The Winding Road is Jeffrey Jensen Arnett name for the period from the late teens through the twenties.    Arnett sees emerging adults (as he calls them) identifying three  cornerstones for becoming an adult:  accepting responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions , and becoming financially independent.  If he is right, then a bit of consensus is beginning to emerge for an cultural “marker” that would identify adulthood.  Years ago, I saw a study that looked at close to 20 possible markers in our culture (everything from driver’s license to voting  to marriage).  The question was asked “When in our culture are you considered an adult?”  The winner was financial independence….with only about 17% percent!

If you have crossed that threshold already, when did you consider yourself an adult?

Tomorrow I am part of a panel at a local high school to talk to parents, teachers and other friends of adolescents about staying connected to teens as they move along  this “winding road.”  You, reader, are a rich resource.  I have already listened to my college students and my  children.  I have reflected on what I have learned through study and experience.  The crowning piece would be to add your voice to my preparation!

Now or later, your thoughts on the following would be appreciated:

  • What should parents do/not do to stay connected with their teens?
  • How do parents keep the bond strong while making space for Arnett’s three cornerstones to be established?
  • What are some of the best ways for the faith community to support families?
  • What is the role of doubt…and failure…and risk?

Thanks in advance for joining the conversation!

  1. April says:

    I’m sure it’s been said and it is stating the obvious but what should parents do and how should parents keep the bond strong? Listen, listen, listen! Not being a parent I can only speak as a daughter but the thing that my mother so gracefully was she stopped giving advice as I got older (unless I asked) and she listened to me and she prayed with me. My dad is one who lectures and he never did listen and I think for me, it was a huge factor is disconnectedness from which our relationship has never recovered.

    Listen, love, and pray with, don’t judge.

    • halhamilton says:

      Thank you, April. I led with your quote and some from my students at Oklahoma Wesleyan. My friend, Scott French from Kirk of the Hills, was with me on the panel and followed up with some great practical tips on how to listen and not react. Parents really appreciated the hours we spent with them.

  2. I definitely agree that becoming financially independent is key to becoming an adult – for me it happened when I graduated from college at 22. Once I was paying my own way, my choices had much more immediate and tangible consequences. I learned a lot of things that I thought I wanted weren’t really worth it, and I took greater pride in the things I had.

    Obviously this is all from the point of a view of a daughter and not a mother, but I agree with April that the biggest things a parent can do to stay connected is listen and reserve judgment! Don’t offer advice unless asked and try your best to respect your kid’s choices. I can only imagine how hard it is for parents who have been setting the rules for 18 years to step back and let their kid stand on their own – but it is so important to let them try! My parents did it right and we are still close now that I’m in my mid-20s. If you’re supporting them through college, give them the money they will need for a month or a semester and let them manage how it should be budgeted. It’s a great trial run for being financially independent.

    Two huge things come to mind right away when I think about what a church or community can do to support “emerging adults”: prayer and care packages! It meant so much to me when I received a package from my church while at college several hours away from home. It wasn’t anything too fancy, but my favorite part was definitely the handwritten notes from church members saying they were praying and thinking of me.

    Apparently I had a lot to say on this topic! Sorry to be so long winded but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.

    • halhamilton says:

      Thanks, Megan! We do care packages here too and they are a hit. We have enough college students that the postage gets its own line in the budget. Good word about the personal notes. It seems like financial independence incorporates decision-making and general autonomy in a way that almost nothing else does. And it is a significant achievement, no matter the state of the economy. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Patrick Duff says:

    Hey Hal,

    I truly felt like an adult when I took on civic responsibility. Part of this was registering to vote, but the main cornerstone for me was when I filled out my selective service card. It was sobering for me to realize that I must be an adult now if I’m old enough to sign up to potentially die for my country.

    I think culture signals independence as the milestone of when one reaches adulthood, but I agree with what Sharon Daloz Parks writes in her book “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams.” (I highly recommend the book, Hal!) She argues for an intermediate stage (young adulthood) between adolescence and adulthood. Thus, the progression goes from dependence (adolescence) to independence (young adulthood) to inter-dependence (adulthood).

    I think that a parent’s job is not to promote independence (or even inter-dependence) but to promote individuation in his/her child – that is, to recognize, encourage and empower one’s child to accept his/her value as a beloved child of God and divine image-bearer and securely find his/her identity in the person of Jesus Christ.

    For me then, the sign of adulthood is to be a fully individuated and self-actualized person who cherishes and embodies the need for inter-dependence in his/her community. I think it is the role of the community to come alongside youth and young adults and walk with them through these stages. Doubt, failure and risk are going to be necessary parts of this process. One cannot move from dependence to independence without doubting and challenging the structures on which one was dependent. Similarly, one cannot move from indepedence to inter-dependence without experiencing the failures (and quite frankly, loneliness and isolation) of striving to be independent.

    It actually saddens me how much we as a culture (both Christian and non-Christian) place such a high value on independence. If the Trinity is a community of love and we reflect the image of God, then don’t we best reflect God’s image when we live in a community of inter-dependence and self-sacrificial love? I find this notion of vulnerability and accountability to be a very risky proposition in our culture.

    Thoughts, Hal?

  4. halhamilton says:

    This is really good, Patrick. I have not thought carefully enough about independence as an appropriate (or not) final destination for adults. I think you are dead on in your comments. And I am going to pick up this book.

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