ABC Teenagers Adulting

ADULTING – it is now a verb … or participle. Like walking or swimming, there is now adulting.

Adulthood has become differentiated as something that is no longer automatic. We all grow older equally, but not all grow up equally. Adulthood is not simply something that happens by virtue of age – it is a set of roles, tasks, responsibilities, or perhaps an orientation toward life and others that can be taken on or avoided.

The ABC ran a short piece around Teenagers anticipating adulthood and in what manner they thought ready.

I find it interesting to see what categories / roles they inquired of teenagers readiness for adulthood. In this case, it was:

  • Voting,
  • Choosing your News (and fact checking),
  • Caring for others (perhaps even your parents),
  • Changing Friendship groups,
  • Feeding yourself (in a healthy manner),
  • Work in a Team.

I wonder, is this what you associate with adulting?

If you are interested, in the 1950s and 60s, sociologists simply used five markers to define adulthood.

  • Finished Education (forever),
  • Commenced your working Career (that you would remain in for much of your working life),
  • Married,
  • Commenced raising a Family,
  • Residential/Financial Independence (Moved out).

By these markers, social surveys indicated that, as late as the mid 1970s, roughly 75% of Australian’s had ‘completed’ these markers before the age of 24.   That’s right.  The majority of folks in their mid 20s had completed the majority of adulthood markers.

Does that mean we used to me more ‘grown up’ as a society.  Are we less grown up now?

Adulting is very different these days


Several researchers have stopped to ask young people themselves what they associate with adulting.  When you compile these insights, 5 very different markers emerge:

  1. Taking responsibility for yourself;
  2. Deciding on personal beliefs and values independently of parents or other influences;
  3. Establishing a relationship with parents as an equal;
  4. Developing greater consideration of others
  5. Financial independence.[1]

You might notice that, with the exception of financial independence, these perceptions of adulthood are subjective, internal and psychological nature.  By comparison, completing education, being married, having a child and holding down a job are relatively discrete and observable indicators.  Their attainment is observable and relatively unambiguous.  Educational institutions assess one’s merit to graduate.  Wedding vows are authorised by governments and witnessed by religious institutions, family and friends. An organisation grants one employment while the presence of an infant dependent complete with a birth certificate warrants your transition into parenthood.


By contrast, matters of responsibility, independence, equality and consideration are ineffable.  They are processes not events.  They are characteristics that may or may not develop gradually over time and.

There is no certification process and no socially recognised ceremony or ritual confers their attainment.  

The late teens and twenties have become a culturally determined time in which young people are ‘expected to carve out major aspects of their own adulthoods by means of self-directed maturational processes.’[2]

And it is important to note that the movement towards this self-authorised adulthood is not so much freely chosen but foisted upon young people.

Faced with the necessary task of choosing who they will become, what values they wish to embrace and how they wish to devote their time, energy and attention, emerging adults have, ironically, little choice but to develop capacities in independent decision making, autonomous behaviour and personal agency as they seek to engage with the adult world as an equal.

Adulting can be a tough job these days.


My own research has intervened a number of emerging and young adults as they have transitioned towards an adult faith.  I was struck by a comment by one of these participants in an interview from last year. He was reflecting on the tension he experienced between his inherited faith from church and family, and the learning he was engaged in through university.  He encountered these as two completely different ‘forces’ and stated:

And so by encountering these two completely different forces in that I’m at once an

evangelical Christian and a

relativist, existential post-structuralist.

That through the negotiation between those two forces I’m arriving at something which is more individual, which is more thought through, and which is more personal.

Now, you may consider these differing forces to be antithetical to one another (or not), but the main thing I want to point out, is that the work this wonderful young man saw himself need to do in order to develop an adult faith, is one that engages with these two forces and develops something that is ‘personal’ and ‘thought through’.

To not engage in such work would be to avoid adulting, when it comes to faith.

JJ Arnett who coined the phrase ’emerging adulthood’ observes the following:

Exposure to new ideas is part of the explanation for why religious beliefs often change by emerging adulthood, but probably even more important is the responsibility emerging adults feel to decide for themselves what they believe about religious questions… ‘Making independent decisions’ is near the top of the list of criteria that emerging adults consider most important for becoming an adult. This includes decisions about religious beliefs. For most emerging adults, simply to accept what their parents have taught them about religion and carry on the same religious tradition as their parents would represent a kind of failure, an abdication of their responsibility to think for themselves, become independent from their parents, and decide on their own beliefs.  Quite consciously and deliberately, they seek to form a set of beliefs about religious questions that will be distinctly their own.[3]

Sharon Parks, who wrote a fantastic book about mentoring emerging adults states:

It is my conviction that the central work of young, emerging adulthood in the cycle of human life is … the birth[ing] of critical awareness and consequently in the dissolution and recomposition of the meaning of self, other, world and “God”. In the process of human becoming, this task of achieving critical thought and discerning its consequences for one’s sense of meaning and purpose has enormous implications for the years of adulthood to follow. Emerging adulthood is rightfully a time of asking big questions and crafting worthy dreams.[4]

It can be quite confronting for those of us who accompany young people on their path to adulthood when they take on faith perspectives that differ from our own.  It seems to speak of a major conundrum – do we want out our young people to grow up faithing in the ‘right’ ways (even if it keeps them arrested in their faith development), or do we want them to develop adult faith (even if it may not appear orthodox).

I remain in hope that the adulting person is a person that truly seeks after truth.  And because all truth is God’s truth, I tend to resolve this tension by opting to encourage the journey of adulting in all its forms.  At the same time, I will always seek to understand and critically engage with their conclusions and perspectives as these emerging and young adults continue to search for truth … in all its forms.

Taking responsibility for one’s faith is a big part of what NEXT is all about.

We help young people forge a faith-formed future, working with them so that they can connect their emerging spirituality with the complex tasks of adulthood.

It is hard work, but it is important work.  Good work.  Adulting work.

Oh, and we have a lot of fun along the way.

If you are ready to start ‘adulting’ in your faith, get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you.



[1] Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, “Young People’s Conceptions of the Transition to Adulthood,” Youth & Society 29, no. 1 (1997), AL Greene, Susan M Wheatley, and John F Aldava, “Stages on Life’s Way Adolescents’ Implicit Theories of the Life Course,” Journal of Adolescent Research 7, no. 3 (1992)., and Larry J Nelson, “Rites of Passage in Emerging Adulthood: Perspectives of Young Mormons,” New directions for child and adolescent development 2003, no. 100 (2003).

[2] Côté, Arrested Adulthood : The Changing Nature of Maturity and Identity 31.

[3] Arnett, Emerging Adulthood, 177.

[4] Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams : Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith, 8.





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