Why Are Teenagers and Emerging Adults So Flaky?

Kara Powell

I am so glad Chuck Bomar has become such a champion for college-aged people.  I co-taught a seminar with Chuck at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference a few years ago and learned so much from his experience as a college pastor and a senior pastor with a great burden for emerging adults.  In our Sticky Faith work, it’s been invaluable to learn from Chuck and other collegiate ministry experts as they see the results of (aka the young adults emerging from) youth ministries and families first hand.

In Chuck’s new book, Worlds Apart, he provides chapter after chapter of helpful information about 18-25 year-olds.  Chuck talks about how inconsistency and instability are often the norm for this age group. While that can be frustrating for Chuck (and me, and maybe you too), Chuck says that he tries to ask himself these questions:

  • What if this person had no one investing in him growing up?
  • What if she’s never been taught the importance of working hard?
  • What if his parents never emphasized the importance of initiative – even if they thought they did?
  • What if her parents did all these things but with an overwhelming helicopter-like parenting style that causes younger people to disengage?
  • What if his parents abandoned him for their own careers, so he simply doesn’t see career as the best thing to pursue right now?
  • What if she watched her parents go down a career path that provided for the family but didn’t satisfy them emotionally?
  • Or what if he was raised in a home where he didn’t have to work for anything and was handed all his desires on a silver spoon?

As I read this list, I was reminded of our intergenerational small group.  Largely because of our Sticky Faith research, we started an intergenerational small group—with one family in our life stage, one family with younger kids, and one couple in their late sixties.  It is, in a word, awesome. 

While we often read books together, these days we are devoting our meetings to sharing life stories.  At the last meeting, one of the couples shared and did a phenomenal job talking about their childhood, adolescence, and early adult years.  As I heard them talk, I saw so many connections between who they are now and how they were parented.

I love Chuck’s questions because they remind me that sometimes adolescents’ and emerging adults’ behaviors are (to use a legal term that I’ve heard on “Law and Order” a lot) “the fruit of the poison tree.” Thinking about it that way helps me to extend grace and mercy to those on a bumpy (or even chaotic) faith and life trajectory. 


Published Sep 12, 2011
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of over 20 years, she serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women You Should Know", Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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