Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The culture of unending youth

Today I was reading an article called, "The Perpetual Adolescent" In which the author, Joseph Epstein describes a younger attitude amongst our western culture. He maliciously outlined some culture trends and celebrity profiles in which he notes that there is a younger feel to today's world than there ever has been before.  He then indicates that when describing youth it is no longer a label of a transitional state of ones life.  It seems that we have found the fountain of youth after all. Or is it just a refusal to grow up?

As a youth worker I have sought to become more of a professional in my field by research the history of youth culture in our society.  I would say worldwide but in area outside what we would consider "western" there really is no youth culture.  People move from child to adult.  To be old and to bear gray hair is a sign of wisdom and respect that is absent in our culture today.  So in western history I think that starting at the end of world war 2 there was a segment of young soldiers that wanted to prevent the world from entering into another period of strife and global violence.  So they targeted what they saw as the "next generation" of society and so organizations such as the one I work for(Youth For Christ) was born. Never before had this particular age range been isolated before.  And while their were some tremendous advantages to helping stir the hearts and souls of this passionate age group.  Segmenting them from the rest of culture caused a divide that has increased throughout the decades.

I'm not trying to say that these events were unimportant.  They were important.  However the divide grew and soon youth needed regular contact that the rallies could not support and so soon youth workers were working within the high school environmental.  They basically set up clubs for kids to get support in their trials and faith issues.  In the 80's and 90's the trend became to open youth centers that would address only the needs of those in the transitional state.  Now we are in a decade into the 21 century and youth are not making the transition into adulthood.  Maybe because their parents never did as well.  A lot of the youth I work with have parents that seem less mature than they are.  I wish I was kidding, but sometimes I have felt like I'm counseling the parents more than the youth. Our organization has recently expanded our official age range from 13-18 to 10-24 because the kids we make connections with cant seem to move into other areas of faith and find belonging.

So I suppose that I agree that the age of youth is expanding into the unforeseeable future.  However I still think of it as a transitional state, however the problem is that there seems to be nothing to transition into.  So every few years we have a new generation that is incompatible with all the previous ones and no one knows what it means to be an adult.  Other than at a certain age they can buy smokes, pornography, booze and be charged as an adult. 

That is why I think the answer is not more things that cater to the youth, but actually help them reconnect with culture in a way that is meaningful and memorable.  A way of showing eachother that we are all quite similar and that there is a rite of passage for those that seek to become adults.  Problem is that seeing as many of us even as youth workers have grown up in this system so it is like a one eyed man leading the blind.  Maybe we can help people find their destination after all.
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