Face it, our popular culture worships youth. This is not the ranting of a member of the ranks of the chronologically challenged. It is a fact. According to researchers at San Diego State University, young people are staying young people for extended periods of time. In other words, 25 is the new 18.
Based on some of the study’s findings, I think it’s also safe to say that 18 is the new 12. “The study found that since around 2000, teens have become considerably less likely to drive, have an after-school job and date.” Those three things are not indicators of adulthood. They were a part of my teenage years — well, the dating part was always a little problematic for me, but I drove when I was 16, as did my 16 year-old friends. And all my friends had jobs either after school or on weekends.
Getting your license and getting that first job used to be bell weathers that you were moving past your childhood stage and into a new world. We, my fellow tail-end baby boomers and I, were obviously far from adults when we were in our teens, but we were going through adult formation by taking on the responsibilities of driving a car and going to work, even if we weren’t all that keen on mopping floors or flipping hamburgers. We learned things like showing up on time ready for work, and we learned that life was sometimes not very fair at all. In other words, we learned about the world.
It didn’t make us adults, it made us teenagers. Now, with more and more teenagers buried within the confines of their iPhones and computer gaming, they seem to be in a state of suspended animation. The recent university admission scandal is also a part of this problem. The term helicopter parents has given way to the “snowplow parent.” These are the parents who not only hover over their precious and delicate children, but woe to anyone who may stand in the way of that child’s goals and dreams.
I did not have snowplow parents. I did not have helicopter parents. I was expected to do well in school and most important of all, stay out of trouble. Granted, I was a lot better at staying out of trouble than my older brothers were, but for the most part, once I reached a certain age, things were sort of left to me…except mandatory Mass attendance and being home for Sunday dinner.
But even though extending adolescence into one’s 20s, or even 30s or 40s these days, seems ill-advised, there is really no set formula, no matter how many scientific studies from university research professors there may be.
Late bloomers can be some of the most spectacular successes. Winston Churchill bloomed early, withered, and bloomed again. He was 70 when he was called upon to save Great Britain from Nazi hordes. I’m still holding dearly onto the example of J.R.R. Tolkien, who was in his 60s when he published Lord of the Rings.
Then there is the ultimate late bloomer. Jesus’ public ministry didn’t begin until he was 30. Now I don’t think he was laying around the house for three decades. Scripture tells us he followed in his earthly foster father’s footsteps: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mark 6:3). People at the dawn of the Christian era did not have time to find themselves because they did not have time. There were old people during every epoch of history, but the threat to 1st century life and limb from disease, famine and war was extreme. Today, 25 might be the new 18, but at the time of Jesus, 30 was the old 50.
It is also unlikely that Jesus was sitting around in his mother’s basement in Nazareth writing social media diatribes on a stone tablet. He was probably performing one of the great acts of charity all sons and daughters can avail themselves to — taking care of their parents. Working as a carpenter was his way of providing for his widowed mother’s care.
In our topsy turvy culture it is the other way around. Young and not-so-young young adults are the ones being cared for by parents. Whether young people are blossoming later than they used to, scripture again informs us very clearly the time to act, to repent, to reconcile is always today.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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