Resources for Emerging Adults

What Exactly is an “Emerging Adult”?

For a very long time, educators have grouped people by age or stage throughout the life cycle.  We are familiar with terms such as “infant,” “child,” “adolescent” and “adult” – but “emerging adult?”

 

Sociologists and psychologists (as well as parents and educators) have been observing for some time what seems to be an extended period of adolescence. Historically, "adolescence” was the name we gave to the stage of life between the on-set of puberty and either high school or college graduation. “Adulthood” followed.  But that is no longer the case.  On-set of puberty begins earlier in first-world countries and it now appears that adulthood doesn’t begin until completion of graduate degrees or marriage (which is occurring more and more in the late twenties and early thirties).

Developmental psychologists and researchers have recently realized that the period from the late teens through the late twenties is actually another stage of development –distinct from both adolescence and adulthood.  They name this developmental stage “emerging adulthood.”  

How are emerging adults different from adolescents? 

"Adolescents and most emerging adults have in common that they have not yet entered marriage and parenthood. Other than this similarity, however, their lives are much different.  Virtually all adolescents (10-18) live at home with one or both  parents.  In contrast, most emerging adults have moved out of their parent’s homes, and their living situations are extremely diverse.  Virtually all adolescents are experiencing the dramatic effect of puberty.  In contrast, emerging adults have reached full reproductive maturity. Virtually all adolescents attend secondary school.  In contrast, many emerging adults are enrolled in colleges, but nowhere near all of them.  Unlike adolescents, their educational paths are diverse, from those who go straight through college and then on to graduate or professional school to those who receive no more education after high school, and every combination in between.  Adolescents also have in common that they have the legal status of minors, not adults.  They cannot vote,they cannot sign legal documents, and they are legally under the authority of their parents in a variety of ways.  In contrast, from the age of 18 onward American emerging adults have all of the legal rights of adults except for the right to buy alcohol which comes at age 21."
 
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, "Emerging Adulthood: The Long Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Early Twenties," Oxford University Press, New York, 2004.

How are emerging adults different from young adults? 

"Emerging adulthood could hardly be more distinct from the thirties.  Most emerging adults do not feel that they have reached adulthood, but most people in their thirties feel they have.  Most emerging adults are still in the process of seeking out the education, training and job experience that will prepare them for a long-term occupation, but most people in their thirties have settled into a more stable occupational path.  Most emerging adults have not yet married, but most people in their thirties are married.  Most emerging adults have not yet had  a child, but most people in their thirties have at least one child." 
 
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, "Emerging Adulthood: The Long Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Early Twenties," Oxford University Press, New York, 2004.
 

What are the developmental tasks of emerging adults?

Arnett defines the characteristics of the emerging adult period:
  • It is the age of identity-exploration.
  • It is the age of instability.
  • It is the self-focused age.
  • It is the age of feeling in-between.
  • It is the age of possiblities.
  • It is the age of re-defining relationships with parents and siblings.

Some biblical stories that support the developmental tasks of the emerging adult period:

  • Genesis 25-35
  • Genesis 37: 1-10
  • 2 Kings 2: 1-6
  • John 2: 1- 17

Other resources

  • For more information about the meaning-making task and faith development in the Emerging Adult period, click here.
  • For articles and publications about religious participation and affiliation in the emerging adult period, click here.
  • For books about the emerging adult period and faith development, click here.
  • For curricula to use with emerging adults, click here.

Things to remember:

  • Many emerging adults are unchurched and often have little or incorrect information about Christian beliefs.
  • Congregations need to find emerging adults and go where they are.
  • Coffee bars, the local pub on trivia night, etc are good places to meet emerging adults.
  • Emerging adults are wary of committing themselves in advance and attendance may be "as the Spirit moves them."
  • Social justice projects where their efforts make a concrete difference attract emerging adults.
  • Programs that offer sports or other hobbies may be what gets emerging adults into the building.