Understanding Young Adults in 2015


By Peter Corney
If you want to understand what is shaping the needs, anxieties and aspirations of young adults today there are two books that are essential reading. They take you beneath the superficial features to the deep cultural forces that underlie their increasingly unhealthy emotional, relational and spiritual lives.

The first book is Anne Mannes “The Life of I – The new culture of Narcissism”, published by Melbourne University Press 2014. The first part of the book explores Narcissism as a psychological pathology on the continuum from the extremely destructive to the everyday type who regularly creates relational havoc in the workplace and home. The second part explores the social and cultural factors in contemporary Western culture that are creating a very unhealthy self-obsessed society and a generation of narcissistic young adults. The second part is most helpful in analysing the cultural and social factors at work. In fact I would recommend you read the second part first – “Narcissism and society”.

The second book is “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”. A ground breaking piece of social research that was published in the US in 2000 but sadly barely made a ripple here. It is a longitudinal study (25years) of the children of divorce and how it affects their lives as adults. They now represent well over one third of our general population! Any one working with young adults can assume that at least a third will be affected in some of the ways this research reveals. The authors are Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee and it is published by Hyperion NY 2000.
In the early 70’s ‘no fault’ divorce laws began to roll through Western societies, first in the US and then the UK, Australia and Canada. It was argued at the time that children were better off out of unhappy and conflicted marriages and in any case they were very resilient and would cope. This research clearly shows that these arguments were tragically false. The divorce rate quickly rose to about a third or more of all marriages and has stayed there. But the number of children affected is higher because at the same time de facto marriages increased, and these break down at an even higher rate, but they are not recorded in official stat’s.
This research followed the children of divorce over 25 years into adulthood. They revealed remarkably similar and troubling features. Here is a sample: they expressed a fear of commitment and difficulty in committing to relationships, especially in forming permanent ones, and if they did marry, had a higher than average divorce rate. They feared conflict, and were often anxious. They often felt that even though things might be going well at any moment catastrophe might strike. They felt their childhood had been stolen. Reading the results of this research explains a great deal of why young people are showing higher levels of mental health problems than ever before.
It is not hard to see why many Christian young adults have trouble standing out from the crowd and why they choose not to challenge some of the cultural and moral values of their non- Christian friends. The fear of rejection and conflict is emotionally too hard for them.
Discipling these young adults is a longer and harder task than it was in the past and requires a more holistic approach as their need for emotional healing is great, this is where the power of Christian community can also be very helpful.
Joining the dots between the two books especially between part two of Anne Mannes book and the research of the second book could be a useful and interesting discussion to have with some of your friends in ministry, why not set up a discussion!

STOP PRESS: According to the 2009 International Social Survey Program 72% of young people drop out of church in Australia, 57% in UK and 47% in US. A New book by the Barna Research group has just been published trying to analyse the reasons and offer some ways forward – “You Lost Me: Why young adults are leaving the Church……Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman.