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Changing the Trajectory of Perpetual Adolescence

Vaclav Havel, who helped overcome communist rule in Czechoslovakia, once said: “It’s not that modern man knows less and less about the meaning of life. It’s that it bothers him less and less.”

He might well have been talking about many teenagers today. As Dianne West noted in her book, The Death of the Grown-Up, many young adults struggle to, well, grow up. It’s been called “failure to launch,” or “Peter Pan syndrome,” or “perpetual adolescence.”

Much has been made of adolescence as a stage of development, but in America we make too much of it today. We treat teens like kids, market to them incessantly, and never ask them to grow up.

It’s a mistake and it’s contagious. In the 1980s, the movie characters who were the slackers were teenagers; in the 90s they were 20-somethings. But today, with movies like The Hangover, the goofball, perverted adolescents are now adult men! And, studies show men in their 30s spend more time and money on video games than teens do!

We used to think of adolescence as the stage of, say, between the ages of 13-18, but now the National Academy of Sciences defines adolescence as the stage of life between 11 and 30! And when more people know the names of celebrities than of their elected officials, and when our knowledge of entertainment trivia trumps our knowledge of Holy Scripture – we’ve got a problem.

According to my friend Jim Dobson, that’s where his son Ryan was. A good kid, but with a very small vision of the world – one limited to skateboarding and meeting girls. Then, he went to a Summit Ministries student conference and everything changed.

According to Ryan, the two weeks he spent at Summit Ministries literally changed the trajectory of his life. Learning about the consequences of ideas, how the Biblical worldview is true and how to defend it against other worldviews led him to a bigger vision of life and put him on the path of standing for truth and making a difference in society.

My colleague John Stonestreet, host of “The Point,” works and teaches with Summit Ministries. John told me that a recent survey of Summit graduates revealed that they are more likely to pray, read the Bible, share their faith, and have beliefs in line with a Biblical worldview than the typical Christian student. They also watch less television and read more books – and vote more often than their peers. What parent wouldn’t want that for their children?

What’s Summit Ministries' secret? They treat students like adults and raise expectations about what they need to learn. A lot of youth camps focus on fun and games, but at Summit they focus on student learning – especially preparing them for the many challenges that will assault their faith in college and from the culture.

And, you know what? The students love it. They want to be challenged, because for too long they’ve been the victim of low expectations.

Summit has set the gold standard for training students in Christian worldview. Ryan Dobson and a lot of others are proof it works.

Come to, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to Summit so you can find out more about their upcoming conferences for high-school- and college-age students. And you can search our website and find all sorts of materials you can use to have talks with your kids that treat them like serious adults. There is no excuse for perpetual adolescence.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication dateMarch 13, 2012

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