Perpetual Adolescence: When Coming of Age Doesn’t Come

Perpetual Adolescence: When Coming of Age Doesn’t Come

“Many youth are neither growing up nor assuming responsibility.”

Parents have always complained about the children. These complaints usually stop when their children grow up and assume responsibilities.

Something has changed with this generation. Many youth are neither growing up nor assuming responsibility. America is facing a coming-of-age crisis that leaves young people ill-equipped to survive in a highly unstable world.

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One in three of those between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents. Some 30 percent of all college students drop out after their first year. A recent test of college seniors found that one-third could not make cohesive arguments, think critically, or evaluate the quality of data.

The coming-of-age rituals that facilitate this entry are either delayed or skipped. The coming generations are increasingly not engaged in political, religious or civil affairs.

‘Adulting’ v. Becoming an Adult

This disturbing trend can be seen in the appearance of the verb “to adult.” This new usage of an old noun does not mean to become an adult. It merely means to do something grown up. A young man that shows up on time for work one day might claim he is “adulting.” He is not assuming adult habits but merely temporarily leaving his perpetual adolescence.

This new “adulting” generation is stirring up a debate. Nebraska’s Senator Ben Sasse is one of many who have entered the fray. He has written a book titled The Vanishing Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. He explores the problem of deferred adulthood.

A Great Passivity

The problem is not the young people themselves. Indeed, many young people have grown up and assumed responsibilities beyond “adulting” forays. However, Sasse cites a growing passivity that is pulling youth down in ways never seen in times past.

This passivity is based on a softer perspective on life made easy in times of prosperity. Youth are not being challenged to deal with those important spiritual matters that explore what makes life worth living. The idea of building resumes takes precedence over building character.

The resulting product of this process is “softer parenting.” Children have fewer rites of passage to mark great events in their lives. Sen. Sasse’s list of causes is quite familiar to those engaged in parenting: more medicated children, more screen time, more pornography, less marriage, less religion and community participation. They are also more intellectually fragile and politically correct.

A Failure of Education

Modern education is one big area of concern. There is a lack of vision and direction that haunts the education establishment founded on the defective theories of John Dewey. Sasse, a former university president, complains of a warehousing system in which students are treated as cogs in a machine. He prefers an organic model in which students are cultivated like plants. The system also throws money at problems in the vain hope that things will get better.

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Schools are increasingly reducing everything to technique and testable knowledge. Thus, students have lost the tools of learning that help them resolve problems outside the box. They no longer are oriented toward the good, the true and the beautiful, but rather to a relativism that Notre Dame professor Brad Gregory so expressively calls the “kingdom of whatever.”

Students have a hard time becoming adults, says Sasse, because “we have no definable goal for each child to become an adult.” Instead, there is a piecemeal subject-matter approach “that produces passive rather than active emerging adults.”

Educators like Sasse, have many ideas about fixing the problem. Most involve returning to the basics at an early age. Others are refreshingly original since they address new problems unknown in the past.

Sasse recommends, for example, an end to age segregation, those “ghettos” where youth only associate with youth. Everyone gains when young people interact with their elders. The illusion of eternal youth is more difficult when youth connects with the fragility and gentle dignity of age.

Likewise, adolescents need to know about suffering, death and dying. It helps them see that their lives are not perpetual. Teaching children how to suffer early in life provokes questions about life’s meaning and purpose. By learning how to face death, youth can then consider how to die well.

Other Suggestions

Several other suggestions revolve around reviving the American work ethic. The value of long hard work cannot be underestimated. The school of hard knocks on a farm, for example, is worth acres of safe space at a university.

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Sasse suggests another practical means to foster maturity by consuming less. The distinction between want and need must be made. Making do with less builds character and provides a sense of accomplishment.

Families should build of a library of great books to expose children to great writers and thinkers. Creating early reading habits makes children become informed adults.

A Debate Has Begun

Such suggestions are all very helpful and practical. Concerned parents need to begin somewhere. The problem cannot be ignored.

However, suggestions Sasse’s do presuppose a framework in which the family is intact. They work in communities that still functions and a strong notion of God is affirmed.

For those outside this increasingly privileged position, a turnaround will be very difficult. The next phase of the debate must address the very real problem of reaching those barely surviving in a dysfunctional society.

At this point, however, there is cause for celebration. At least the debate has begun.

As seen on The Stream

  • harry rubeniwitz

    Not my my Alphaettes!!!…. if you have a bum in your basement it is your fault for the decline of civilzation. The Opossum shakes the young off her back and runs to the high country when the babies are grown. Are you as smart as a ‘possum?

    • Hope-Has-Arrived-2017

      the writer is referring to societal norms perpetuating adolescent (which would include 26-year-old unemployed “children” serving as deductions on Mom & Dad’s tax return.) The article makes me wonder if our former leadership was endorsing a generation to simply surrender our nation.

  • Paul Tran

    This article is long overdue. This phenomenon has been ongoing for more than a generation and is constantly peddled by our political masters, the press & media. Recently Evian water ran a series of TV commercials with the motto “Live Young” just as an example. Plus, we are bombarded with sayings like “the new 30 is the 20, the new 40 is the 30” etc… The only positive aspect of all this is that retirement age will have to be raised.

  • Jenni M.

    This article struck a personal cord with me. I have a young adult son with high functioning autism, who earned his Eagle Scout while his youngest sister was in cancer treatment, and completed online high school courses a month early of graduation, about a week before her passing. That was a year ago. Yes, he still lives at home. He volunteers, goes to weekly mass, prays daily, has a part time job, and I am proud of him. Although he has challenges, he is doing his best.
    I do see your point, though. Hopefully, you can see ours, too. God bless.

    • Your son is amazing and probably has a lot to teach others. In God’s eyes, people are not judged by labels or limits but by their honesty, integrity, faith and love. My Aunty Mary is a very simple woman but she is roads ahead on the way to heaven and we all know it. We admire, (almost envy- I was going to say) her innocence and faith.

    • Barbara J. Rickman

      This article is not talking about your son…but about mine.

  • Zeke

    Look around it’s been years since I last seen a tough white male. They have all been pussified, especially in cities. The board of non- education, Hollywood, political correctness and liberal white women have de-testosterone our kids

    • Jerry Bresser

      Define ‘tough’ Zeke. I have five white grandsons in their 20’s. They don’t swagger around looking tough. All are polite, disciplined, in college getting good grades because they spend their evenings and weekends studying or working to put food on the table and pay the mortgage on the house they bought to share while they attend college. They are hardly pussified.

      • Jim St Clair

        Ease off Jerry. You your perfect little darlin’s are the exceptions. Zeke is more than correct. The typical student can’t write a paragraph much less hop in a car and drive cross country to grandma’s for the summer. Oh, and leave the cell phone home in the sock drawer, please. Asdignment: Day one wash & wax granny’s car, fix the leaky faucet, and cook lunch while grandma takes a morning nap. After lunch, line up 6 yards to mow and donate 80% of the haul to church. After supper dishes are done, little precious, sit down with granny snd het neighbors and play dominos or pinochle until bed time. Day 2…..well, you get the pic!
        Jim (sick of rethinking about the disfunctional 2020’s that are starring at us).

        • Jerry Bresser

          Jim, I was answering Zeke’s comments which seemed to infer that the ideal white man was tough; that polite, courteous, caring, non-aggressive men were pussified or sissified. My little darlin’s are in their 50’s and grandsons in their 20’s. And there are more good young people than meets the eye. You don’t see them because they are busy studying, working after school, attending church or synagogue and otherwise not making delinquent headlines. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy: “Few of us will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us have the ability to make changes for the better in our little part of the world.”

      • pogo_patti

        I don’t know how to get across what I think is a GOOD man. He has manners. He is aware of someone needing help and he volunteers. He gets dirty but he cleans up nicely. He opens the car door, is stern at times with his children who are not allowed to talk back to their Mother or him, but, he doesn’t beat any one physically yet has the mind to shut you down and train you well. He’s not a drinker, a doper or a con. He works hard at everything he has to do and for the most part, enjoys it. He will help a neighbor he sees needing help without them asking. Yes, he is strict. He goes to church because he knows he needs God in his life and not just to be seen as a good guy. I love good men and I have had a few in my life growing up starting with my Grandfather Riley. He was the husband of
        “his Lilly”. He was a Jewish man and his Lilly was a Catholic. They wasted 9 years before getting married because of that. He loved his children, the neighbors children and was known as the “Preacher” where he worked. My father taught me to read the newspaper when I was three year’s old. Our favorite thing to do was for me to find a word in the dictionary he didn’t know all, and I mean ALL, about. Every week, I thought I was going to find one but never did. I feel for the young men growing up now. They need parents like I had. Someone to care and look out for them. They are not just drinking but using drugs and I seldom see a young man that looks happy when he is not. I feel as though my generation, I am now 81, has let them down in some way. hat a good world we had and I just wish they could enjoy family as we did Don’t you?

  • Sonny’s Mom

    But is it pathological to live with one’s parents as long as the son or daughter contributes to household expenses and helps with housekeeping/repairs and errands? Before the hippie/radical leftist disorder gained a foothold, this was the common practice on the part of unmarried adults.