Souls in Transition 8

Smith.jpgIn this last post on Smith and Snell’s book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults  I want to draw attention to a major, major suggestion.

What do you think we can do about the conclusions below?

The issue pertains to the presence and influence of adults on the faith of emerging adults as they transition from teenage years to adult years.
“Emerging adulthood tends to both raise the stakes on and remove social support for being seriously religious.” That is, “in the name of individual autonomy — informed here by a cultural myth that is sociologically erroneous — the usually most crucial players [parents, adults] in teenagers’ lives disengage from them precisely when they most need conversation partners to help sort through these weighty matters” (284).
“Most adolescents in fact still very badly want want the loving input and engagement of their parents … They simply want that input and engagement on renegotiated grounds that take seriously their growing maturity and desired independence” (284). 
Thus, “even as the formation of faith and life play out in the lives of 18- to 23-year-olds, when  it comes to religion, parents are in fact hugely important” (285).
This means adults, especially parents, are one of the most important factors in emerging adult faith — and our culture is urging us to “let them go” and they neither want to be let go and need for parental and adult involvement — though, and here’s the kicker — in a new way that respects the adult-ishness of the emerging adult.

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  • RJS

    in a new way that respects the adult-ishness of the emerging adult.
    Isn’t this really the key? We never stop needing other people … but the interactions has to move to one of eye-to-eye respect. When it doesn’t there will usually be problems.
    I think that parents need to make this transition intentionally – and it is hard for some. When I look back I think my parents did it well, and I hope that we do it well with our kids.

  • Rick

    Amen to this!
    One problem do I see is that many (not all) parents of teenagers get in the habit of dropping off their kids at the church and expect the youth pastor handle all the spiritual things, rather than doing much of it themselves. Therefore, now that their kids are in that 18-23 age range, and the youth pastor is no longer there to all the work, they don’t know how to start handling those things- espcially in light of their kids “adult-ishness”.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rick, I spoke with a youth pastor this week about this topic but I hadn’t thought of the implication of parents entrusting the entire formational teaching experience to the SS program and then not knowing what to do when they kids grow out of SS classes.
    One more point: parents have tended to be more “didactic” than letting God, Jesus, Bible, Church be something both parents and children are learning about.

  • Wow! I can’t wait to go pick this book up and read through it… especially this chapter.
    I understand the frustration that children and student min pastors have about parents… I do. The thing is, though, I think our frustrations influence our attitudes towards parents and blind us to the challenges they are facing. They are bombarded from all over (church and secular) that they need to be a “perfect parent.” They then either give up on the idea entirely or they turn to “experts” because they can’t be perfect. What other options have they been given by all the “parenting experts?” Instead of letting our frustrations poison our attitudes towards parents, we need to be sympathetic to the HUGE challenges they have in facilitating for formation of a human being from infancy to adulthood.
    I think the point of renegotiating the parent/child relationship is key. As kids grow, it’s not that parents need to disengage or step back. Parents need to change their interactions and not slowly let go of their relationship with their child. They need to transition slow to that of a peer-to-peer relationship as they get older. (I’m sure there is a better way to describe that, but the point remains.)
    I completely agree, Scot, that when dealing with kids we tend to be didactic in our approach whether we are parents or ministers or mentors. We need to be able to learn alongside children. We also need to be able to learn from them and not discount the experiences they have with God. Many times adults unintentionally make kids’ experiences with God cute or funny. We even are too quick to correct “mistaken theology.” We need to allow some more room for the Holy Spirit to work in both our lives and the lives of our children and the children we have some influence over. There is a huge wealth of information about spiritual formation of children out there that we simply overlook or ignore because those of us “in the trenches” see all that stuff as too heady or irrelevant or not practical enough. We need to engage the spiritual formation experts (when it comes to kids) and learn from their insights.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    It’s a sometimes-clumsy process learning to figure out how to avoid the extremes of withdrawl/abdication and smothering/helicopter-parenting in our relationships with these emerging adults. The “input and engagement on renegotiated grounds” is not the default setting in our society – or, for that matter, for most of us parents. It is not only our emerging adult children that need mentors to walk with them through these years of transition – most of us parents could use a mentor who has been there to to teach us the art of renegotiating these core relationships.

  • Peggy

    I’m working through a book manuscript with my major ministry mentor and it has got me thinking about parenting (especially since I have a teenager now!) … and I believe the challenge as our children grow toward being adults and followers of Christ is to acknowledge that our relationship is moving from parent/guardian/caretaker to brother or sister in Christ.
    Once an adult believer, the “legal authority” that goes with responsibility for a minor is to be replaced with a growing sense of mutuality as older sibling. While we will never stop being their “parent”, in terms of being the one who bore and nurtured them in their youth and all the shared experiences of that process, we will serve them better in their maturity if we show them that we are all followers of Jesus under the “parenting” of God the Father.
    This raises the bar for adult Christ-followers to actually put down attempts to control or dominate and embrace the servant nature that Jesus showed us. Something that I would like to see more of….
    This basic undermining of patriarchal entitlement is really core to the counter-cultural thrust of Jesus’ message … and it still hasn’t sunk in. Too many want to hold on to the power/honor/control and don’t want to let go and let God be Father … of us all.

  • Chris Smith

    Thanks, Scot, for your public engagement with my book. I hope it was helpful to all involved.