Don’t Waste Your College: An Essay on Adolescence

The American college experience occupies a vaunted place in the mind of many an adolescent.  College, overworked high schoolers assure themselves, will be a place of freedom, experimentation, video games, and goofing off.  And that’s just in class.

The system of delayed adulthood or prolonged adolescence or unmitigated disaster (choose whatever term suits your fancy) is by now a part of American culture.  It starts young.  Parents baby their children, allowing them to live luxe lives at home, chores and work and duress a thing of the bygone past.  They give them all kinds of gadgets and diversions to stave off their ever-shortening attention spans.  Kids are expected to be immature and silly.  This is true even in churches.  You don’t train them sit through church–perish the thought!–but rather entertain them during the most serious and needed hour in the week.  As a parent, you tolerate all sorts of backtalk and laziness and worldliness, which leads into high school, where it is assumed (stupidly) that children should hate their parents, work even harder than before to avoid responsibility, and learn from their equally immature and uninformed peers.  All this leads to the beulah land of college, where whatever surly bonds of constraint remain are slipped off in pursuit of hedonistic excess and childlike gratification.  As Diana West and others have essentially said, we are training our children to be, well, children.

All of which makes me grateful for Alex Chediak’s superlative Thriving at College: Make Great Friends, Keep Your Faith, and Get Ready for the Real World! (Tyndale, 2011).  Chediak is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Physics at California Baptist University, a school that in my experience turns out some great students.  He has written about courtship, and he has a great blog that you should check out.  Thriving at College is written to counter precisely the kind of culture I’ve just ranted about.  In my humble estimation, it succeeds on all counts.

There honestly is too much to cover here.  I told Alex in an email after receiving this book that if I had my druthers, I would buy 1000 copies of this book and give them out to every college student or will-be college student I know.  That’s not endorsement bluster; I mean those words.  Alex emphasizes Christ-centered responsibility, hard work, and planning throughout.  He gives excellent spiritual advice for young students who have been trained in Christian homes and may meet with ideas counter to their faith.  He sets forth in compelling, compassionate prose the need for young men and women to pursue marriage, though not as an end in itself.

Here’s a snatch on time management that shows Alex’s blend of wise biblical counsel and personal care:

For starters, your parents shouldn’t remind you when to study, sleep, wake up, read your Bible, exercise, or eat.  You’d be insulted if they did!  They can encourage you in these areas if necessary, but the actual implementation and balance is something young adults must own from day one of college.  Remember, whatever you don’t rule will rule you.  This is equally true for those still living at home, though in that case adult children need to be respectful of any household rules their parents deem appropriate (such as a curfew or a requirement to eat dinner with the family on occasion).  Parents’ house, parents’ rules. (124)

This is the kind of sane, wise advice that populates Thriving at College.  There’s loads of it in the book.  To help students avoid the vagaries of delayed adulthood–a state I’m proud to note that many of my Boyce College students are skipping–buy them this book and work through it with them.  That’s the funny thing about the text–in the end, it’s not really just about college.  It’s about a life of Christocentric virtue accomplished through attention to biblical wisdom.  Taking dominion for the glory of the Savior who took dominion of our lives–this, and not more wasted time and wimpy expectations, is what our youth need.

  • BC

    Owen,
    Your comments strike me as somewhat off and not the most accurate description of contemporary collegiate life. See, for example, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/business/economy/19grads.html?hp.

    There are, of course, many temptations for the college student, but American universities do a good job, I think, of reminding students that they believe in the work ethic.

  • owenstrachan

    To be sure, the recession has sobered some folks up. No doubt. And every college will have a corps of students who works hard in pursuit of serious things. But in my humble opinion, the point stands, particularly at the massive swath of schools that do not attract super-achievers. Look at the statistics on young men and how they’re under-performing. Think about what the collegiate experience would have been like 100 years ago with character at the forefront of the educational mission. It’s easy today in many places to skate by, to never attend class and still pass, to lose yourself in excess and avoid hard realities.

    My description is not a technical analysis, to be sure. Exceptions abound. I stand by the point, however. And I challenge you to perform a test of my thesis. Ask some young college girls whether they believe their universities are encouraging young men to achieve and develop character. I can guess how they will answer, though I’ll wait to see your field results.


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