Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 6)

What does it mean to be an adult?

Is it an arbitrary age? I remember my professor in an adolescent psychology class going through the various ages when we could, perhaps, be considered adults. At 13, you lose the discount at movie theaters and theme parks for being a "child." At 16, you can drive a car and get a job. At 17, you can see an R-rated movie by yourself. At 18, you can smoke, vote, and join the military. At 21, you can purchase and drink alcohol. And finally, at 25, you can rent a vehicle without financial penalty. (Car rental is our ultimate cultural marker for adulthood?)

In chapter 6 of Teen 2.0, Epstein and fellow researcher Diane Dumas created a list of 14 competencies of adulthood. They designed a test and gave it to 100 adults and 100 teens (you can take the test yourself here at Turns out that teens and adults are, for the most part, equal in competency for 9 of the 14 competencies, with teens being slightly less competent in the other five.

So do teens truly have the potential to be as competent as adults? The results seem to point that way, yet it's understandable to be skeptical about the findings. How many junior high students would consider themselves capable of adult reasoning, decision-making, and responsibility? Epstein administered a second test, asking adults to respond to a list of 24 behaviors after being asked the question, "in your opinion, do many young people (from age thirteen to seventeen) have the potential to behave in the following ways?" Epstein notes that the question isn't about whether or not young people all do these currently, but whether they have the potential to do them. Here's what he found:
The average adult appears to think pretty poorly of teens. Out of a possible high score of twenty-four, the means score on this test was 11.4. In other words, on a percentage basis, our adults gave teens a score of 48 percent--a failing grade for sure. (pg. 159)
Epstein suggests that there is a different between our performance and our competency, suggesting that just because someone doesn't currently perform in a certain way doesn't mean they are incapable of that action or attitude. It's a bit of a humanistic proposition, suggesting that teens have innate qualities that simply need to be released to blossom and flourish, if only our societal system would embrace the notion.

In my own church context, we're seeing that young people might, in fact, be more capable than adults when it comes to discipleship and service. For the our summer events this year, the vast majority of volunteers have been junior high, high school, and college students. In my own junior high ministry, out of eighteen adult volunteers, thirteen are under the age of 25. Our lead pastor once said in a sermon highlighting the vision of our church that "without our young people, our church simply wouldn't function." That's a beautiful statement, but one that still doesn't resonate with many of the adults in our community. Even for myself, I was hired as the junior high director at age 23, leading a junior high ministry of nearly 100 students. It was a sizable risk for any church, and I have to applaud our church leadership for taking that risk on me.

Take the test at How'd you score as an adult? When did you begin to consider yourself an "adult?"

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