Tabor professor seeks to fathom the teenage mind
Teacher enters their world to understand the changing face of adolescenceBy Sara Cook Tabor College
HILLSBORO, Kan. — What exactly goes on in the mind of a teenager? Wendell Loewen is on a quest to find the answer, or at least a better understanding.
Over the last four years, he devoted a significant portion of his doctoral work at Fuller Theological Seminary to studying adolescents and culture. His new position as associate professor of youth, church and culture at Tabor College reflects his work. He is also youth minister for the Southern District of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
Being around youth ministry for more than 20 years, Loewen is convinced that teenagers are different today and that the journey of adolescence has changed.
“I think it’s fairly understood that adolescence starts earlier and ends later,” said Loewen, who says it begins with biology at puberty and ends when culture says it ends.
But the culture has become unclear about this.
In earlier decades, teenagers exited adolescence at the age of 18 when they could drive, graduate from high school and join the military. But “our culture has taken out the meaning of those markers,” Loewen said. “So what marker establishes your adulthood? We’re not agreed on that.”
Today adults tend to give their teenagers all the gadgets, clothes and money they want. So while they are not being abandoned in that sense, Loewen said, “in the psychosocial process of individuation, adults are saying their lives are too busy, too stressed out,” and that teens will have to figure life out on their own.
“So it stands to reason that it’s going to take teenagers longer to figure out who they are because they don’t have a group of adults surrounding them and answering those questions,” he said.
Adult abandonment leads to extended adolescence. For some, adolescence may extend as late as the mid-to late 20s, when they become financially independent. But even that idea, Loewen said, is up for debate.
Because teenagers sense abandonment, friends are much more important than they used to be. While friends were necessary to have fun, they are now crucial to the process of navigating through life.
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