disciple and parent the next generation.

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10 Favorite Christmas Quotes: “We Live On a Visited Planet”

Christmas3“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” – Simone Weil

“Behind all our fun and games at Christmas time, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.” – J.B. Phillips

“Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.” – Madeleine L’Engle

“Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in him… God feeds the whole world through a babe nursing at Mary’s breast.” – Martin Luther

“We sometimes wonder why God doesn’t just end suffering. But we know that whatever the reason, it isn’t one of indifference or remoteness. God so hates suffering and evil that he was willing to come into it and become enmeshed in it… The gift of Christmas gives you a resource—a comfort and consolation—for dealing with suffering, because in it we see God’s willingness to enter this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us.” – Timothy Keller

“The great enquiry of the world in general in all ages of it, is after happiness. Yet there is scarce anything that the world is more deceived about. And thus therefore was no inconsiderable part of the errand of Jesus Christ, the great teacher of mankind, into the world, to instruct men wherein their true happiness consisted.” – Jonathan Edwards

“This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.” – William Willimon

“What idol has replaced you?” – Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens)

“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.” – Dorothy Day

“What God did when he sent his Son into the world is an absolute guarantee that he will do everything he has ever promised to do.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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College Stress: What Parents Should Know about Student Depression

Stress_slideshow“Maybe you are depressed.” That was the last thing I expected to hear from a doctor my senior year of college. Depressed? I was doing well academically, was surrounded by a good group of friends and was a student leader for Athletes in Action, a sport’s ministry on campus. Why would I be depressed? But the symptoms were there. I was staying up most nights and sleeping during the day. I found myself getting tired without much physical activity. There were also small panic attacks combined with shortness of breath that would strike at random times. My self-diagnosis was a relapse of mononucleosis. After a series of negative tests, the campus physician suggested depression.

My story is not unique, of course. For the past decade, student mental health issues have increased at an alarming rate, leaving many college counseling centers strained. In 2004, Harvard University psychiatrist Richard Kadison’s groundbreaking book, College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It (Jossey-Bass) became a rallying cry for campuses to be equipped with better mental health services. A recent book by psychiatrist David Leibow, What to Do When College is Not the Best Time of Your Life (Columbia University Press) reminds those who care about college students that mental health issues are not going away.

From my experience working in campus ministry, I think parents and church leaders have a significant role to play in helping young college students navigate these challenges. What follows are five things parents and church leaders should know about the mental health of college students along with a few suggestions of how to respond:

First, a high percentage of college students battle anxiety and depression. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, within the last 12 months, 30 percent of students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function and 49 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. An additional 10 percent of students also reported being diagnosed or treated for depression and more than six percent seriously considered suicide. Statistics like these should open our eyes to the deeper needs of many of the college students in our communities.

Second, many students battling depression feel ashamed and alone. My own response to my depression surprised me. I didn’t know with whom  to talk. I was apprehensive about telling my parents and closest friends. What’s more, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure you were allowed to be depressed! After all, Jesus was in my heart, wasn’t he? It turns out that my response was quite common. In an interview for Inside Higher Ed, longtime psychiatrist Dr. Leibow explains that the majority of the patients he has seen “were capable, motivated students, with loving, appropriately involved parents.” So why were these kids floundering and keeping their parents in the dark? The answer, he realized, was shame. “They were ashamed because they believed—wrongly—that they were the only one of their peers having problems.”

It’s important for parents and youth workers to create safe places for their families to discuss mental health. Let young people in your family and church know that depression is a reality for many students. Be aware of the symptoms. And be honest about the culture of the Christian community you are a part. What do youth and college students think about depression as it relates to faith? Ask them.

Third, some students think they are a failure if they use medication for anxiety or depression. As a culture, there may be an increasing tendency to turn to medication too quickly. We need to be careful and discerning. When it comes to anxiety and depression, however, many students have a misguided understanding of antidepressants. Often they are simply used to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain. According to the American Psychiatric Association, these “medications are not sedatives, ‘uppers’ or tranquilizers. Neither are they habit-forming. Generally, antidepressants have no stimulating effect on those not experiencing depression.” Parents, along with college ministers, have a role to play in the way they support students who have chosen to use medication. Let them know that God can work through medication to bring about positive change.

LearningForLoveOfGodFourth, the number one cause of stress and depression among college students is academic floundering. There are many issues that students face that can lead to stress and depression (homesickness, relational disappointments, financial worries, body-image problems), but according to a recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment, academics was at the top. I remember Brea, a local college student, offering this prayer request at a weekly bible study (her story is recounted in my coauthored book Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness):

“Please pray for me. I’m feeling a lot of stress, and I’m not sure why. It’s not like I have more work this semester than normal. I just don’t know why I am learning what I am learning. I feel like if there was a reason for what I am learning, any reason beyond to get a grade, then I could work hard again. But in all of my classes, I can’t honestly tell you why I need to learn this stuff. I have no idea why this matters.”

Here’s how parents and college ministers can help relieve some of the academic stress students have when facing an incoherent curriculum: remind students why they study. Point them to Jesus, the Lord of learning, the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:15-20). Teach students the centrality of learning within the biblical story and cast a vision for how college learning is preparing them to be used by God in their communities. To be a disciple literally means to be a student, a life long learner. Do students in your church love God with their minds? Are students able to articulate how their faith relates to their major? I echo Brea’s frustration: much of the stress around academics is because students don’t have good reasons for learning.

Fifth, students are surprised by the extra stress created by college breaks. One of the most well attended bible studies I’ve had with college students was around the theme “honoring your mother and father during the college years.” I invited an older couple to share with the group what they had learned from parenting college students. Students were eager to ask questions and enter the conversation. Here’s what we learned: communication is key. Encourage students to “honor parents” by having a conversation about parental expectations during college breaks.

Download the full article (.pdf) here

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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: David Setran Interview (Part 2)

SpiritualFormationPart 1 of the interview is available here.

Download full interview (.pdf) here.

Here’s my blurb from the inside cover:

“Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ.”

What follows is part 2 of my interview with Dr. David P. Setran of Wheaton College:

Derek: The book discusses the “centrality of the heart” in the spiritual formation of young adults. Why do you think “the heart” is so central to reaching emerging adults with the gospel?

Setran: It seems that when many people consider the challenging spiritual climate of emerging adulthood, they are speaking primarily about visible, moral flaws related to substance abuse, sexuality, media consumption, etc. These are, of course, very important issues, but they often obscure the deeper heart realities that fuel these problems. We are prone to pursue what Dallas Willard has called “sin management,” a focus solely upon behavior modification related to the external manifestations of sin. However, we need to help emerging adults recognize the critical nature of the heart, the central desires and loves that exist at the core of their beings and fuel their worship. At its root, sin is always idolatry and adultery, the elevation of something in the heart to a level that God alone deserves. While attempts to reform behavior at the surface level may “work” for a time in stemming the tide of sinful practice, eventually the true nature of the heart will be revealed.

The centrality of the heart is actually one reason that emerging adulthood is such a potent time for spiritual formation. As many in this age group leave home for the first time, their true hearts are often revealed in dramatic ways. While environmental constraints (parents, youth leaders, school rules, etc.) might have held them in check while still living at home, the freedom afforded by the collegiate environment often allows the “true heart” to emerge without restraint. We obviously don’t ever desire rebellion or moral laxity, but this may serve as an excellent opportunity to “see” the heart with new clarity, dealing with issues that were previously obscured by convention. It is a great time to ask with them, “What do I really want?” “What do I really love?” It is a great time, in other words, to engage the issue of worship.

Derek: The book suggests that “we must help emerging adults vocationally account both for the ‘great commission’ and the ‘cultural mandate.’” What is the difference between the two and why is this so vital for young people to grasp?

Setran: The great commission refers primarily to Jesus’s call to “make disciples of all nations” by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). The cultural mandate refers back to God’s initial call to Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, and to “fill the earth and subdue it” while ruling over the other living creatures (Genesis 1:28). Addressing both of these becomes really important as we consider God’s broad and holistic redemptive purposes in the world. As Christian emerging adults consider their vocations, they are apt to embrace compartmentalized perspectives on life and career. They are likely, in other words, to think of the world as divided into sacred (souls and explicitly spiritual tasks such as prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism) and secular (anything seemingly unrelated to the soul, including elements of the physical world and human culture) domains. They may think that the only jobs with eternal value are those related to soul care—pastors and missionaries. If they have other “secular” vocations, they may think that the only spiritual task that can be completed here is evangelism among unsaved co-workers. While these jobs are obviously absolutely central to the Christian life and vocation, an exclusive focus on the great commission can obscure the importance of the cultural mandate within the work itself.

We are all called upon to use our gifts and talents to fill, form, and care for the earth—including the physical world and various aspects of human culture—in such a way that we address human needs and bring glory to God. Thus, both aspects are important—spirit and matter, souls and stuff. We have not just a great commission and not just a cultural mandate but a larger “kingdom vocation” that weds the two in holistic fashion. If emerging adults can capture this vision from the beginning of their vocational explorations, they can embark on an exciting adventure of loving God and neighbor through their jobs and their lives.

Derek: You write, “Most parents do not talk with their children about matters of faith, particularly avoiding details of their own faith journeys.” And your book points out a recent study revealing that “only 9 percent of adolescents had a regular dialogue with parents about Scripture.” Why do you think parents have such a difficult time engaging in these types of conversations? And, what advice would you give to parents who want to begin to have more meaningful conversations about faith and Scripture with their children?

Setran: If we are to believe some recent studies, parents tend to scale back on deep input beginning in adolescence out of respect for teens’ freedom. As adolescents begin to resist value-laden conversations, parents often accommodate these requests. However, parents must recognize that they are still the most important sources of input in their children’s lives! In terms of having these conversations, it is always best when dialogue occurs not only during pre-planned and scripted occasions (i.e., family devotions) but also more organically in the context of life (so-called “teachable moments”). This communicates the reality that God’s story infuses all of life—a message that will become very important as they leave home in later years. And the best advice may be just to begin as soon as possible, even if it is at first halting and awkward. If these conversations can start in childhood and continue in adolescence, it is much more likely that they can flourish in emerging adulthood even when parents and children are separated geographically.

Download the full interview (.pdf) here.

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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: David Setran Interview (Part 1)

Setran_slideshowIs it taking longer for young people to “grow up” in today’s world? I hear this question often. Two of the stated goals for the College Transition Initiative are to provide information on emerging adulthood and resources for developing lasting faith. In order to help young people develop a lasting faith, the church needs to have an understanding of the cultural conditions in which young people live. Examining the “cultural conditions” of young people ages 18-29 has produced a new body of research known as the study of “emerging adulthood.”

A new book by two professors, David P. Setran (Wheaton College) and Chris A. Kiesling (Asbury Theological Seminary) entitled Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry (Baker Academic) explores the spiritual formation of today’s young adults. From their extensive background in college and young adult ministry, the authors were motivated by two questions:

1. What does the gospel have to offer emerging adults as they are formed through the adult transition?

2. What do emerging adults shaped by the gospel have to offer to the church and the world?

Their stated desire for writing the book is “to provide a ‘practical theology’ for college and young adult ministry, one that combines important scholarship, a Christian theological vision, and attentiveness to concrete ministry applications.” I highly recommend this book for church leaders, college ministers and parents who desire to see young people embrace and live-out faith during the formative, young adult years.

What follows is an interview with Dr. David P. Setran of Wheaton College:

Derek: What motivated you and your friend to write this book?

SpiritualFormationSetran: Ultimately, we have a passion to see 18-29 year-olds flourish in Christ, developing as adults who are increasingly able to serve as agents of hope, healing, and renewal in church and world. Chris and I have both worked in a variety of church, parachurch, and campus ministry settings with collegians and young adults. We are convinced, more than ever, that this is a pivotal stage of the life course, a gateway to spiritual formation, vocational commitment, and Christian identity. While a number of books have been written for those working with children and youth, we wanted to help equip those of strategic importance in emerging adults’ lives: college and young adult ministers, professors, pastors, para-church workers, student development professionals, chaplains, parents, relatives, and friends. Hopefully the book will help to awaken interest in this critical life stage!

Derek: Define “emerging adulthood” and briefly describe the social factors that have led to this new phase of life.

Setran: “Emerging adulthood,” a term coined by psychology Jeffrey Arnett, refers to the period in the lifespan between age 18 and the late 20s. In most industrialized nations, typical adult transitions—leaving home, completing education, financial independence, marriage, and parenting—are happening much later. Many careers have expanded educational requirements, forcing those in this age group to pursue advanced degrees. Combined with student loan debt, this delays the financial independence and job stability often desired before pursuing marriage and parenting. In addition, parents seem a bit more willing to help finance these delays, funding educational ventures and providing a place to live for children who return home after college.

Many emerging adults also postpone marriage for personal reasons, wary of commitment in a divorce-ridden culture or happy to pursue sexual intimacy without the relational costs. While those beyond age 18 are quite different from “adolescents,” they are also not quite “adults” in the traditional sense implied by these social markers. Thus, Arnett and others have described this period as “emerging adulthood,” a phase characterized by identity exploration, relational, vocational, and geographical instability, self-focus, an “in-between feeling,” and the exploration of seemingly endless possibilities. While such a time can be exhilarating, it also tends to produce a great deal of anxiety. Few social scripts exist to help emerging adults navigate the major life decisions and personal identity formation that mark this period.

Derek: You describe emerging adulthood as a “formidable challenge” but also a “great opportunity” for the church. What are some of the challenges and opportunities for the church?


Setran: The challenges are obviously great. According to the research, emerging adulthood marks the low point of the life span for key spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. When compared with adolescents, emerging adults are less likely to adhere to key Christian doctrines like the divinity and resurrection of Christ. Moral convictions and boundaries seem to erode during these years as well, leading to increased risk behavior and heartbreaking life decisions. And perhaps the greatest challenge is that many of those in this age group are making decisions about belief, life, morality, and vocation apart from the local church.

Yet there are great opportunities as well! Many emerging adults have demonstrated a growing passion for social action and compassion for the poor. Many cultivate a sense of global awareness and responsibility and are willing to take great risks to bring the hope and healing of the Gospel to locations across the globe. Importantly, many recognize their need for mentors, guides who can help them make sense of life and call out gifts and passions for vocational use. While it is common for older adults to see those in this age group as a “challenge” (read “trial”) to the church, I think it is critical that we also see them as a “challenge” (read “inspiration, motivation, and stimulus”) to contemporary church life.

Download the full interview (.pdf) here

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Remembering C.S. Lewis (1898-1963): A Guide to Life and Learning

sbjSurprised by Joy, the autobiography by C.S. Lewis, was the first serious book I ever read. By serious, I mean, it was the first book I took seriously. It wasn’t an easy book to read either. For the first time with a book I wasn’t assigned in a class, I took notes. I underlined passages. I looked up words I didn’t know. Before the Internet this required having another book by my side. A dictionary, I think it was called.

I don’t even know where I got a copy. All I remember is that I was in college and I was beginning to ask “big questions” about life and faith. A few older people suggested I read something by C.S. Lewis. I learned that this is something many older Christians do when they’re not sure how to answer your questions. It’s a good strategy. Now I use it.

The phrase “it changed my life” is overused. It easily becomes cliché. But I don’t know how else to say it: reading C.S. Lewis changed my life. But here’s the thing… it has less to do with the words he wrote and more to do with what he represented as a person of faith. During the formative years of my life (college), I needed a model for living. Lewis, for me, was my first Christian mentor from afar, a guide for life and learning.

Today, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. I’ve been reflecting this week about all of the things Lewis has taught me. I offer my top three.

First, by reading C.S. Lewis I became a better student. It’s easy to adapt to playing the school game. Most of my schooling life was about doing the least amount of work required to get the grade desired. After reading Lewis, I had a renewed passion for learning. I wanted to know more about how ideas “worked” and where they came from. I began to see the connection of learning and living. Ideas have legs. Lewis taught me that Truth is important and should be taken seriously. And we should be willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. God is, after all, the source of all truth.

Second, by reading C.S. Lewis I learned that it is a possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. Maybe this is obvious to most people, but I had to learn it. I had to gain a vision for it, really. And Lewis was a model for me. After reading Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s story of journeying through atheism to Christianity, I remember thinking: if Lewis can be a Christian, I can be a Christian. Lewis didn’t seem bothered by the supposed challenges to the Christian faith. He took them on, offering engaging and thoughtful replies.

stlettersThird, by reading C.S. Lewis I learned that it is possible to be creative and a Christian at the same time. Unfortunately, in some Christian circles I was running in, creativity was often squelched. I don’t know any other way to say it. Some Christians, and some Christian traditions, seem to fear creativity. Not so for Lewis. In fact, he dedicated the latter years of his life to shaping the Christian imagination. The Narnia Chronicles and his The Space Trilogy are obvious examples, but my favorite Lewis book is The Screwtape Letters. A senior devil writes letters to a junior devil about how to keep someone from becoming a Christian. I couldn’t get enough of it. I still can’t. It’s the Lewis book I return to again and again.

There’s much to learn from C.S. Lewis. I didn’t even mention the many ways that his writing helped me answer tough questions about the faith. But it was his story and character that has shaped me the most.

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The Relevancy of C.S. Lewis for Today’s Transitioning Students

LewisFriday, November 22, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview David C. Downing, a renowned Lewis scholar, about his then recent biography of Lewis The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith and about Lewis’s relevancy for today’s college students. Dr. Downing commented:

“I think some students feel more defensive than they need to be about a Christian worldview. I think that, by reading C.S. Lewis, they can realize that a lot of what sounds to them like new criticisms of Christianity are actually the same issues people have been arguing about for 2,000 years: the authority of scripture, the problem of evil, the nature of the incarnation, the atonement. All of those issues have been around, but sometimes students are confronted with them for the first time in college…

In his spiritual and intellectual quest, Lewis was a pilgrim but also a pathfinder. He seriously considered atheism, the occult, various forms of pantheism and New Age philosophy. I think it is very relevant for contemporary Christians to see how he weighed each of  these worldviews and found them wanting. Even though he called himself a “most reluctant convert,” Lewis looked long and hard at the alternative philosophies the world has to offer, but returned to re-embrace his  childhood faith with all his heart and mind and soul.”

You can read the full interview (.pdf) here.

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The Defining Decade: Why 30 is Not the New 20

My previous post about the novel Early Decision by Lacy Crawford reminded me of this important and insightful TEDtalk about emerging adulthood. Enjoy!

defineThere are 15 million 20-somethings in the United States. According to clinical psychologist Meg Jay, the 20s are not a developmental downtime, but a developmental “sweet spot.” The “benign neglect” of this formative phase in life, by some, is a real problem with real consequences. In this TEDtalk, Dr. Jay explains why the 20s is the “defining decade” and what steps young adults can take to “claim their adulthood.”

Related Resources:

Article: “College grads, 30 isn’t the new 20” by Meg Jay

BookThe Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Expert Interview: “Understanding Teens After High School” (.pdf) with Tim Clydesdale

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Early Decision: A Novel Based on a True Frenzy

ED“Somewhere along the line we’ve failed students. We haven’t listened to them enough. We’ve told them what to say and how to say it, but we haven’t listened.” – Lacy Crawford

Lacy Crawford was an independent college counselor for fifteen years. Her specialty was helping wealthy families get their children into elite universities. During this time she was also “coming of age” herself, going to graduate school, bouncing around working in different non-profits, living in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London.

Her novel, Early Decision, basically tells her story and the stories of many of the families she worked with over the fifteen year period. It follows five Chicago-area high school students from August to January, as they enter the competitive college admission process. But the book is about much more. In an interview, Crawford explains her motivation for writing:

“I began to write Early Decision to understand how thoughtful, dedicated parents can be so driven by fear of their children’s futures that they are willing to place enormous value in a system that is reductive with regard to character, and that is, if taken to its current extremes, harmful to a child’s development.”

Crawford is a gifted writer. Her writing style and story-telling ability, alone, make the book a delight to read. That she cares deeply about her students and youth culture, as evidenced in the quote above, gives the book added value, especially for those who desire to see young people grow into healthy adulthood.

If you are a person who cares about youth and families as well, perhaps a parent, teacher, coach, pastor or youth leader of some kind, here are three reasons why you should read this book:

First, the novel exposes the competitive nature of the college admission process and the place of “college” within American culture. The main theme of the book is college, after all. But, of course, college is about much more than a degree or even an education. For many, it is about status. It’s about future ambitions and a symbol of success.

While the book does focus on the elites (elite families trying to push their kids into elite schools), all parents and youth workers will be able to relate to these wealthy families in some way. The parents want what they think is “best” for their child. They have the means to provide resources to get what they want. But the book should give us pause, no matter our financial situation, because it forces us to ask bigger, better questions about the place of “college” in our culture. What is college for? Why do we send our young people to college? What are good reasons for going to college? Do teenagers we know and love even want to go to college? How should we define success and the “good” life? If asking these kinds of questions makes you uncomfortable, don’t read Early Decision!

hurt20.inddSecond, the novel is about the relationship between parents and teenagers. More specifically, Crawford does a masterful job at helping the reader see why it is often so difficult for parents and teenagers to have meaningful conversations. Parents are scared their kids won’t succeed in life. Teenagers are terrified to fail and not live up to parental expectations. While reading Early Decision, I was constantly reminded of Chap Clark’s important ongoing research and book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Clark’s research has shown that the defining issue for contemporary adolescents is “systemic abandonment.” Parents can be over-involved in the wrong things, and un-involved in the right things, both at the same time! Clark writes:

“We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture. We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together.”

At one point in the story, Crawford’s narrator makes a keen observation:

“Something came into clearer focus about the way the [wealthy family] had raised their girl, about the gifts they had attempted to give her, while overlooking the most ordinary things: taking her to visit refugee camps, for example, though they were never home for supper. As though they had taught her hand gliding while neglecting that boring bit about walking.”

Crawford is able to write in a way that is critical but not cynical. Her protagonist often empathizes with the parents’ primary concern (wanting what is best for their kids) while exposing the deeper pain the culture of achievement and abandonment has wrought. This makes the satire and criticism even more persuasive and ultimately more scathing. No one is innocent here. After reading this book, we all are forced to (re)assess our priorities and do a better job listening to our kids.

defineThird, the novel is about emerging adulthood and the challenges facing young people to “grow up” in today’s world. Not only does Crawford’s narrative provide insight about teenagers trying to get into college, but it also tells a story about a 27 year-old trying to make a life. Ann, the college counselor and central character, also struggles with career, educational decisions, romance and the prospects of marrying a boyfriend who just won’t commit. I was surprised by how compelling this part of the story was as well. This is a great book to read alongside of Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry by David Setran and Chris Kiesling as well as The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of them Now by Meg Jay.

Early Decision is about as good as it gets. The subject is important, the characters are authentic, the dialogue is believable, and the metaphors and analogies are literary without being snobby. I highly recommend it and anxiously await another novel from Ms. Crawford.

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