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Youth Worker’s Guide to Teenager Development 2

Teen Development

Teen Development is a description of the developmental process that occurs during the teenage years as a distinct and unique development period in the life of human beings.  The identification and description of this period of life emerged primarily from the disciplines of psychology and sociology.  Since the creation of “teenager” as a distinct and unique development period of human beings the development process has been described and clarified by multiple academic disciplines which include neuroscience, economics, and biology to name just a few.

It is widely accepted that teenage development is not the same for every culture.  This means that teens develop differently in the U.S then teens in China.  In one culture, adolescent development occurs over several years and in other cultures it can appear completely absent.  The point here is that teenage development is both a natural process and a cultural phenomenon.

Teen development consists of three broad areas of formation, identity, autonomy, and attachment.  In the coming series we’ll jump into each one.  In this post, we will look at identity formation for youth ministry and identify resources for understanding it.

Identity as Journey

In the past, youth workers typically talked about identity in teen development in clear distinct stages.  They imagined the teen development process of identity formation to be complete when the question, “Who am I?” was existentially answered by persons.  At times their description of teens moving from the struggle of discovering and understanding the question, “Who am I?” to answering the question with a sense of coherency was like an objective description of a chemical process.

Youth workers were drawing largely from stage development theory when they described teenage development in such scientific terms.  The psychologist Erik Erikson is one of the prominent figures that youth workers have drawn their language and understanding of teenage development.

In recent years, youth workers are embracing an old understanding of life and teen development that is nothing like modern scientific objectivity of stage development. They have shifted their metaphors and images of the teen development process from objective scientific description to one of journey and pilgrimage. In short, teen development is increasingly talked about and understood as a narrative.

There are multiple reasons for this but primarily what youth workers are learning is that the question, “Who am I?” is only being tentatively answered by both teens and adults. The fluidity of our identity is popularized in youth ministry by Andy Root’s book “Promise of the Despair” where he describes the late modern world’s experience of the death of identity.

Teens in the U.S. are experiencing an ongoing struggle to answer the question, “Who am I?” The task of the church is not to provide a patented answer for teens. As we will explore later in this series, the task of the church is to provide a place where meaning making can happen with the means of grace that God has provided for us.  Thus one role of the church is to be and create a community where the journey of adolescents to adulthood is welcomed.

Here is an outline of what will be explored:

Teen Development
Teen Culture
Christian View
Identity Branded Image of God Story
Autonomy Hyperactive Called Set of Practices
Attachment Liked People of God Community