The Age of Adolescence: Peter Pan Syndrome in a Free Society

Video games - adolescenseI’m about one week late to the Web frenzy surrounding The New York Times Magazine’s most recent piece on “emerging adulthood.” I had a variety of reactions to the article (both positive and negative), but I wasn’t interested in saying much until I read Mark Driscoll’s provocative article in The Washington Post (“The world is filled with boys who can shave”).

The Times piece focuses on today’s ”emerging adults” and tries to answer why so many are taking so long to reach adulthood. Driscoll seems to accept most of the article’s root analysis, but he uses it more as a launching pad for his own discussion of adolescence as it relates to today’s young men.

As Driscoll explains:

Historically, a guy would go through two life phases: boy, then man…But here’s what’s happened. Rather than moving from boy to man by this succession of sociological transitions, we’ve created something called adolescence…

Today, adolescence starts somewhere in the teen years and continues indefinitely. There is no foreseeable end. The problem with adolescence is guys don’t know when they’re ever going to grow up and be men, and no pressure is exerted on them to do so.

Driscoll goes on to label this trend a “Peter Pan Syndrome epidemic” in which “men want to be boys forever.”

For me, as a twenty-something who has (hopefully) completed the transition through modern-day adolescence, it’s hard to deny the reality of what Driscoll is describing. It was always difficult to identify the exact time I was supposed to “grow up,” whether I was making decisions about my education, my (future) marriage, or my career. I wouldn’t say I was in a constant state of confusion, but the closer I came to college graduation, the more I felt the temptation to dilly-dally for the rest of my twenties. Let’s just say that the idea of delaying the inevitable was always as compelling as it was feasible.

But what’s wrong with taking a little extra time to make important decisions? Isn’t it a good thing that we now have the luxury of postponing our adulthood? Why not seize this as an opportunity to explore our possibilities and live life to the fullest?

These are good questions, and I think the answers are different for everyone. As with most things, there is no one-size-fits-all path to manhood. However, as far as Driscoll is concerned, the primary problem is that most men are not exploiting such modern-day conveniences in the ways they should.

First, Driscoll diagnoses adolescent men in the world (i.e. non-Christians) as “childish consumers”:

The marketing sweet spot for many companies is young men ages eighteen to thirty-four. These guys don’t know what it means to be a man, and so marketers fill the void with products that define manhood by what you consume rather than what you produce.

Second, he diagnoses adolescent men in the church as “cowards and complainers”:

A buddy of mine calls them evangellyfish because they have no backbone. They don’t declare a major, church, theology, or fiancé. They don’t want to fail and they think if they don’t try, then they can’t fail. And by definition, that’s a failure.

They are, however, endowed with the spiritual gift of complaining. They say, “I hate the church. The church just wants my money.” As if the church wants his futon, Xbox, light beer, and computer filled with free Internet porn.

But why are we seeing such a drastic transformation? There are plenty of factors at work, but on the surface, it seems that the great cause of all this temptation toward idleness is liberty.

Thanks to scientific, economic, and political progress, we have created an entirely new world — one in which we can do much more with much less. From the bread we buy to the careers we pursue, we have more control over our life decisions than previous generations, particularly because we have more options.

But alas, our free society is not the culprit. It is only the messenger.

If our culture were ever truly stable, shouldn’t all of these adolescent individuals be making the “right” choices regardless of the worldly distractions? After all, the challenge of living in a world filled with consumer temptations and safety nets is that we are called to something higher (or beyond). Indeed, with the right motivations (and let’s not forget, the proper justification), such distractions can be transformed into assets to our individual missions — both in earthly and heavenly capacities.

For me, this is the most important thing to understand about Driscoll’s point. Humans have always been tempted to go off course, and coming-of-age boys are no exception. Regardless of our socio-economic dispositions, we all will be tempted to do what is most valuable or convenient for us, and we must constantly fight to overcome such perspectives and instead align our hearts and minds to God’s will. Only then will men be able to assume their proper roles, which Driscoll describes in his closing paragraph:

Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer. Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.

Although Driscoll does not specifically mention the role of political freedom in each man’s journey, his solution points to what is arguably the most defining characteristic of any prosperous society — creativity.

But remember, the creativity and ingenuity we are looking for should be a natural byproduct of individual devotion with God. If we fail to recognize the source of our success, we are doomed to dwindle into a consumeristic oblivion, and we will deserve it.

(Note: The image above is provided by 27335337@N05 / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  • Remnant Culture

    New post on male adolescence and liberty: "Peter Pan Syndrome in a Free Society." (h/t @tweetsel84) #tcot #tlot #Christian

  • Remnant Culture

    @PastorMark I took sort of an odd spin on your WaPo piece on adolescence. Thought you may be interested:

  • Joseph Sunde

    My thoughts on boyhood, manhood, and adolescence in a free society.

  • Anon

    There's one line in your article that I didn't understand what you meant:
    “Driscoll diagnoses adolescent men in the world (i.e. non-Christians) as “childish consumers””

    What is the part about non-Christians referring to? When talking about childish consumers, that's a very American trait these days, and a good portion of America is Christian. I don't see how this depends on religion at all, more on culture related to the person's current stage in life.

  • Remnant Culture

    It's a good question, and one I had when reading his article. I'm not sure why Driscoll divides it up the way he does, because I'm sure he would agree that men in the church assume the same consumeristic traits as “men in the world.” One problem I had with the article was how it oversimplifies things and “buckets” men like this, but I think he may just be doing it for effect and/or to be provocative (Driscoll tends to do that). I think it may have been hyperbole to an extent. Otherwise it may be that being a pastor, he must see something that typically overlaps or sometimes overtakes that “worldly” approach in the church (the “cowardly” thing).

    Then again, maybe by “world” he just meant the more common approach among men, but from my experience, that's not typically what evangelicals mean by “in the world” or “of the world.” I was trying to translate what Driscoll meant for those who aren't used to such language, but if you get something different out of what he's pointing to in the article itself, I'd be interested.

  • Reyjacobs

    Here is what has produced this:

    1) Religion that declares God to be an unjust tyrant.
    2) Girls becoming whores more than in any other generation
    3) Economic unrest

    Those who have any brains don’t want to settle down and have a family in unsure economic times. Plus they don’t want to marry a whore who’s just going to cheat on them, divorce them, and take half their money. And the one place that should prevent girls from becoming whores, the church, cares nothing about morality. It only cares about abstract dogma (or mythology), ceremony, and your money (yes, it loves those tithes). But what does it do about producing women who would actually make good wives? who would be content to stay home with their husbands rather than go out to the club with their girlfriends and dance with some other man in a half drunken libidinous stupour?

    The reality is, in a way, this not growing up is Marcionism. The world sucks. It must have been created by an evil god. Sex is evil. Bringing children into the world is evil, either because the world is evil (because god is a tyrant who wants to condemn everyone to hell over little meaningless dogmas and ceremonies, or also because of a mix of this and the economic crisis).

    If the church would teach a good God, a decent and moral God, a just God, they could cut half of this, or two thirds, out. It might not solve the economic crisis, but just maybe Christian women would stop being whore (hence men would be more likely to want to settle down with one and have a family) and if the church taught a God who wasn’t “walking about as a rouring lion seeking whom he may devour” (in other words a God who wasn’t a clone of the devil) then maybe they wouldn’t think “why should I get married and bring a kid into this world just so an evil God can damn him to hell for something small like not perfectly understanding the Trinity?”

    But insulting them and saying they are selfish, whiners, crybaby’s, etc. is just going to PROVE their point. The church does suck. Everytime it messes up and teaches something unjust and evil, resulting in people complaining or leaving, it puts the blame on them and says they have some evil motive or they’re just lazy or stupid or whatever. Its always ragging on its members, and then when they leave, or complain, it blames them with more attacks on them. THE REAL QUESTION IS: *****When will the church grow up?**** The church is like a kid in the playground poking fun at everyone else for no apparent reason, smacking other kids on the head and saying “nananabooboo.”

  • Reyjacobs

    “Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him.”

    But the church portrays him as destroying. Walking about seeking whom he can unjustly devour for the smallest mistake in dogmas (e.g. a minor misunderstanding on Christology) or ceremony. The church presents him as an implacable tyrant, and who wants to bring children into the world simply so they can face an implacable tyrant who wants to burn them in hell for all eternity? IF the church REALLY believed that God was creator and CULTIVATOR rather than nitpicky tyrant devil-clone, things would be MUCH different.

    “Create a family and cultivate your wife and children.”

    By constantly telling them they are worthless dirt who can do nothing right (as God does his children through the church) and beg them to pay you more tithe. If the church presented God as a Father rather than a nut, if the church on God’s behalf treated us as God’s children rather than as if we weren’t even human, if it ceased to tell us we are worth nothing to God but to be cast into hell, that we are as low as dung and other such-like phrase it is wont to use (especially in Calvinist circles) then maybe men would want to have wives and children. But since the Heavenly Father has been such a bad example (or rather the church has grossly blasphemed him for 2000 years, even in Scripture itself) what do you expect?

    “Create a ministry and cultivate other people.”

    Instead of shooting other people in your imaginary Xbox land where it doesn’t harm them at all, take to a pulpit and assassinate their mental health. Tell them they are worthless scum who deserve nothing but to burn in eternity in hell (even though its not possible they’ve done anything that bad) and that they can’t do anything right, that they were born evil and are children of Satan, and so and so on. Right, because that sure is much better for society. I’d rather all the preachers (Calvinists especially) abandon their pulpits and go buy an Xbox. At least when they’re shooting imaginary soldiers on Call of Duty they’d be doing less harm to soceties moral climate than they do when they preach the devil’s doctrine of justification by faith alone which lowers society’s morals to ZERO then to NEGATIVE 50 billion.

    “Create a business and cultivate it.”

    So you can take more tithe?

    “Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer.”

    Funny for a MINISTER who lives off of handouts in the form of tithes, who does not actually work and produces nothing, but merely regurgitates doctrines invented in the middles ages, to say.

    “Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.”

    I think by bucking church tradition and not being pawns to your Calvinist ideology they’ve already abandoned the path of least resistance (which is being an assenting pewbie) and have done something to the glory of God–rejected your false ideology.

  • Reyjacobs

    “….that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.”

    And interestingly enough, since some of this tirade is about getting married and having children, according to the church, Jesus didn’t do either of those things. (Have the Calvinist ministers started believing Dan Brown or something???) But Jesus did buck the teachings of the religious leaders of his day and have the same sort of tirades directed against him as these guys are getting directed against them by the almighty Calvinist religious leaders.

  • Brittani Usherraymondjustinbie

    I’m pretty sure I have this but I’m female hhaha,,,,um and 19. Does that count if I’m technincally still a teenager? won’t be in like 8 months :( ((((