What kind of adult?
By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 12, 2009 7:13 AM US/eastern
A woman who attends First Christian Church recently scheduled counseling with me. She wanted to discuss her teenager and seek suggestions.

You’ve probably seen the scenario she described: Her teenager can text with phone in pocket, keep up with friends on Facebook and create an excellent video PowerPoint — all while listening to an iPod and balancing on one foot. (OK, I added that “balancing on one foot” part for effect.)

Much to the mother’s chagrin, however, that same teenager can barely make a bed or give directions from our church on West Washington Street to his house. Said teenager won’t look adults in the eye or audibly greet them. Perhaps most disconcerting to mom, her teenager seems to have no appreciation for community projects, needs or issues.

Mom to me: “What kind of adult will (her teenager) become?”

I reassured her that erratic behavior for teens has been around as long as teens have been around. It’s common as children become teens and teens become young adults.

As we talked further, though, something else occurred to me. While our bodies are biologically maturing earlier due to nutritional and genetic influences, I wonder if some aspects of our social maturity are being delayed due, at least in part, to technological advancements and time spent with technology.

So I looked into this and found others more learned than I to be in agreement. For instance, two psychologists, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, wrote a book about it titled “Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies.”

Their thesis can be summarized by this line: “The coincidence of reproductive and social maturation which existed for most of our history has been lost.”

Reading that made me ask myself: “Self, what does it mean to be socially mature?” Gluckman and Hanson say it is having “the skills necessary to be a successful adult.” Even I can remember that definition, so it works well enough for me.

Being the astute reader that you are, you probably could predict what I wondered next: If being socially mature means having the skills to be a successful adult, then what are those skills?

At this point in your reading pleasure, you are invited to ponder for two moments and name what skills you think are needed in order for one to be a successful adult.

OK, that’s enough pondering. Don’t want you to hurt yourself. Let me quickly say that I do not agree that time spent online is necessarily wasted time.

In fact, I think some social skills are learned while using technological tools and toys. Like what, you ask?

Well, like the fact that social worlds negotiated online are permanent, public and involve managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances. Or, like the fact that online socializing is always on and always immediate.

But there are other skills not well developed online, such as the skill of learning what it feels like to contribute to the care of one’s home. I know it can be a drag, but having a home that is somewhat organized and clean is mind-clearing and uplifting.

Here’s another skill that many teens I know greatly appreciate: Volunteering. I know many teens at First Christian and outside it who love to volunteer, not least because of the “helper’s high” they get from doing so.

Now, here’s where you come in. What skills would you say are needed for one to be a successful adult? I’d really like to know. Please send them to me at, or by using the comment function if you read this online.

Adolescents are demonstrating their abilities to master technology; maybe we all together can develop abilities to live meaningful lives.

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