Having been in youth ministry for over sixteen years I’m concerned with seeing adolescence being stretched out. Pre-industrial revolution there was no such thing as adolescence. Either you were a child or you were a young adult. When I started in youth ministry, adolescence was typically seen to be 12 or 13-18. With early adolescence being 13-15 and late being 15 or 16 to age 18-19.
Now adolescence is being extended earlier age 11 or 12 and when it ends there is a matter of opinion with some saying 22-25. Now you have early adolescence which covers middle school, mid adolescence which covers high school and late adolescence being college-age to 25 (depending on who you ask). Some add another category – “emerging adulthood” which can last to age 30.
It would seem that on one hand we have children entering this stage far too young with the average age of puberty coming earlier, especially for girls. For instance, in 1900 the average age for the onset of menstrual periods in girls was 15. Now the average age is 12 1/2 years of age). In some cases this can occur with girls as young as 9.
On the other hand it seems like you have kids that don’t want to grow up. This hasn’t been my life experience, but I know that I am somewhat rare in my generation. At 36 I’ve been married for 15 years, have three kids with my oldest being in 7th grade. I was married at age 21. Most people I know who are my age have kids far younger than mine, and often times didn’t get married until their mid to late 20s. I know there are many reasons for this. Historically, however, this is unprecedented.
It’s time to declare the end of adolescence. As a social institution, it’s been a failure. The proof is all around us: 19% of eighth graders, 36% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders say they have used illegal drugs, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. One of every four girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a recent study for the Centers for Disease Control. A methamphetamine epidemic among the young is destroying lives, families, and communities. And American students are learning at a frighteningly slower rate than Chinese and Indian students.
The solution is dramatic and unavoidable: We have to end adolescence as a social experiment. We tried it. It failed. It’s time to move on. Returning to an earlier, more successful model of children rapidly assuming the roles and responsibilities of adults would yield enormous benefit to society.
Prior to the 19th century, it’s fair to say that adolescence did not exist. Instead, there was virtually universal acceptance that puberty marked the transition from childhood to young adulthood. Whether with the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah ceremony of the Jewish faith or confirmation in the Catholic Church or any hundreds of rites of passage in societies around the planet, it was understood you were either a child or a young adult.
I encourage you to read the entire article as he has some good ideas to accomplish this. I would have to agree with him that adolescence, as it exists today, does not adequately prepare kids to enter adulthood. This is one, of several reasons, why my wife and I home educate. While understanding that this isn’t for everybody; we recognize that the way our school system is set up today doesn’t mimic real life. In what other setting are we surrounded with people the same age and life stage?
In home education settings our older kids help with the younger. They are part of activities and groups that have a variety of ages. They have many adults investing in their lives. Also another theme in Dr. Gingrich’s article is responsibility. Kids need the opportunity to have real responsibility to give them life experience that will prepare them for adulthood. This is often done with families that home educate with some high school age kids taking college credit, apprenticeships, non-typical teenage jobs (since they have more availability), and some families create at-home businesses that the kids run.
Could something like this happen in other educational settings? I think so, but it would take some thinking outside the box. Also, even in those settings ultimately this boils down to being the parents’ role. How can we better equip parents to do this?
What do you think?