For Mike, a typical Monday evening begins with Monday Night Football. After the game, he plays Xbox, surfs the Internet and text-messages some friends. Mike’s dad worries about his eating habits and insists that he come home at a decent hour when going out with friends.

None of this is so bad until you realize that Mike is 39, not married, and not planning to be.

"I know that I’m not living the traditional ‘American dream,’ " Mike says. "But this arrangement is working pretty well for me."

Karen is a Christian professional, focusing on her career and hobbies. A chemical engineer, she landed an enviable job with a pharmaceutical lab shortly after finishing her bachelor’s degree. When the company offered to pay the majority of tuition toward a master’s degree, the next four years of her life were, as Karen puts it, "pretty much set." While her career goals are admirable, she has little regard for marriage and shuns the responsibilities that come with raising a family.

Defining "adultescence"

Mike and Karen are part of a growing demographic. According to their age, they’re adults. But their attitudes are more typical of people 10 or 20 years younger. It used to be called arrested adolescence. Today, it is increasingly being called adultescence.

Jeremy, a pastor in Arizona, sees adultescence every day. "People seem to be taking longer to figure life out," he says. "For many 25- to 45-year-olds in our church, it seems that the whole idea of ‘launching’ raises a lot of fears and anxieties."

Why? Adultescents, having lived through decades of divorce and broken homes, have a low view of traditional family. They are committed instead to their "tribe," a community of friends that provides support with a minimum of commitment. A tribe is easier to maintain than a family, and it’s much more "fun."

A growing trend

Ethan Watters wrote a book on the trend called Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? He estimates that somewhere between 37 million and 43 million Americans fit the description of an adultescent. He sees adolescence stretching into adulthood for "an awfully long five, to 10, to 15 years." Though the teenage years may be long past, teen-type attitudes and behaviour persist.

To many of these young adults, marriage means "no more options" and destroys friendships and freedom. Indeed, marriage and children are "kryptonite to the Tribe," Waters says.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics bear witness to these attitudes. Since 1980, the median age of first-time newlywed husbands has risen from 25 to 27. Similarly, the median age of first-time brides has increased from 22 to 25.

Me before everything else

What is the cause of this extended adolescence? Introversion? A lack of social skills? Insecurity? "There’s no evidence for that," says Jean Twenge in her book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. "They are this way because they put themselves first." In other words, adultescents can be selfish and narcissistic.

"Many of the fights that Gen Me-ers have... can be traced to this fundamental assumption that [they] are special," Twenge says.

Onward to maturity

Obviously, adultescence is a threat to both the traditional family and to the spiritual growth and maturity of young people. This threat is serious enough that Christian parents need to respond. But what should that response be? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Teach your children Christian stewardship in all areas of life. Christians must remember that our lives are not our own. First Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we are owned by God. Our mission in life is more than just making money and pursuing fun or personal avocations.

  2. Instill an understanding of God’s plan for the stages of our life. God’s ideal is that we experience personal, physical and spiritual growth and maturity. And with maturity comes adult responsibilities, which typically include marriage and family. Through the challenges and responsibilities of family life we learn wonderful lessons about God’s faithfulness that we might otherwise miss.

  3. Emphasize that marriage and family are blessings initiated by God. Genesis 2:24 says, "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." This norm for adulthood was reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19) and by the apostle Paul (Ephesians 5).

  4. Model maturity and strive for Christlikeness in all areas of life. Scripture constantly encourages us toward maturity, responsibility and wisdom. "My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right" (Proverbs 23:15-16).

The secular culture says adultescence is just another manifestation of modern life. Scripture teaches that it is something potentially much more destructive. If Christian parents will focus their efforts on helping their children mature, the results will be profound – a stronger church, stronger families and a quiet but powerful witness to a floundering generation.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox

View comments ()