Extended Adolescence – What?!

Have you heard the new phrase that is buzzing around youth ministry circles? If you were at the NYWC in San Diego, you had to be deaf not to hear it. But mostly, I saw people scratching their heads in wonder of the presentation from Dr. Robert Epstein. Like most people, you are probably wondering what the big deal is. Maybe I can help.

He has written books like Teen 2.0 (not an easy read, but will give you ways to articulate this shift in culture), and is a great speaker for explaining the changes we see everyday. His research indicates  no change in the brain of an adolescent as compared to adults. Rather, as a psychologist, he points to nurture as the reason for extended adolescence. For a little fun, head over to his free online test to see how adult are you.

If you have been working with teens any time at all, you have likely thought, “Why don’t they get _______ ?” The latest Youth Worker Journal has a great article about this phenomenon. There is significant support for a real change in neurology in adolescence affected by social networking, computers, cell phones and iPods. All of this research points to the differences in teens from generations past.

So What?
Now all of this may be accepted by you, your pastor, parents and the church, but what does that mean? If culture really is changing, young adults are different and the current parenting model causes it, what is the youth ministry to do in response?

It’s a good question that has many answers. So far, there has been little effort to flesh out these answers. I haven’t deliberately tried to find any solutions myself (though I have a couple of ideas about raising expectations of teens).

If you are like me, wondering how to respond to the future derived from these studies, then you will definitely want to attend or get the lectures from the Youth Cartel‘s Extended Adolescence Symposium. Kara Powell will be moderating discussion from Epstein and Jeffrey Arnett. Hopefully, someone will start asking these great minds what we can do to respond to this trend.

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