The Return of Peter Pan

The 1990 census revealed an interesting trend among today's young adults. They don't want to grow up. According to statistics, young people are postponing the major stepping-stones of adulthood--leaving college, getting married, buying a house, having children. Many don't even settle into a job until their 30s. It used to be that parents watched their children's college graduation with a mixture of pride and relief. After the long road from diapers to dating, parents were ready to launch their children into adulthood. Well, parents, don't count on it any more. Because between college graduation and age 34, an astonishing 1 out of 10 young adults now move back to their parents' home. In men, it's been called the Peter Pan syndrome. Remember the story? Peter Pan was the little boy in Never-Never Land who refused to grow up. Modern Peter Pans are to some extent a result of our system of higher education, which keeps young people dependent well into their twenties. Another culprit is the recession. Young people who can't find jobs can't afford to start their own households. Then, too, we're talking about a generation that was coddled. Our parents' generation expected life to be hard. They learned to struggle and sacrifice. But today's children grew up affluent. They're not used to sacrificing for anyone--certainly not for a family. Maybe later, they say--after they have their BMWs and Colorado ski vacations. And, finally, today's young adults are the first generation to experience divorce in large numbers. Now they're afraid their own marriages may not work. Many grew up without fathers, and have no role model of a provider. Whatever the cause, the trend is clear. Children are saying, like Peter Pan, I won't grow up. Even the churches are affected. Singles groups are booming; their average age is steadily climbing. Christians don't seem very concerned by it all. But I suggest we'd better be: Because the trend to stay single for so long is eroding the healthy development of families. It's easy to recognize other enemies of the family. When we talk about homosexual rights or day care, we throw up our hands in alarm. They're destroying the family, we say. But the trend to stay single can be just as insidious. It expresses a low view of marriage and family--that marriage is a gamble, that having kids is just a lifestyle choice. There seems to be little sense that family life is the normative pattern established by God. After all, the first people God created were a husband and wife. His first command to them was to multiply and fill the earth. But have you ever heard a church preach the importance of getting married and building a family? I haven't. Maybe it used to be taken for granted that normal, healthy young adults will gravitate toward marriage and family. But it can't be taken for granted any longer. The statistics show more and more people are choosing to stay single. We can preach all we want to about assaults on the family from the outside. But it's all in vain unless we also start preaching about the assault from the inside--unless we start persuading young adults to be adults, and take up the task of building families.


Chuck Colson


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