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When do I grow up?

16 February 2018

Becoming an adult means…. “being responsible… doing what you want… going to clubs… not taking your washing home to your mum etc.etc. When you have kids, at 12 or 13, when you think you know everything, when you get a job, when you start going to college… people live their lives a lot longer before you get married.”

Recent studies show that adolescence now lasts from age 10 to 24.

There are reasons for this: 
Young people continue in education longer
Parenthood and marriage are being delayed
Because of the degree of change in society and the changes in career patterns young people settle much later into stable patterns of life and work.

This means that very few young people find a settled pattern of work and home life at 18 and are likely to be searching for this through their 20s. Then once you get a job and find a career research says that you are unlikely to follow that for more than 10 years. People are increasingly changing career once or twice, or more in adult life.

There is a developmental lesson in all this – people are still forming their spiritual, social and personal identities well into their 20s. In many way people take on adult roles and responsibilities later.

Then we look at childhood studies tell us that adolescence begins younger too – from the age of 10. If you couple these physiological changes with earlier exposure to social media, we see that children/ young people are socially interconnected and physically changing somewhat younger.

In the light of this maybe we (adults over 40) should change our thinking and practice in the following ways:
We should recognise that the formation of identity happens over a longer period and is not done and dusted by 18.
We should recognise that young people aged 10 – 30 are creative and interconnected people and avoid being frustrated by their slower formation or patronising them as people who just can’t grow up and take responsibility.
We should embrace the multiple changes of career and patterns of work through adult life and enable people to think through the choices, vulnerability and creative opportunities this presents.

In Christian organisations and churches, we should consider the following:
We may reconsider the tight definition of youth work away from working with 11-18s. We should explore work among 14s to 30s.
We should take greater note of the transition period experienced by children between the ages of 10 and 14, which straddles school structures (unless you remember the days of middle schools).
Because of the diversity of young people and the degree of formation and change we should be much more flexible and collaborative with the young people we work with.

Finally, if life in today’s society is much more about ongoing formation, finding space and change then we should relax and not expect all life long commitments and decisions to be signed and sealed before someone reaches 18. We should rightly encourage people to choose their faith direction before 18 but some will not. Some will make a choice and then revisit it later, others will make formative choices later. Both are fine.

The Bible talks in the following way:
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13 (NRSV)

Maybe we need a little less of over 40s assumptions and anxiety and a touch for faith, hope and love.
In any case.
Becoming adult – can you put an age on it?

Graham Brownlee, February 2018

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