Coming of Age

August 23, 2007 | 56 comments

Once upon a time, there really was a moment when a girl left behind an actual, old-fashioned childhood and embarked on a well-defined period of preparation for motherhood and marriage. Now, childhood ends earlier than ever, while adulthood in the traditional sense—of settling down and starting a family—begins much later, if at all. In the middle is a stretch of adolescence so extended—and so various, from teenage parenthood to perpetual studenthood—one hardly knows when coming of age should be celebrated, or why.

–from a Slate review of a book on Quinceaneras.

As an outsider, I’d say that the Quinceaneras around here are almost entirely malign. That’s because the American custom of adolescence, I’m starting to think, is also almost entirely malign. Physical adulthood and some of the license of adulthood without adult responsibility and adult respect is rattlesnake poison. You can’t come of age without coming of age.

I hope to complete and review a couple of recent books on the subject soon, one called The End of Adolescence and the other The Case Against Adolescence. See here, here, and here. From what I’ve read so far, the gist is that (1) far too often we Americans segregate teenagers into environments where they mostly interact with other teens, (2) we don’t give them enough semi-independent responsibility.

I think the Saints do better. For one, the possibility of marriage and mission, and the fact that Mormon parents still often do not provide their college kid with free rent, car, and allowance, means that the extension of adolescence well into the twenties hasn’t been as epidemic with us as with the rest of the country. To a degree we also avoid prematurely rushing our children into quasi-adulthood, with our restrictions on dating, emphasis on morality and modesty, and careful attention to the kinds of media we watch. Its just a fact that I and many other Mormon kids I knew “grew up” slower in high school than our peers did. By having an earlier real adulthood and a later childhood, we limit the period of quasi-adult adolescence.

We can probably do better. Adults work in our Young Womens and Young Mens programs but they’re still fairly segregated into narrow age ranges. I’ve seen some positive examples. A couple of local homeschooling families belong to homeschooling groups that do activities across a wide range of ages. Their teenagers, while still callow or green or whatever expression you prefer, come across as more poised and mature. I’ve also seen a pioneer reenactment dance that was about 2/5ths adults and my impression was that the youth were more relaxed and having more fun than at the normal youth dance. People were dancing with partners of all ages.

We also don’t give our teenagers much responsibility of any kind. Young men have the priesthood but their role is narrowly defined and led from outside their ranks. Young women don’t even have that minimal responsibility. (Note: I will gladly delete any comments that try to resurrect the tired old theme that young men get all these great programs and young women don’t. Save your spleen, your chance will come). I know of some positive examples. One of the homeschooling families I mention not only put their teenagers to work building their home, but they also supervised contractors and gave them instructions when the parents couldn’t be around. A family in our ward with a family business puts their teenagers to work helping to run the thing. My father-in-law, who also ran his own business, put my wife to work when she was a teen and also used her as a sounding board for decisions. Orson Scott Card, writing on the need young men have to be heroes, mentioned that one of his teenage sons found meaning and purpose in spending a lot of his free time as an internet Mormon apologist. Finally, I remember President Faust talking about a military ward that had all but one or two of its Melchizedek priesthood holders sent away on a tour of duty, whereupon a previously fractious and listless Priests quorum took up the slack and performed beautifully.

Modern neuroscience has shown that the brain doesn’t finish maturing until 19-20, and inexperience is inexperience. We can’t expect full adulthood at age 12. But we probably can do better.

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56 Responses to Coming of Age

  1. Julie M. Smith on August 23, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I like this post. I believe you are correct that homeschooling provides many opportunities to counter this trend. My kids are not even close to being teens yet, but will frequently spend a week working in Grandpa’s vineyard–something we could never do if we didn’t homeschool. My 6yo was saying just this morning that it is hard work out there–but a fun kind of hard. So few 6yos have the chance to do real, hard work . . .

    I don’t want to turn this into the thing you want to delete, but I am wondering what we might do (within the existing church structure) to help our girls.

  2. Kyle R on August 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    “Modern neuroscience has shown that the brain doesn’t finish maturing until c. 19-20, and inexperience is inexperience.”

    Interesting post Adam.

    Here’s a quote from a book by Milan Kundera I read a little while ago: The “Art of the Novel”

    “Inexperience is a quality of the human condition. We are born one time only; we can never start a new life equipped with the experience we’ve gained from a previous one. We leave childhood without knowing what youth is; we marry without knowing what it is to be married; and even when we enter old age, we don’t know what it is we’re heading for: The old are innocent children of their old age. In that sense, man’s world is the planet of inexperience.”

    I think I recall reading somewhere that modern idea of the teenager itself was a 1950s ‘marketing niche’ concept. Even now you can sell all kinds of stuff to a marketing target with adult levels of disposable income but no financial or familial responsibilities. An ever-extending “extended adolescence” is a wonderful development for advertisers.

    Some authors have argued that even ‘adolescence’ as a discrete stage of life evolved only during the Victorian era, about the time the ‘child’ was generally deemed – at least in England – to actually be some kind of individual person.

    In most indigenous and many historical cultures, there had always been and in some cases still is a direct transition from childhood to ‘adulthood’ with coming-of-age rituals, about the time we would consider adolescence to just be starting.

    In many African countries young girls must look after orphaned siblings and young boys are given AK-47s and drafted into militias. For them there is very little adolescence at all, never mind an extended one.

    So essentially Adam, I’m thinking that the problem you identify is partially due to the overwrought need of our civilisation to sell lots of stuff and encourage people to live as though ‘he who has the most toys wins’.

  3. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    I’m sceptical that advertisers can singlehandedly change behavior that way. But consumerism does play into it, in two ways: first, the idea that having stuff and living hedonistically is the point of life contributes to people in their 20s putting off marriage and jobs. Second, it encourages parents who can no longer live that way, exactly, to try to live vicariously through their kids by giving them money and license without responsibility. But a lot of this is because of the extended education you need to get work (some of it necessary, some of it useless credentialism) and the fact that the modern economic and cultural forces push both parents into the workforce, making it necessary to park the kid in high school.

  4. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t want to turn this into the thing you want to delete, but I am wondering what we might do (within the existing church structure) to help our girls.

    Julie S., I don’t think either young men or young women girls have much responsibility in current church structures. You may disagree but lets save that argument for elsewhere.

  5. Steve Evans on August 23, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Some good thoughts here Adam. Perhaps we need mormon bar- and bat-mitzvahs?

  6. christopher johnson on August 23, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    I had an wise teacher’s quorum adviser that tried as little as possible to run activities. If he saw something needed to be done, he would tell the president of the quorum. I remember being disoriented, but excited at the chance to actually lead. If the president needed help, then the adviser would give him quiet advice.
    As a deacon we had no idea that the president was actually supposed to be a presiding, active leader, rather than just a distinguished, spiritual, older deacon. As a priest I think we actually regressed in becoming an semi-autonomous group because the bishop is the president of the quorum. The “first assistant” doesn’t really sound like a title that would be running large events, as priest quorums probably should during combined activities. Maybe a title change could have a small effect in reforming our society regarding this issue.

  7. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    The quinceaneras example, shows, in my opinion, that coming of age rituals are at best just harmless unless you actually come of age.

    A minor change that might be worth a pilot project (woah, let me give you a hand with that ark, buddy!) is to make the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class for everyone 12 or 14 or 16 and up, instead of just 18 and up.

  8. Kyle R on August 23, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    “…it encourages parents who can no longer live that way, exactly, to try to live vicariously through their kids by giving them money and license without responsibility.”

    Very good point. I also agree that advertisers’ power can be overestimated, especially by themselves.

    The dissatisfaction that drives parents to live this proxy ‘good life’ through their children is striking. I would enlarge upon the theme of advertising to include all of the televisual and celluloid Potemkin Worlds we’re saturated with, convincing so many of us that life is happening ‘somewhere else’, but not under our noses.

    I also take your point about education. I work at a university and the credentialism is incredible. Also, education that should take 3 years goes on for up to 5, precisely because of the ‘extended adolescence’ problem.

    Read a (slim) book by the end of the week? You’d think you were asking them to design a spaceship.

  9. John Mansfield on August 23, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Education is a form of unemployment that doesn’t count against the labor stats, so many factors combine to keep young people unproductive as long as possible. Self-employment and family-owned business, the kind of labor examples that Brother Greenwood mentioned, appear to be the most feasible way move teens around those factors.

  10. Kyle R on August 23, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I’m leaving work now to go home but could I ask someone to explain to me how you italicise quoted remarks in these blog posts. I’ve tried googling for the information and looked at options on my pc but for the life of me, I can’t figure it out.

  11. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 1:49 pm
  12. Julie M. Smith on August 23, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Re #4,

    I really honestly and truly don’t want a debate about gender roles here. I think that you did a very good job of articulating a problem in this post–a problem that affects boys and girls. I’m just wanting to brainstorm what we can do–either in church settings or as parents–that will help with the problem. You offer something in #7–that’s the kind of thing that I am after–although I think that that particular idea would have the unfortunate side effect of “dumbing down” GD even more than it is now. I wonder what would happen if the compassionate service work of a ward were offered to YM and YW more than it is now–would they make casseroles and give rides, etc.?

  13. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    I wonder what would happen if the compassionate service work of a ward were offered to YM and YW more than it is now–would they make casseroles and give rides, etc.?

    Priesthood opening exercises includes all the priesthood. We could do a better job at including the young men in the service requests that are made there, though. Maybe there needs to be a combined Young Women’s/Relief Society opening exercises where service opportunities are discussed? Maybe its just something we need to keep in mind within the existing structure. My wife was on bed rest a few weeks back and the ward leadership did a pretty good job of divvying up the responsibilities among the Relief Society and the Young Women. It was a pretty positive experience for everyone concerned.

  14. TMD on August 23, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I think an equal part of the problem of prolonged adolescence is parents’ desires to protect their children from all sorts of things far too far into their lives. One of the most transformative experiences of my life was the first summer I spent on Boy Scout camp staff, where I was expected to be fully responsible for my self and my actions (getting myself to flags on time, doing my own laundry, working hard enough on equipment moves, teaching the merit badges I was assigned to do). As important as the work and the responsibility was the expectation that I would and could do all of this, without minute instruction–and the conclusion that I could do it. Also the 20-25 year old senior staff guys, who provided a sense of what it meant to be a young adult and how to act and how not to act. Very heady stuff, often stressful stuff for a 15 year-old, but also inspirational and really confidence building. (Then, we go back home…but nevertheless changed forever, more confident, more willing to take on the world, a bit more responsible and with a better sense of people.) That scouts provides these kinds of opportunities to venture into risk with a little less supervision from the adults (yet provides them with examples of adulthood other than their parents) is one of the reasons I’m such a believer in scouts and its role as a church program.

    But from my limited expreience, I think a lot of LDS parents would discourage being away from home for 10 weeks as a 15 year old, not having enough confidence in their kids’ ability to stay away from the bad stuff (many junior staff got a smoking habit, because they could…some took up worse things). So I think that too few LDS would be inclined to let their kids really make this kind of step to adult-hood at what Adam seems to be noting is the approrpiate age…

    As a grad student teaching at a very large state university (which, Kyle, is filled with students like you mention, although this problem was less distinct at the liberal arts college I attended), I find that parents’ protectiveness is an ever-encoaching threat on the development of their children. Not long ago, a friend caught a kid cheating…within 20 minutes, they had a call from dad, trying to get me to set aside the matter…while they didn’t back down, both the fact that the kid took it to dad so quickly (rather than hanging his head in shame) and that dad called so quickly on his behalf are evidence to me of a poorly formed young adult whose maladjustment was caused by his overprotective parent.

  15. TMD on August 23, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    should be trying to get ‘them,’ to set aside the charges, I’d just answered the shared phone first…

  16. John Mansfield on August 23, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    In my ward, most moving service was led and rendered by the Aaronic Priesthood. I would have priests and laurels each assigned a month or two to assist teaching the primary children. And may I mention what a great thing den chiefs are without starting another anti-scouting riot? Delete these last two sentences if I can’t.

  17. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Den Chiefs are great. Mayhap YM and YW could also be considered in the potential pool of persons who can be called to help with primary, nursery, or Achievement Day.

  18. Jacob on August 23, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Adam – I really like the idea in 17. With President Hinkley saying that every convert needs a calling, I think that applies to the youth, too. Sure, I went to church and was baptized when I was eight, but I wasn’t converted until I was 13. Service just might help some of these kids of ours (well, yours! I’m 26 and single, so I don’t have any yet).

  19. bbell on August 23, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    I am of the view that many active LDS families do a good job preparing teenagers for life after HS.

    One thing that concerns me though is what I call LDS Teen young adult Affluenza. AKA: LDSTYAA

    Free car, college, mission, spending money and elaborate vacations tied together without an expectation on the part of the kid to hold a job in the summer and pay part of their own way. It leads to spoiled, bratty lazy kids. Teenagers need to learn responsibility as do young adults.

    I have 2 HT comps of mine that fit this bill. (Yes I have 2 HT comps) Both former YM of mine they have spent the summer prior to college in the fall playing video games and going on vacations. Not a positive step forward in their development.

  20. Ray on August 23, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Adam, thank you for addressing my biggest soapbox of church administration. I have said for a long time that our greatest failure in the Church is the way we treat our Young Men and Young Women like children. We have a built-in “graduation ceremony” from childhood to adulthood, and it’s even called a graduation – from Primary to YM/YW. (The title is not older children but Young MEN and Young WOMEN.) It you read the duties of the Aaronic Priesthood in D&C 20, it is stark how little we teach those duties to our YM (and YW) and how less we expect them to live it. I am leading a discussion in our PH Leadership session of Stake Conference this Saturday, and this post is precisely my topic. Thank you for giving me another way to phrase it.

    As much as I truly hate to say this, since they carry such heavy burdens, the fundamental obligation to change this lies at the feet of our bishops. Bishopric Counselors and YM/YW Presidencies and advisers have supervisory and training roles, but ultimately this must be demanded by the Bishop – since he is the President of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward. Until he demands that our teenagers be treated as young adults and given the responsibilities they are supposed to have, this problem will continue – and our teenagers need to be adults now in SO many more ways than I did at their age that it’s frightening to me when they aren’t allowed / expected / challenged to do so. If we could do one thing to build the Kingdom of God on this earth the way it is supposed to be built, I believe it would be to empower our Young Men and Young Women to be who and what they are meant to be.

  21. Ray on August 23, 2007 at 3:37 pm


    I believe strongly that we need to do what we have been asked to do for both our Young Men and our Young Women (mostly by teaching them how to run their quorums and classes and then letting them do so) before we look for extra ways to help them grow. Having said that, our ward has opening exercises for all the men (12 and up) and they do the same thing for the women (12 and up). They announce all advancements in SM for all YM & YW; they stress presidency meetings in all quorums and classes (with the advisers or adult attendees in a background role only); they expect all activities, including service projects, to be proposed and planned by the class presidencies; etc. There is plenty to do within the established structure before we look for “innovations” of any kind. I truly believe the most important thing is to change the perspective of the adult leaders. Everything else flows from that, IMO.

  22. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    BBell, aflluenza is at the heart of the problem. I could spit nails when I hear stories like yours.

    Good luck, Ray. I hope realizing that a lot of what we call adolescence is our own choice and not a natural state of affairs will help the Saints see that we can do something better than we’re doing.

  23. Jonathan Green on August 23, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    I don’t mind teenagers acting like teenagers. For young Mormon males, the transition to adulthood really comes at 19, with serving a mission, which marks the transition fairly clearly. Which is why I always bristled when people would treat missionary service as just the next step in the youth program.

    Obligatory objection on behalf of Wilfried: In the international church, young people often assume responsibility at earlier ages (which has both advantages and disadvantages). I once served as a counselor to a YM president who was still 18. In another ward, there was the 11-year old who was the de facto ward clerk.

    (Julie, I realize that none of this is at all helpful to your question. Sorry.)

  24. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    We lose a lot of teenagers, J. Green, and while partly its just inevitable that some will rebel around that time, I also think giving teenagers too much adult freedom when it comes to money, transportation, and leisure, but too little when it comes to responsibility, can be a factor. I also think segregating teenagers contributes.

    But I admit that I doubt that being a teenager is entirely an invention of our culture. I remember reading Barbara Tuchman’s quite good pop history of the 14th Century, called The Distant Mirror. She wrote that she was wondering why so many medieval leaders seemed so reckless and impulsive until she realized that quite a few of them were teenagers or in their early 20s.

  25. Meg on August 23, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    bbell, any chance one of those YM was my younger brother?

  26. z on August 23, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    “(Note: I will gladly delete any comments that try to resurrect the tired old theme that young men get all these great programs and young women don’t. Save your spleen, your chance will come).”

    What a Christlike attitude, Adam. I really appreciate having my sincere concerns for fairness and the well-being of young women dismissed as “tired” “spleen.” You yourself acknowledged that there is a disparity– couldn’t you have been a little kinder in your request? Or maybe you’re content with the Church’s reputation for sexism.

  27. Julie M. Smith on August 23, 2007 at 5:57 pm


    Adam has every right to focus comments in the direction of his choice–it is, after all, his post. He may have phrased his request more kindly, but since I never do I can’t see why he should.

  28. Jacob on August 23, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Adam – I’m all for voting that one off!

  29. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Now, Jacob. Be nicer in your generation than I am in mine.

  30. Tanya Spackman on August 23, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    A couple thoughts as I read through the comments:

    My ward recently started having the YW and RS combined for opening exercises one Sunday a month in hopes it will make the transition to RS less jarring. We’ve only done this for the past four months (thus we’ve only met together four times), but one thing I’ve noticed is that the YW have already been invited to more RS things, including service stuff, than ever before. When the sheet to sign up to do meals is passed around, it goes to the YW as well (admittedly I haven’t seen them sign up, but the opportunity is there, and that’s a first step). A couple weeks ago the RS had a quilt-tying activity to make quilts to donate to Primary Children’s hospital on behalf of three young children who recently died in our community, and the YW were very included, whereas before they would have been probably invited, but it would have likely been a last minute announcement. I think this all is a step in the right direction.

    Also, it recently dawned on me (yes, sometimes I’m slow) that I can use YW to help me with one of my callings when I’m out of town. One of my callings is to do the sacrament meeting program – easy and mildly enjoyable. However, I missed a couple Sundays in July due to being out of town, and I was stressed about who I could dump this on. Most people in my ward have two or three callings already, and I don’t want to make their lives more stressful, even if it’s not a difficult task and I could get it mostly ready for them ahead of time (just not speakers, hymns, or last minute announcements). Who to ask… who to ask…. As I was sitting and waiting for YW to start one Wednesday, it dawned on me… YW don’t have callings! And it’s summer and I know most of them aren’t even working! So I asked a Laurel who is quite trustworthy if she would mind filling in for me (well, first I asked if she had a computer and printer). It worked well, and I will go that path again when I’m out of town.

  31. Jacob on August 23, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Adam – I’m thinking of something my namesake said. Jacob 2:35 Something about bad examples . . .

  32. Mark IV on August 23, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    With regards to finding ways to bring YM and YW more into the work of the ward – The youth organizations in my ward sometimes take on the job of meal prep and delivery that traditionally falls to the RS. The six classes each take a day, so Monday through Saturday is covered. They plan the meals in advance and meet at the home of the advisor in the late afternoon to prepare and deliver them. It works surprisingly well, and the youth can pass off requirements for their medallion or scout badges.

    Also, we have a aged man who doesn’t own a car and who needs a ride to church each week. The priest’s quorum, with their newly-granted driver licenses, agreed to be responsible to pick him up and take him home each Sunday. It’s pretty cool to see a young man gently escort an old man through the doors of the chapel and help him to his seat.

  33. Ms Taber on August 23, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    As to the causes of prolonged adolescence, I think a family I recently nannied for (not for long!) had some interesting insights. Bless their hearts.

    Mom and Dad both worked, hence the nanny. I don’t think these guys really realized what they were putting themselves through for the sake of their lifestyle- long commutes, LAME jobs, not much time or sleep. They also spent a ton of money on their kids and I couldn’t believe how lax their expectations were on them for anything except doing well in school. Example: 9-year-old boy who can’t put jam on his own toast. (For some reason I thought he was kidding and ribbed him about it. Could that have been what got me fired? ; )

    Anyway, I got the impression that the parents felt a deep-seated unease about not being there to parent, but they had gobs of money, so they made up for it by taking them to the mall. It’s pretty bizarre when you break it down that way but I think that’s really what it comes down to. There are a lot of parents who feel guilt about some thing or another, and for whatever reason instead of fixing the problem they buy their kids things because it’s just plain easier.

  34. Norbert on August 24, 2007 at 12:19 am

    I agree with some of the content here, but not necessarily the tone. Yes, adolescents would benefit from more responsibility in connecton with their increases with their freedom, not in isolation of it or instead of it. Also, our concept of adolescence, when meaningfully applied, is not just a capitalist plot — it is a response to research that the brain is not completely formed until the late teens, or even early twenties. Adolescence should be seen as a response to a better understanding of our development.

    I would definitely start by running the program of the church as it is meant to be run — emphasizing the role of class and quorum presidents (quorum presidents ave PH keys, for pete’s sake) and let advisors advise. Too many advisors see their role as the leaders of a youth activity group, and that is inaccurate. Extravagant but basically meaningless youth activities are frowned upon in the handbooks for good reason. Bishops should give meaningful, appropriate assignments to quorum and class leaders.

    But I would hold back from putting 14 or 16 year-olds in adult SS classes. They have different concerns and a different way of dealing with rading and the application of abstract concepts. Also, giving callings, except to exceptional 16-18 year-olds, isn’t fair. (Although YM / YW group presentations to primary sharing time are excellent.) Youth should still be primarily receivers who also give.

    And this issue is very different in other countries, where required military service, more (or less) demanding educational systems, different economic realities, less reliance on private transport and differences in driving (and drinking) ages change the landscape considerably.

  35. Ray on August 24, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Well said, Norbert.

  36. maria on August 24, 2007 at 2:37 am

    I take a 13 year old YW with me every month to do my visiting teaching–my assigned companion is a flake and this particular YW could really use the one-on-one time.

    In general, I think giving both the YM and YW home/visiting teaching assignments where they are expected to teach lessons, check up on families, etc. is a good idea. I know that my junior VT companion has grown (spiritually, socially) since we started doing visits together.

  37. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 3:41 am

    #14 A student who cheated? You have students who actually do the work at least in some form?

    Actually, I’m just being facetious TDM. The over-protection issue is very germaine to the issue Adam raises. Especially the kind of over-protection you highlight in the cheating case, where the protection is absolute to the point of protecting the young from development because it poses risks.

    #34 Norbert, I welcome your point about tone. I didn’t mean to say that adolescence was a wholesale “capitalist plot”, but merely that consumerism “partially” contributed to the teenagerism of people in their 20s.

    I suppose, upon reflection, I was really aiming at the idea that the ‘adult’ world often sets a dreadful example for young people and one can imagine them thinking ‘why would I want to grow up and be like them’. The adult world is one in which so often we are absorbed with “the idea about the thing” rather than “the thing itself”, and where, in Ella Fitzgerald’s words “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, as phoney as can be”. The transition from the directness and open-ness of childhood to some kind of adult accomodation with these realities is a terribly difficult journey to make. And as the world grows so complex it even proves overwhelming for adults, that intermediate development stage of adolescence is one during which a lot has to be accomplished. Much sympathy and good-hearted assistance is due to our young people largely because we’re handing them a world we ourselves had often done little to improve.

  38. Norbert on August 24, 2007 at 4:49 am

    Kyle R: Very well-stated. I completely agree and feel strongly about that issue. It comes up in my classroom on a regular basis, and I constantly see kids struggling with their own loss of idealism while looking for models of adults who have retained theirs. We owe them that, and, as you say, ‘sympathy and good-hearted assistance.’

    I wrote a post about the relationship between teenagers and adults a little while ago that might be relevant.

  39. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 5:16 am

    Yes, I’ll certainly read your post later this afternoon as I’m off to a meeting just now.

    I would just add for now that idealism is a tricky matter. Our best ideals have to somehow strike a balance between retaining their core principles and faith while remaining ‘realistic’ enough to usefully and helpfully apply in a constantly shifting landscape of reference points in our mundane and infinitely perplexing day-to-day lives.. There are two risks. One is that idealism is simply lost and replaced by cynicism (which is usually all the more bitter the more fervent the original idealism). The second risk is that idealism calcifies into perfectionalism, which is to say, intolerance.

  40. Norbert on August 24, 2007 at 6:21 am

    Kyle R: Very true, which is why they need real examples who can speak of the difficulty, successes and failures of striking the balance honestly and openly.

  41. John Mansfield on August 24, 2007 at 7:20 am

    Viewing youth as apprentice adults rather than old children will be quite a change in direction. See for example, Senator Clinton’s proposed foreclosure bailout of those poor wee souls who just didn’t understand the implications of signing a mortgage.

  42. Sonnet on August 24, 2007 at 7:38 am

    So what’s wrong with adolescence?

  43. Peter LLC on August 24, 2007 at 8:01 am

    those poor wee souls who just didn’t understand the implications of signing a mortgage.

    But whose ignorance helped prop up “economic prosperity” that much longer. Or were these knuckleheads bringing guns to the bank to help create favorable signing conditions?

    I submit that foolishness knows no bounds, including age, maturity, intelligence or economic status. Or is such a statement a sign of lost idealism replaced by cynicism? Whoops!

  44. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 8:03 am

    #38 A great exercise in your post Norbert. I was struck by If you ask a question, ask to receive an answer, not to make a point. I’ll considered myself wisely advised by young people on that score and keep an eye on my own tendency to sometimes use rhetorical questions as a prop for closed-minded assertions.

    Regarding honesty with young people. I’ve discovered as a father to be completely honest with my daughter because she sees through anything else in any case.

  45. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Also, our concept of adolescence, when meaningfully applied, is not just a capitalist plot — it is a response to research that the brain is not completely formed until the late teens, or even early twenties.

    Agreed that adolescence isn’t just a plot, but our modern idea of adolescence started in the 40s and 50s and the brain research you’re talking about dates to the last few years.

  46. John Mansfield on August 24, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Transition from child to adult over a period of years is not a modern invention. Consider Jesus beginning his ministry at thirty, for example. Unproductiveness during that transition, doing no more than prepare for the future, would have been previously inconceivable and and unsustainable, however. It’s may not be sustainable now, either. Mark Steyn had an interesting article linking diminishing fertility with adolesence becoming a never-ending life-long condition.

  47. bbell on August 24, 2007 at 10:08 am


    Yes. He and I have had several discussions mostly one-sided from me about getting jobs this summer but the time has passed and off to school he goes.

  48. Mark IV on August 24, 2007 at 10:09 am

    those poor wee souls who just didn’t understand the implications of signing a mortgage.

    I agree with your overall point, John M., but let’s not forget those poor, wee banks who always get bailed out when they offer mortgages or credit cards to people who aren’t credit worthy.

  49. queuno on August 24, 2007 at 11:08 am

    I don’t mind teenagers acting like teenagers. For young Mormon males, the transition to adulthood really comes at 19, with serving a mission, which marks the transition fairly clearly. Which is why I always bristled when people would treat missionary service as just the next step in the youth program.

    Please, no! I’m almost a couple of decade removed from my mission, but the transition to adulthood needs to occur BEFORE one’s mission. Or else you have missionaries like me who spent their entire 2 years babysitting those who had no idea why they were there and how to take care of themselves.

    For young Mormon males, by age 17-18, they need to be in the home stretch of going on a mission. If they go to a year of college, that’s icing on the cake.

    I know many wards who use the priests as unofficial ward missionaries (accompany a pair of ward missionaries or the elders to create a threesome).

    I agree with the thoughts of making them more responsible for the youth program. That’s how it was when I was a youth — our leaders helped us through the process of running the quorums and classes ourselves.

    As to bbell’s example of the YM not doing anything — shouldn’t we blame their parents a wii bit? (pun intended)

  50. queuno on August 24, 2007 at 11:10 am

    I agree with your overall point, John M., but let’s not forget those poor, wee banks who always get bailed out when they offer mortgages or credit cards to people who aren’t credit worthy.

    As long as we’re willing to get consumers go under, we need to be willing to let banks and airlines and other companies go under…

  51. queuno on August 24, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Which is why I always bristled when people would treat missionary service as just the next step in the youth program.

    Maybe what we really need to do is treat youth as the first step to the missionary program.

    I include boys and girls in that comment (but I realize I’ll get in trouble with the “don’t let girls go on missions” crowd).

  52. John Mansfield on August 24, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Since Peter LLC, Mark IV, and queuno, bring it up, I should make it known that I agree with them about not bailing out lenders either. The mortgage company bankruptcies so far give me a little hope that won’t happen. Aside from whether debt relief is a good idea or not, what struck me about Clinton and Edwards is their infantilizing characterization of borrowers that if they are facing trouble now, they must not have understood what they were doing when they borrowed. I think Hubert Humphrey could have proposed a relief program without making the targets of the relief sound so incompetent.

  53. queuno on August 24, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    True, John, but I think you could make a legitimate case that so many of the targets of the relief *are* incompetent.

    Take the youth that bbell describes (not the specific youth, but the type) — would you have any hope that they would be able to understand the mortgage and personal budgetary process well enough to stay out of trouble? When all you’ve done is have Mom and Dad bail you out, what happens when you get upside-down on your payments … and they’re not around to help anymore? Whether or not we should now help them is an open question I won’t address — but I don’t think it’s necessary *wrong* for Clinton and Edwards to infantilize the borrowers, when in many repects they *are* infants.

    A good friend (bishop) commented that he’d like to take a lot of adults in his ward and make them repeat the Scouting program, with particular emphasis on the personal development merit badges (Personal Finance, etc.). I guess we should be grateful our current Church leadership has leaned on the Scouting program (at least for boys) as a way to try to instill some adult values and practices.

  54. bbell on August 24, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    In the two cases I mentioned Queno its clearly the kids fault for being lazy. Its what they want to do. Both kids have really good sets of parents who cannot force adults (OK granted 18-20 year olds) to work.

    I am 100% confident that both of them will do fine in life I just wish they had gained some valuable life experience by working and seeing how the world operates a bit prior to their missions.

  55. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Both kids have really good sets of parents who cannot force adults (OK granted 18-20 year olds) to work.

    My father made it clear that if I wanted to continue eating and sleeping on his dime, I was going to get a job.

  56. queuno on August 25, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Agreeing with Adam on this … someone has to be funding these boy’s Internet access, video games, food, gas for the car, clothes, etc.


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