Dr. Kara Powell is executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and associate professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Powell speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences and serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange. Powell is the author or coauthor of many books such as “Growing Young,” “Sticky Faith Curriculum” and most recently “Growing With.” Powell lives in Pasadena with her husband, Dave, and their three children. She shares on the experience of parenting teens and adult children.
Why is age 28 the new 18?
Originally coined by Jeff Arnett, “emerging adult” means a new life stage between adolescence and young adulthood, lasting roughly from ages 18 to 25.
Powell says much of what older adults experienced in their late teens and early 20s is now delayed.
“For young people today, becoming an adult is really a process,” Powell said. “The major markers that have tended to correlate with becoming an adult are happening later. They’re getting married, having babies, becoming financially independent and finishing school about five years later.”
Why is age 14 the new 24?
While it is in part due to societal and parental pressures to have everything figured out by high school, technology has exposed teens to certain things way too soon.
Powell said the research shows the superficiality of social media is correlated to deep, inward struggles among young people.
“What’s interesting in teenagers today is certain risk behaviors have actually decreased,” Powell said. “Premarital sex, alcohol use and drug use have actually decreased a little bit in the last decade, which should be celebrated. What’s tragic, though, is certain risk behaviors that have increased are suicide, anxiety and depression. Many are suggesting the risk behaviors that are done with others are down, but the risk behaviors done alone in their room is up. This is because what young people are seeing unfold on their devices and what they’re left out of can be pretty taxing and toxic. Due to technology today versus back then, when a teen isn’t invited by their friends or classmates to something, they see this unfolding in real time on their device as they sit at home in their room alone.”
What does this mean for young adults?
Yes, teens are taking longer to transition from adolescence to adulthood, and are experiencing emotions and facing decisions unprecedented to previous generations. Powell said this ultimately causes a head-on collision.
“For young people today there’s this brake pedal that some things take a little bit longer,” Powell said. “But there’s also this gas pedal, where they’re experiencing quite a bit sooner. If you think about driving with one foot on the brake pedal and one foot on the gas pedal, it’s not recommended. It makes for a herky-jerky ride for the driver and parent who is in the car with that young person.”
So how can parents journey with their kids to move them from adolescence to adulthood?
Parenting in this culture is challenging.
Powell said the parent-child relationship is unavoidably moving toward adulthood, but it doesn’t mean this same relationship needs to end.
“As a parent of young people myself, I know the idealist fear that as my kids grow up, somehow our family is going to grow apart,” Powell said. “What we want to help parents understand is you can grow together and grow with your kids. It’s a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our kids that trusts God to transform us all.”
To put all of this research in its proper place, Powell makes it as practical as possible.
“One of the parents we interviewed said, ‘What I’ve realized is as long as I have relationship, I have influence,’” Powell added. “I think as a parent you’re looking for the right phrase, sentence or right technique, but ultimately what matters most is the warmth of relationship you have for your kids.”
This means seeing parenting tasks as opportunities to connect rather than just chores to cross off a list. Powell shared a story about helping her daughter choose her course load for the upcoming school semester.
“We tried to have a conversation about it, but she was honestly in a grumpy mood,” she said. “I said to her, ‘We really want to have a mature conversation with you about this. Why don’t we push pause and have the conversation tomorrow night?’ And I’m type A. I like crossing things off the list. But as much as I just wanted to plow through and get her school schedule done, I wanted to have a good connection with Krista and dream with her about what was right for her academically. This was more important to our relationship.”