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Emerging Adulthood--Skeel

Next weekend's New York Times Magazine has a fascinating cover story on emerging adulthood, a term coined by the psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett to describe the stage of life between adolescence and adulthood.  It's already posted here.  Jeff is a dear friend dating back many years to a time when we both were still emerging adults, each doing graduate work at the University of Virginia.  It's a wonderful term and a wonderful but frightening time of life.  Reaching emerging adults seems to me one of the most difficult challenges for the church in our time, since their cultural experience so often seems at odds with the values reflected in the church, in ways both good and bad.

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Comments ( 3 )

I enjoyed the article but thought Lerner was right. It seems that emerging adulthood - as a developmental stage - is a particularly American phenomenon (and a recent one at that). Thus, it doesn't seem like a developmental stage at all, but developmental fad so to speak.

I also thought the neuroscience data was unpersuasive. There are studies which show that myelination (e.g., white matter) continues well into the 40s and even the 50s. It's really hard to say whether such facets of brain development represent an immature brain on the road to maturity or merely one that is changing.

Steve-- This is really interesting, especially on the brain studies. Do you have the same feeling about adolescence-- that it's not a distinct stage-- or do you think it's more compellingly distinct given hormones, the physical changes etc?

My sense is that how much of an impact factors such as hormones have on psychological development is perhaps overstate a bit nowadays. After all, adolescence is largely a modern development in industrialized society. Before 1850s, the term wasn't around and children of this age often assumed adult responsibilities, including marriage - and that was at a time when the age of puberty was higher.

Folks might well say fine, but today adolescence does exist. But that begs the question as to why. If it always existed (but was merely undetected) then one must assume that it's largely a biological process. But with falling puberty rates we should have some evidence that something like adolescence occurred later in life in the past. I think the work of psychologists like Robert Epstein suggest this isn't the case.

Alternatively, one could say that adolescence is a social phenomenon. But inasmuch as this seems right, it also suggests (to me at least) that as a developmental stage it's largely socially constructed and highly malleable to cultural influences- and hardly universal. And that’s a big problem when we’re talking about developmental stages.