If you want young men in your community, Christian or not, to see the negative spiritual side effects of avoiding adulthood, you need to give them more than “the gospel,” which may sound sacrilege, but hear me: You need to actually explain to them how pursuing adulthood results in godliness. That’s harder than just giving them the gospel.
Earlier this week, my friend Samuel James published a piece with First Thingsentitled “America’s Lost Boys.” I’m thankful for Sam; he’s a great thinker, but with his latest piece, he’s bitten into the lowest-hanging fruit in evangelicalism today: bemoaning the extended adolescence of Millennials.
Like just about anyone else who writes on extended adolescence, he does a really good job identifying and complaining about the problem, but he provides no viable solution for solving it. Sam’s article is well-written and makes important observations about Millennial culture, but it falls short in its ability to actually do anything about the extended adolescence phenomenon.
Millennials Are Extending Adolescence
It’s true that Millennials are extending adolescence. Plenty of evidence exists to verify this. Millennials are delaying marriage and family, and sometimes not pursuing either. The cornerstone of Sam’s point is an interview with The University of Chicago’s Dr. Erik Hurst. The key portion of the interview for our discussion is this from Dr. Hurst:
Right now, I’m gathering facts about the possible mechanisms at play, beginning with a hard look at time-use by young men with less than a four-year degree. In the 2000s, employment rates for this group dropped sharply – more than in any other group. We have determined that, in general, they are not going back to school or switching careers, so what are they doing with their time? The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of 12, and sometimes upwards of 30 hours per week.
The three basic facts presented by Dr. Hurst are: 1) Employment rates for non-college-educated Millennials dropped drastically in the 2000s, 2) They are replacing time they would normally be working with leisure activities, and 3) Approximately 75% of that leisure time is spent playing video games (12 hours per week, on average).
From these three basic facts presented by Dr. Hurst, which are indicative of the extended adolescence phenomenon among uneducated Millennials, Sam extrapolates, “The portrait that emerges of the young American male indicates an isolated, entertainment-absorbed existence, with only the most childlike social ties (such as with parents and “bros”) playing a meaningful role.” Not only is it inaccurate—Sam misuses Dr. Hurst’s data about “uneducated Millennial men” to evaluate the “young American male”—he goes on to make the misguided, qualitative judgement that these “young American males” live a life in which “only the most childlike social ties (such as with parents and ‘bros’) play a meaningful role.” Such an assessment is mistaken and condescending.
Do a lot of Millennials live with their parents instead of a romantic partner? Yes.
Do a lot of Millennials play video games? Yes.
Are a lot of Millennials out of work? Yes.
Does this mean these Millennials live, as Sam calls it, “an isolated, entertainment-absorbed existence, with only the most childlike social ties (such as with parents and ‘bros’) playing a meaningful role?” Absolutely not.
A critical analysis of Millennials and extended adolescence requires more than an oversimplification of a handful of correlative statistics.
For the sake of discussion, though I disagree with him, I would like to take Sam’s point at face value. Because, even if extended adolescence is more common among uneducated Millennials than among all Millennials, college-educated or not, it’s still something about which the Church needs to be aware.
Let’s imagine the same world Sam does: a world in which young American males don’t work, live in their parents’ basements, and play Xbox all day. Why might this be the case and what might the Church do about it?
Why Do Millennials Extend Adolescence?
The answer is quite simple, isn’t it? Millennials extend adolescence and delay adulthood because adolescence provides more leisure and less responsibility than adulthood.
Being an adult is difficult, “So,” Millennials think, “If I can delay it, why not?”
Adults spend their whole lives working for leisure in retirement while making fun of Millennials for opting for leisure now.