Fighting the Elongation of Adolescence

As long as I’ve studied adolescents and been doing youth ministry I’ve heard talk of "the elongation of adolescence."

That’s a fancy sociology term for saying, Kids grow up slow these days. Not all kids, but most, are being more dependent on their parents longer.

A Quick Disclaimer: This has more to do with books and articles I am reading than individuals I know.

Some causes

  • Parents don’t want their kids to grow up. They don’t enter adolescence with Bill Cosby’s goal of kicking them out… so they never raise adolescents to move out.
  • Kids are happy to accept luxuries without paying for it. It sickens me that parents just foot the bill for adult children. (By adult, I mean those who are old enough to live on their own and pay their own way.) They pay for their college, they give them spending money, they give them a cell phone, pay for their car, feed them, clothe them, and basically treat them like royalty. Honestly… why would you move out if you are waited on hand and foot? Think of all the free stuff you would lose if you moved out!
  • Parents are too nice. Just so we are clear… parents are not under obligation (Legally, morally, or spiritually) to provide for their children indefinitely! It’s not doing your children a favor to tell them "just concentrate on school and I’ll take care of the rest." The result is an unemployable and lazy, overeducated child who will live in your house and sponge off of you until you die. Imagine the interview of your adult child when they are a fresh graduate from college! "I‘ve never worked, I can’t do my own laundry, and I don’t really need this job because everything will be OK. My parents will make sure I don’t starve, they’ll buy me clothes, pay my bills, pay my car insurance, let me live rent free, and even give me money to go on vacation." Would you hire this person? I wouldn’t. I want to hire people who are hungry to work hard and have demonstrated hard work.
  • There is no allure of marriage. Think about it. Why get married? Take away the sex and companionship… and there is no reason for a young adult to get married anytime soon.
  • No urgency to grow up. No one expects an 18-19 year old to be an adult. We become shocked when 18-19 year olds want to act like adults! We even freak out a bit about it, don’t we? It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Some possible solutions

  • Parent your adolescent children with an end result in mind. If you’ve got a 12-13 year old, start laying out a plan to get them independent of you. When you turn 12 you will start doing your own laundry. When you turn 13 you can have a cell phone, if you pay for it with a job from outside of our house. (Babysitting, lawn care, etc) When you turn 14, you will get yourself up for school on time. (Consequences of being late.) On and on.
  • Stop paying for your adult children’s luxuries. I know a fair number of college-aged students whose parents foot the bill for all sorts of things. Give them 30 days notice. Tell them you are paying for ____ but not for _____. And then stick to it. There is simply no good reason any college student is qualified for student aid but isn’t qualified to get a part-time job. Tell them if they want to go back to school in the fall they have to earn $____. Stick to it even if they have to take a semester off.
  • Stop being a push over. Make your adult children work hard. Charge them rent. Seriously, if they are a college graduate… charge them rent.  Make them pay for food. And give them lots of rules. You want them to move out, not get comfortable. If they have to take a crappy job to pay some bills so they can move out, good!
  • Make sure there is an allure of marriage. Remember back to your early adult days and remember how hard you worked for the one you loved. Don’t ever give a child (young or old) money so that they can go on a date. Make a young man be a young man.
  • Tell them your urgency for them to grow up. Tell them all the things you plan on doing with their room, the extra money you won’t be spending on them, etc. Let them know that you don’t want to spoil them forever.

Is this too harsh? Is this not loving? Is this unbiblical?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

9 comments

  1. First, I don’t allow anonymous comments. Please use a valid email address.

    Second, it was a valid question. Answering a question with a question is a bit snarky.

  2. ExtendedAdolescence

    Adam Mclane has a rather interesting post on extended adolescence in the west and what he thinks we should do about it. Ive touched on the topic recently. I think that Adam is probably right on in most of his thoughts on the causes of the extens…

  3. Adam,
    I do know some young folks who pretty closely fit your description and I don’t think what you are suggesting here sounds too harsh. Parents can get in a very unhealthy trap of enabling their teens into prolonged adolescence. No young person is going to look back on their early twenties and say “Wow, I’m glad I spent all those years living with mom and dad instead of living my own life and growing up.” The sooner they can get them out of the nest, the better. Nothing wrong with helping them make the transition, teaching them the tools they need to survive, pay bills, wash clothes, etc. But nobody is doing them a favor by keeping them children.

  4. I’ve gotten a couple of comments about the “marriage” element. I guess I would just like to clarify that I don’t think parents should be paying for their kids to date.

    I am also still wondering… could culture start to make adolescence shorter or is the genie out of the bottle?

Leave a Reply