Blog | Topic: Emerging Adulthood

Needed: Real Inspiration

Over the summer, on live TV, a man (with a tether) walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It was quite the spectacle. Thousands of people gathered to watch. It was covered by multiple camera angles. Commentators chimed in with expert analysis. The man walking was miked. Viewers at home could listen in as he prayed, talked to his dad, and answered questions from the analysts. It took about 30 minutes to walk 1,800 feet.

When the man finished the “historic feat” on the Canadian side of the Falls, the American aerialist was required to show his passport to Canadian officials. When asked for the “purpose of his visit,” he replied, “To inspire people around the world.” Now, if anyone needs to be inspired, it’s people watching TV on a Friday night (like me). I’ll give him that. But I was left pondering this: inspired to do what, exactly? For about 10 minutes I genuinely considered walking across a body of water on a rope. I thought I’d start small with a few puddles in the backyard. Gradually, I would set up some kind of apparatus to walk across a small creek or tributary. And then, if I could raise enough money, obtain the proper permits, and negotiate a (local) TV contract, I imagined myself taking a shot treading above the Susquehanna River. But then I thought, “Nah.” Luckily for me, the eleven o’clock SportsCenter was about to begin. For the next 30 minutes I would be inspired to be like LeBron James. A 5’10”, 175 pound version, but LeBronesque, nonetheless.

After talking to a good friend recently on the phone for about 30 minutes, I was reminded by how much this person genuinely inspires me. What has inspired me the most over the past ten years has been witnessing her attentiveness and faithfulness in the “little things.” She is kind, thoughtful and encouraging. She loves her family, quietly does meaningful work mentoring college students and consistently and confidently reminds others, by word and deed, of the hope she has in the resurrected Lord. Her life has not been easy. Life isn’t. She’s not perfect. No one is. I’m pretty sure she has never walked a tightrope. She has important things to do. But, step by step, she has crossed many valleys with grace and courage. My friend has inspired me to be a better student, husband, and parent, not from accomplishing a once impossible feat, but by showing me that living a daily, faithful life is possible, step by step.

There is a lot of talk these days about delayed adolescence. It has been described as a “failure to launch.” According to many social scientists and cultural critics, young people are not “growing up.” A video for a new book by journalist Sally Koslow, Slouching Toward Adulthood, reveals that:

85% of last year’s college graduates moved home

56% of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed

59% of adults aged 18-39 who are not students get financial aid from their parents

I am still on the fence as to whether or not the majority of young people are simply immature or if modern social conditions are redefining adulthood. But I do know that young people need to be inspired to live well-lived lives that matter. And I am more and more convinced that what is needed is deeper, mentoring relationships between the young and old. This is neither a magic bullet solution to the “problem” of emerging adulthood or a novel proposition. Ancients have taught us that wisdom and maturity come from being around wise and mature people. People inspire us and slowly we begin to model their behavior. The question is what is keeping this from happening in our culture. I think inspiration is the key. Maybe we’ve forgotten how to inspire or what good inspiration looks like.

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Young Adult: Everyone Gets old. Not Everyone Grows Up.

Most of the time I cringe when I hear someone offer this advice: “You have to do what makes you happy.” I’ve seen too many people follow this counsel to its logical conclusion, only to be hurt and lost. Happiness is fleeting. What makes us individually happy is rarely a way to measure a good life. When we offer advice like this, I wonder if we are more concerned that the person needing the advice avoids pain and feels better about him or herself. Are you happy in this relationship? Are you happy in your job? Are you happy in your $50,000 convertible? Is happiness really the issue here?

If we are willing to be sincere, however, taking time to reflect on the meaning of happiness and its connection to a life well lived is often a helpful and healthy exercise. Young Adult is a movie that invites viewers to consider two important, life-shaping questions: What is happiness? What is the essence of a good life? Mavis (Charlize Theron) has been living life based on a script that hasn’t worked. She was the most popular girl in high school, had gone off to college and then moved to the big city to make something of herself. Freedom was Mavis’s dream. Free from the confines of a small town, free from the expectations of her parents, free from the shackles and burden of being married or raising a family. Free to do whatever she wanted. No restrictions. No restraints. Her occupation as a ghost writer for a young adult fiction series gave her the flexibility and presumably enough income to live her dream. But the dream was slowly becoming a nightmare. The story that was supposed to bring liberation began to enslave her.

Mavis learns that her high school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), had gotten married and had recently had a child. Buddy worked for his father’s business, still lived in the town in which he grew up, and now was producing offspring. It was too much for Mavis to take. How could Buddy live such a boring story? How could he lose control of his life in such a tragic way? There was only one thing for Mavis to do. She had to save him. She devised a plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife and child.

“Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.” The movie’s subtitle says it all. Critics have described Young Adult as “hilariously awkward,” “darkly funny,” “wryly amusing,” and “a cringefest in the best way possible.” My guess is that screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) was hoping for this kind of response.

Young Adult is a movie worth watching, especially for those charged with helping adolescents grow into healthy adulthood. It forces us to think more deeply about the meaning of a good life, the importance of community, and the cultural narratives that shape our desires and imaginations. There is growing concern that young people are taking too long to “grow up.” Social scientists have named it extended adolescence and emerging adulthood. Churches seem to be perplexed about how to “reach” people in their 20s and 30s. Young Adult is a gift to those who wish to better understand our cultural moment and the hopes and fears of our young neighbors. It isn’t an easy movie to watch, to be sure. It is, after all, a cringe-fest. It probably won’t make you happy. But being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. Oftentimes it moves us toward empathy and action.

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You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith

David Kinnaman’s most recent book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… And Rethinking Faith (Baker Books) begins with bad news: “Millions of young adults leave active involvement in church as they exit their teen years.” But the good news is that many of the teens who give up on the church, aren’t necessarily walking away from Jesus. Many of them are simply looking for more meaningful ways to follow Jesus in contemporary culture.

The Barna Group has been criticized of late for supposedly being “alarmist” and for using a flawed research methodology. Most of the criticism has come from a few, Christian, social scientists. I think much of the criticism is overstated. What is so refreshing about You Lost Me is that it doesn’t rely solely on Barna statistics. It pulls from a variety of sources and notes the shortcomings of all research. Kinnaman writes: “I want to provide here a nuanced, data-driven assessment of young adults’ faith journeys. In our evidence gathering, interviews, and data analysis, the Barna team’s goal is to construct the most accurate picture we can of cultural reality, because the church is called to be the church in the real world. In this research, we have done our best to uncover the facts and the truth of the dropout problem, and this book is the compilation of our best thinking on the subject thus far—but it is hardly the final answer.”

I have read much of and have benefitted greatly from the recent sociological research on the religious attitudes of late adolescents and emerging adults from leading sociologists such as Jeffrey Arnett, Chap Clark, Tim Clydesdale, Donna Freitas, Christian Smith, and Robert Wuthnow. Kinnaman’s findings affirm and support much of what is found among leading social scientists. My hope is that You Lost Me is received as a welcomed addition to that conversation. It is as good and as thorough as anything else I have read concerning young adult spirituality.

You Lost Me is clear and compelling. It is thoughtful and balanced. It should be read by everyone concerned for the church; pastors, parents, educators, even students will benefit from Kinnaman’s wisdom. He rightly identifies the church “dropout problem” as a “disciple-making” problem, explaining, “The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ in a rapidly changing culture.” You Lost Me not only identifies the reasons why many young adults stop attending church but it also provides disciples-making suggestions for how to get them back. The book also features a collection of fifty “ideas for passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith.” CPYU president Walt Mueller and I are among the contributors.

Visit to learn more.

Watch a video about You Lost Me here.

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Are Parents Afraid to Talk to Teens about College?

Last fall I spoke to a group of college bound high school students and their parents at Sayre Woods Bible Church in Old Bridge, NJ. I opened my talk by mentioning an article by an admission’s counselor from the University of Pennsylvania. The article is entitled “Fear of Talking” and in it the author observes that parents and teens are not talking about one of the most important transitions in life. He writes, “[The students] talk to me about their hopes for college, but few have the same conversation with their parents.” Why aren’t parents and teens having meaningful conversations about college? Fear. Here’s a quote worth considering:

Parents don’t think they put stress on their teens. Teens disagree. There is an implied understanding, an unarticulated perception of expectation between the teen and parent; but with so much at stake, you would think teens and parents would intentionally sit down and actually talk about what the other thinks, hopes for and expects. Too often you’d be wrong. Teens and parents tend not to talk to each other about this crucial matter because they are afraid to talk.”

Afraid to talk? It isn’t easy engaging teens in conversations about future plans. Teens do tend to be under a lot of stress. They do, in fact, have many pressures, real and perceived, about succeeding in life. And, truth be told, our busy schedules and lives can sometimes limit the opportunities we have to talk to them about things that matter most. But here’s what I’ve discovered: creating space to have meaningful and honest conversations about life after high school often lessens the pressure and stress. It’s not easy, to be sure. And we may not always like what we hear teenagers say. But I think it is better to be on the same page, to know where teens are coming from, than to assume we know what they are thinking.

One of the reasons I am passionate about doing the College Transition Seminar is to be a catalyst for conversation between parents and their kids before heading off to college. The most meaningful feedback I receive is when a parent or teen lets me know that something I said sparked a much needed conversation. My prayer is for that to happen at all of the College Transition Seminars!

Related Resources:

Book: Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning (includes discussion questions)

Article:Silence is Not Golden: The Why and How of Sticky Faith Conversations at Home” by Kara Powell & Brad Griffin

Seminar: The College Transition: Your Purpose, Your Faith, Your Community

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Worth Reading: Five Articles for Good Discussion

Over the past few months, I have been mulling over five different articles that I have found to be very interesting and worth discussing. The themes of the articles have found their way into countless conversations with friends and family. The articles are not very long and well worth reading. What follows are the title of each article along with a quote that I think summarizes the main point. Enjoy!

Childlike Faith: Are Kids Born with Belief? What developmental science tells us about children’s religious beliefs.” Interview by Holly Catterton Allen for Christianity Today.

“Children have a natural disposition to see the natural world as having purpose. Research has shown that children have a strong inclination to see design in the world around them, but they are left wondering who did it… If a child is exposed to the idea of a god that is immortal, super-knowing, super-perceiving, the child doesn’t have to do a lot of work to learn that idea; it fits the child’s intuitions.”

College grads, 30 isn’t the new 20: Our 20s are life’s developmental sweet spot. They matter. A lot,” by Meg Jay for the Los Angeles Times.

“Newly minted college graduates… are living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty. Uncertainty makes people anxious, and distraction is the 21st century opiate of the masses. It’s easy to stay distracted and wait for deliverance at 30. It’s almost a relief to imagine that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this isn’t true. And a decade of listening to young adults tells me that, deep down, they want to take their lives seriously. The 30-year-olds who feel betrayed by their 20s almost always ask, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me this sooner — like when I graduated from college?’”

‘The Demise of Guys’: How video games and porn are ruining a generation” by Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan for CNN.

“The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.”

Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?” by Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker.

“Today’s parents are not just ‘helicopter parents,’… ‘They are a jet-powered turbo attack model.’ Other educators gripe about ‘snowplow parents,’ who try to clear every obstacle from their children’s paths. The products of all this hovering, meanwhile, worry that they may not be able to manage college in the absence of household help. According to research conducted by sociologists at Boston College, today’s incoming freshmen are less likely to be concerned about the rigors of higher education than ‘about how they will handle the logistics of everyday life.’”

When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity. We’re all adolescents now” by Thomas E. Bergler for Christianity Today.

“As they listen to years of simplified messages that emphasize an emotional relationship with Jesus over intellectual content, teenagers learn that a well-articulated belief system is unimportant and might even become an obstacle to authentic faith. This feel-good faith works because it appeals to teenage desires for fun and belonging. It casts a wide net by dumbing down Christianity to the lowest common denominator of adolescent cognitive development and religious motivation… I believe one key is to renew our commitment to the church as an intergenerational family… Young people need adults in their lives who are modeling a vibrant spiritual maturity. One reason no one wants to grow up in America is that many adults don’t make their life stage look very attractive.”

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What is CPYU’s College Transition Initiative?

“More can be done to encourage those teens who do want to examine the purpose or direction of their lives by engaging them at deeper levels before the first year out of high school.”

This was sociologist Timothy Clydesdale’s challenge to clergy in his important book The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School. It is also the perfect way to describe the motivation behind the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding’s (CPYU) College Transition Initiative (CTI). “More can be done…”

Here are the words of CPYU’s President, Dr. Walt Mueller:

“CTI grew out of CPYU’s desire to help students make the most of their college years. Sadly, many of the stories I was hearing supported research indicating that high school students were not transitioning well to college. Many of those students were facing problems and issues that could have been avoided if they and their parents had taken time to be more prepared.”

The mission of CTI is to provide resources for students, parents, church leaders and educators to help students be more spiritually prepared for life after high school. Resources include seminars, books, articles, expert interviews, conferences and events, and a regularly updated blog. All of these resources are an attempt to create opportunities for students and parents to have more meaningful conversations about life after high school.

CTI’s resources cannot prepare students completely for college, of course. They can, however, help to paint a realistic picture of the cultural landscape ahead. They can offer advice to students from people that have gone before them about how to navigate deliberately and faithfully in such a setting.  The resources can also start better conversations, enabling parents and students to begin to ask the right questions before setting off on the journey.

In his very influential book The Fabric of Faithfulness, Dr. Steven Garber reminds us what’s at stake:

“For those whose pathway leads them into the world of the university, decisions are made during that time that are determinative for the rest of life. In the modern world, the years between eighteen and twenty-five are a time for the settling of one’s convictions about meaning and morality: why do I get up in the morning? What do I do after I get up in the morning? One then settles into life with those convictions as the shaping presuppositions and principles of one’s entire life.”

I’m convinced that Dr. Garber is correct. The college years are developmentally critical for a healthy and successful adulthood. This is a very important time in a young person’s life and because students are largely unprepared for the increasing tide of pressures they will face, CTI is committed to helping students and parents transition smoothly to the “world of the university.”

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