The Island of Misfit Toys & Delayed Adolescence

Posted: September 23, 2012 in Education, Life As We Know It!, Youth Culture & Trends
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I can remember getting stoked every Christmas season as a kid for all the Christmas movies that would start showing.  One of my all-time fav’s was NBC’s 1964 classic (that still shows every year) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  There’s a scene from the movie where Rudolph teams up with a couple of fellow misfits (Yukon Cornelius and Hermie the Elf) and they find themselves in a strange place called The Island of Misfit Toys.  It’s basically a place for toys to go who either aren’t played with anymore, or have some sort of social ‘defect’ (boat that won’t float, a ‘Charlie’ in the Box, a water pistol that shoots jelly, a cowboy that rides an ostrich)…although there’s something oddly cool and mystical about a cowboy riding an angry and weird-looking bird!

The premise is that it was a place to go once you kind of ‘checked out’ of your normal playtime use, and could go to re-discover yourself and find community with others who were dealing with the same dilemma.  Ever since I started serving in ministry leadership back in 1994 I’ve often been brought back to this movie scenario as I think about recent research into delayed adolescence and what that looks like in today’s younger adults.  If you’re age 35+ you have probably asked the question; “what is wrong with young adults and college students today?”  I can’t say for certain, but it ‘seems’ like today’s younger adults are less mature, more dependent on parents, have more of an entitlement attitude, are leading the charge of cynicism of the ‘church’, and generally less prepared (and willing) to enter into life and society on their own.  I don’t want to be one of those “well…back in my day____” kind of guys that constantly knocks the younger generations coming up behind, but something is definitely different about the Gen Y crew.

Now before we go on picking apart what’s wrong, or at least what we perceive to be wrong with Gen Y, I’d also like to say I don’t really think it’s all their fault.  Many factors including: (but not limited to) a crippling economy, smothering parents, instant gratification technological advances, and less Gen Xers and Baby Boomers willing to pass the torch and be mentors, have all played a role in this whole delayed maturity/adolescence theory.

So back to the Island of Misfit Toys analogy.  I had mentioned being reminded of that movie scene as I journeyed through youth ministry.  I have always seen somewhat of a parallel between some life-stage processing that a middle schooler goes through, and some comparisons with those in the 18-25ish stage.  In jr. high/middle school you’re trying to figure out some core questions and understanding of self-perception and identity…’who I am?’…’where do I fit in society?’…’what’s my purpose in life?’…’do I really matter’?
Now fast-forward through high school, where most of us thought we figured out most of those questions of life and knew where we were heading post-secondary, and enter the life of a typical college student.  For many of us at this life-stage, all those questions we thought we had figured out back at the end of jr. high/start of high school, have come back to the surface now that we’re learning about how much we really don’t know about ourselves and life.  The world around us seems a lot more unstable and uncertain than it did a few years ago, and now that we’re getting ready to graduate college/university with a degree that may never translate into the career we paid thousands of dollars to obtain, we find ourselves on an island trying to figure out what happened to the ‘good ‘ole days!’  Suddenly we find ourselves re-asking those questions of life again…’who I am?’…’where do I fit in society?’…’what’s my purpose in life?’…’do I really matter’?  Just like those toys in Rudolph, where one day everything seemed to be perfect and idealistic, and the next you’re wandering around waiting to feel relevant again…to have security and purpose in life.

It may seem mildly amusing or unrealistic, but it’s as real a scenario and issue as unemployment, depression, anxiety, fear, and homelessness are.  The plain fact is today’s younger generation is engaged in a culture that didn’t exist 10-20+ years ago.  So while some indeed may need to get off the couch and turn off the X-Box and grow up, it’s just not as easy as a solution as that.  I wish I had more answers, but perhaps just having some re-defined perception will help us to adjust our cultural lenses.  Hopefully being aware of, and understanding, this can allow for further encouragement and positive challenge for today’s younger adults.  As well, I hope this sounds a call for today’s Gen X and Baby Boomers to sense the need for their engagement, encouragement and mentoring of today’s, and tomorrow’s, leaders.  Remember, today’s generation of young people are tomorrow’s generation of leaders in the church, community, and the world.  They have tremendous value, input and potential, and they need to know we believe in them and what they’re capable of.

As a final thought, here’s what Chuck Bomar wrote (below) about identifying some of the differences we’re seeing in today’s younger adults, as opposed to the YA’s of the 90’s/earlier 2000’s.  These aren’t all of the differences, but certainly some commonly recognized ones.

Additional Resources
Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence
Worlds Apart
The Slow Fade

What’s So Different About College-Age Life Now?

-Chuck Bomar

We all know something is different with the college-age stage of life today. And this should not be a surprise. To some degree every generation looks back at the one following, and recognizes differences. But articulating some of those differences can be a different story.

So, let me briefly point out a few differences between the college-age stage of life today from when you were likely that age:

  • Graduating high school is now the rite of passage to begin figuring out a life direction versus a rite of passage into adulthood. It’s simply the next educational stage of life.
  • There is now no clear rite of passage to becoming an adult. The line is blurred.
  • Obtaining a bachelor degree is no longer a leg up. A bachelor degree is what a high school diploma used to be and it guarantee’s nothing. Only 25% of college graduates have a full-time job when they graduate and many obtain a job because they accept one outside their field of study.
  • From the perspective of someone in this stage of life, the stage is less about preparing for potential future responsibilities as much as it is about discovering self. Future responsibilities are just that—future responsibilities.
  • A master’s degree is what a bachelor degree used to be. But now, if one is obtained without appropriate work experience one will be over qualified. However, the economy is forcing some to further education without the work experience, leaving people in a unique tension point.
  • The median age of marriage is now after this stage of life in the United States—25 for woman and 27 for men—and continues to rise.

*Chuck Bomar is the co-author of The Slow Fade, and part of the XP3 College team. His latest book, Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds, was released last fall.

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