Extended adolescence & you

Adolescence cannot last from 11 years old to 29 years old. Our society will crumble economically & socially under the pressure. 

I think most people understand that intuitively. They reflect on their teenage years and their early twenties as a time of coming of age.

But times have changed. Most sociologists believe adolescence stretches from the onset of puberty (11-12 years old) until the late 20s. In other words, the adolescence you and I knew is now 8-10 years LONGER than when we went through it just 20 years ago.

When I think of people in their 20s I think of two distinct subsets.

  1. Those who move out and declare independence.
  2. Those who don’t.

1. Declaration of Independence

For some, moving out and declaring personal independence happens after high school when they join the military. Even though I’ve heard NCOs refer to their platoons as “their kids” certainly they are not dependent on their parents any more. They are earning their own way in the world, they provide their own housing, and they are trained in complex adults tasks. A 20 year old Army Specialist repairing a Blackhawk helicopter on a base in Germany is an adult role.

For others, they go to college and pay their own way and handle all of the responsibilities of being a college student on their own. They reject the childish party life and are serious about their education from day 1. The young woman who watched our kids this summer was this way. She worked multiple jobs all summer to bridge the gap between student loans, grants, and her need. And she takes her studies seriously because she needs this degree to take her and her family a step closer to the American dream.

Still others, high school ends with a thud and they enter young adulthood when their parents either kick them out or they move out. They discover adult responsibilities when they realize that they have to work or starve. Or they have to work or become homeless.

2. Declaration of Co-Dependency

I’m no psychologist. But over the past 10 years I’ve encountered dozens of parents whom exhibit co-dependent tendencies on their adult-aged children. They track their progress at school. They call them daily. They financially support so their college students don’t work. They either directly or indirectly tell their adult-aged children that they can always live at home, they will never have to support themselves. So they don’t. They lightly attend college and learn almost nothing. They party like Paris Hilton. They don’t even do their own laundry.

Essentially, they are pets. They know it. And love it. They know their parents are co-dependent on them and they take full advantage.

Most of these co-dependent parents have one thing in common: Disposable income. Their adult-aged children hang around with nearly no responsibility… because their parents can afford for them to do so. 


  • What role does responsibility play in extended adolescence?
  • If you serve in ministry, how do you help parents who exhibit co-dependent tendencies?
  • Do you agree with my premise that extended adolescence is tied to household economics?
Want to learn more about this topic? Want to wrestle with this and what it has to do with adolescent faith formation? Join me at the Extended Adolescence Symposium on November 21st in Atlanta, Georgia.






3 responses to “Extended adolescence & you”

  1. Corey Avatar

    I’m not sure that I agree about the household economics theory. Certainly that plays a role for some young adults, especially among those that aren’t really interested in growing up. However, I have seen just as many (or more) young adults who come from lower socioeconomic stratas flounder in the same way. Additionally, there is a large segment that wants to transition into adulthood but can’t seem to figure out how.

    One theory that I’m interested in tossing around at the symposium is whether the increase in mental health diagnoses may contribute to the sense of helplessness and victimhood that so many young adults experience. At one of our groups, we did a quick survey and found 24 diagnoses out of 15 people.

  2. kolby milton Avatar

    Great post! I do think that in part
    extended adolescence is due to household economics.  The young adults I
    work with want all the gadgets, and gaming that comes along with those devices.
     A lot of these adults have no ambition, and have no idea what they want
    to do with their life because they enjoy staying at home.  I wonder how as
    a youth pastor can we help these “young adults” out of extended adolescence? 

  3. Rachel Blom Avatar

    Very interesting and I recognize these two groups in how you describe them. I’m not sure about the reasons for their choices though. We’re seeing the same pattern in Holland where the socio economic situation is very different from that in the US, so that’s interesting. 

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