Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adultescents: The Growing Epidemic

Adultescent? What the heck? Frankly, I'd only heard of the word last week at a conference in Portland, but apparently it's been around since 2004, well, at least the word has. I'm sure there were other less friendly labels used for such people before then. Yet, why was this word created? Well, NY Times gives an interesting look at it. Surely, statistically we see that there's some kind of phenomenon happening here, for better of or worse, something's happening. For those of you that didn't click on the link and are still wondering what an adultescent is, simply put, it's a kid in an adult body, or one other way of thinking of it is someone who just doesn't grow up. As you might have gathered from my title, there are a growing number of these types of people, and frankly, I find it to be a problem.
While the word adultescent may be somewhat novel to me, the concept in and of itself isn't. Incidentally, I was browsing through Facebook and one of my friends had posted (some time ago) that I found somewhat intriguing. It was an article discussing women lamenting men who didn't grow up and how it seemed they always were dating boys (yes a dating article). When I read it, I started to ponder somewhat. Eventually, I came to the same conclusion that above linked NY Times article came to, a lot of times, we don't need to anymore. While I don't think this phenomenon is limited to men, that is a discussion neither for here nor there, what we should consider though is how it got to this point.

I believe the core of this growing issue is simply this: we no longer understand the concept of consequences. Sure, we may have heard the cliched saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch." But in reality, how many young people these days truly understand that point? While the NY Times article paints a very bleak picture of what an adultescent is, I believe that there are varying stages of this, just as some adolescents are more or less mature than others, the same can be said of adultescents. The key is simply this, beyond understanding the concept of consequences, people don't understand the consequences of their own actions. Rather, there is this growing mentality that if I personally do not suffer the consequences of my own actions, then it is okay.

It's not to say that we can't enjoy in some of our more childish pleasures as an adult, but with adulthood comes a certain degree of responsibility, a responsibility frankly, we aren't equipping our youth today to learn how to take. I'm sure most of us have heard of Amy Chua's controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and how an Asian parent's child-rearing technique surpasses those of her Western counterpart. However, let's consider closely both. What does it involve? More or less, getting them into a good college. Which, as a parent isn't a bad goal to have, no, in fact, it is a very good one. Yet, traditional education and extracurriculum are not sufficient for rearing a well-adjusted adult. As beneficial piano lessons are they are not going to teach me how to feed myself living alone. Advanced calculus and trigonometry does not help me learn how to balance my checkbook or manage my finances. All the Shakespeare in the world isn't going to help me learn how to find an apartment or manage my bills. Yet how come it is, that's all we really care about? You put a child in an unsupervised environment and a child is going to do what he/she wants to do, be it video games or texting with friends or watching television, maybe even reading. We're so focused on making sure our children don't waste their lives on Halo that we make them waste their lives on classical music. Let me give you an example. As a child I took piano lessons, I had one lesson every week during the school year, which let's say peters out to about 40 weeks. On average, each lesson was approximately 90 minutes. During that time that I had lessons I would practice approximately 60 minutes each day 5 days of the week. From this particular teacher, I took lessons for 7 years. She charged approximately $50 per lesson. Trust me, this is not unreasonable. That's about 109,200 minutes (or 18,200 hours) I've spent on piano and approximately $14,000. This doesn't include the time spent going to concerts, recitals, masterclasses, and workshops, as well as the cost of transportation to above events, in addition to camps, the music itself (it's not cheap), and finally the instruments. This was just piano. I'm sure there are several children not limited to simply a single instrument (I myself through school took 5 years of cello, including a couple of years of private lessons, 1 year of clarinet, 7 years of choir, including one year of private voice lessons). This is just music. I'm pretty sure most kids will not be musicians upon entering college. We may be good, even excellent, but we won't make a living of it. Think about it, what would Amy Chua say if her child suddenly decided she wanted to be a concert pianist? I'm pretty sure they'd have a "talk".

What's my point in all of this? Does this mean that I find music lessons in the grand scheme of things to be frivolous? By no means is that what I am trying to imply. However, to me, it doesn't hurt to consider the grand scheme of things. If one is to spend so much time taking music lessons simply to have it be given up by after getting into college, I would say that it's a huge waste. For myself, while I wasn't trained specifically in aspects of church music, my piano lessons helped me become a better musician, and gave me abilities with which I hope to be able to help serve God with music. My point is simply this, I think we've become altogether far too short-sighted. As has been stated again and again, if the only reason to do something is because everyone else is doing it, the reason is pretty thin at best. I don't see any reason then, why something equally as appealing on a college application (as music or sports etc...), but also serves a greater purpose in the long-run, cannot be found. Isn't it a waste to spend so much time on something if all it determines is where you end up spending your first four years "away from home"? Not that where that is isn't important, but, when you boil it down, it's four years, the same as high school. Some people might take more, some people might take less. Still, shouldn't we have the foresight to look beyond that?

What I am proposing here is not some comprehensive 20 year plan starting from middle school, what I'm asking is that we give a little more consideration into the bigger picture. While I don't expect a middle schooler or even a high schooler to have a concrete answer as to what he/she is going to do after graduating from Harvard/Stanford (insert school of choice), but I am asking that they have at least considered it. Too often we get to somewhere and suddenly realize, now that we're there, what the heck are we supposed to do? Great, I've gotten into my dream school... now what should I major in? Even beyond that though, the question lies in who do I strive to become, because college isn't the be-all-end-all answer. You can't expect some odd number of lecture hours on calculus or applied physics or accounting or circuits or programming in C++ to really prepare you for "real life". Not to say that they aren't important, but my question is what are we doing to supplement the education of the practicalities of life, because these things aren't found in a classroom. Sure some classes may teach business etiquette, how to interview, how to get a job, but I'm talking about the basics here. More importantly, how does that show us how to become who we strive to become?

For many of us, we run head first into this brick wall of a question, what do I want to do with my life? So what about those of us that already are adultescents to some degree of the term? I'm afraid I don't have an easy answer, in fact, it may be that we just have to suffer greater growing pains now because we had not the foresight to do so in the earlier years of our lives. What we could have spent our youth and college years gradually acclimating now must be realized as a harsh reality in the short time of our mid-twenties. It's a difficult process, but the sooner off we start at it the better off we are in the long run.

My challenge remains the same, it is to ask and to seek the answer to the question, what do I want to do with my life? To me, the answer obviously lies beyond what physical aspirations I have. As I would hope that a high school student has a greater goal than getting into MIT or Yale, I would hope that those of us reaching this question later in life (and even high school students) that it would be something greater than to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc... or even to work at some prestigious company. I believe that the above asked question can be summarily rephrased in another way, what kind of person do I strive to become? Certainly, I would hope that a doctor from Duke or a lawyer from Columbia (as examples) would be included in that, but that cannot be it, otherwise we live a vain and futile existence. Some might answer, I want to be a good person. Which essentially isn't really an answer at all. We're already people so essentially all that answer is saying is, I want to be good, but at good what? A good doctor? A good lawyer? A good criminal? Good in what context. Likewise for us Christians, a lot of times our answer is, I want to be a good Christian. Which has the appearance of answer my question but really doesn't. Like the word "good", the word "Christian" needs to be taken as a modifier, not an object. So, in short, we ask, a good Christian what? Christianity cannot be separated from the context of life. Thus we must then take this overly broad statement and affix it to our original "short-sighted" goals to create balance, I want to be a good Christian lawyer (or doctor or whatever profession you aspire to be). The difference can be subtle, but it is patently different from being a Christian who happens to practice law. That in and of itself changes the question then that we must pursue, from who do I aspire to be? to what does a good Christian (insert profession or vocation) look like? And I hope that we would all continue to seek out the answer to that.

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