Friday, March 12, 2010

The Next Generation: Ignore the Rules

Reasonable rules help a family function in a healthy way. Likewise, well thought out laws help society operate in a way that benefits all. Religious boundaries help people overcome their weaknesses and become better people. As much as rules may annoy us, they are important for a happy life. Life without rules would be chaotic, frustrating and would produce all sorts of negative results.

Despite the clear benefit of reasonable rules, today's young adults are quite content to toss out all the rules. Dr. Jean Twenge wrote a book entitled GENERATION ME: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled, and More Miserable Than Ever Before which was based on 30 years of research. In this book Dr. Twenge discusses how the next generation's desire to ignore the rules is impacting American life.

The lack of respect for rules is having a devastating effect on the American family. After studying reams of surveys, research projects and reports, Dr. Twenge concludes that "parental authority isn't what it used to be." To use a teenage term, DUH!!!! Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that the American family is in trouble. Anyone who works with families agrees that few kids treat their parents with respect. Somehow the roles have been reversed and the kids seem to be in charge. But families that let the kids take charge are not healthy families because kids lack the emotional and mental maturity needed to lead the family. Leading the family is the parent's job. Dr. Twenge reports that "there has also been a movement against criticizing children too much." On the surface that may sound okay. After all, no child should grow up in a home that is overly critical. But criticism is not always negative. Some criticism is constructive, especially if the child needs correction for poor behavior or an improper attitude. When parents fail to give a child constructive criticism, those parents become part of the problem instead of the solution.

The next generation's problem with rules will not just affect the current generation, but it will have lasting effects on generations to come. If they are used to getting their own way their entire childhood, what will happen when they marry and have children of their own? After all, if they are not used to receiving constructive criticism, how will they know how to give such advice to their own children? In discussing this issue Dr. Twenge muses, "I wonder what will happen when this generation has their own children. Will they continue to move toward lesser parental authority, or insist that they retain the authority they have grown accustomed to?"

Families are not the only American institution being affected by this growing distain for rules. Dr. Twenge's research also discovered that the next generation "is also less willing to follow the rules of organized religion. Only 18% of 18 to 29 year olds attend religious services every week." Many churches are struggling to find and retain young adults. This has serious long term implications for the church. But more importantly, it has serious long term implications for the next generation. From a spiritual perspective, a lack of connection to a vibrant spiritually has eternal consequences for the next generation. From a practical perspective, that same lack of connection will rob the next generation of the happiness that faith brings. Study after study has revealed that people who are engaged in the life of a religious community are happier and live more fulfilling lives. When the next generation spurns a connection to the church because they don't like the rules, they miss out on the happiness that such a connection brings.

There is an interesting twist to the next generation's distain for religious rules. Dr. Twenge's research concludes that "the churches that have grown in membership in the past few decades are the fundamentalist Christian denominations that do require more strict adherence." Could it be that young adults actually crave rules without even realizing it? Several studies have shown that rules make us feel safe. This means that even though the next generation may say they don't like rules, sub-consciously they desire rules that help them feel safe.

What does this mean to the church? It means that we must find some kind of healthy balance between the next generation's verbal dislike of the rules and their inward craving for rules. That may not be an easy balance to find. But a church that takes a reflective approach to how the rules of the faith are explained should be able to find the proper balance. After all, the church has been balancing law and grace for over 2000 years. Instead of watering down biblical mandates, churches need to help the next generation see the benefits of living the way God intends.


  1. good article

  2. Good blog. A mental health description that I read years ago describing a very young child leading the family and particularly a specific parent is "emotional incest". It happens especially in homes where parents suffer with addiction problems.

    This term "shook" us to our core. The result is a young adult who still claims "I can't stand for anyone to tell me what to do."

  3. Walt,
    I had not heard the term "emotional incest" before. You are right, it is a shocking term. But is does describe that situation well. I may write a follow up blog next week about that.

  4. Well written Terry! I still do things the "old fashioned way" -- holding kids accountable, logical consequences, etc. My kids and the kids I work with may not like it but.... it is the only way to learn and grow! Blessings!!! Keep writing!

  5. Joan O'Connor, Spartanburg, SCMarch 13, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Excellent conclusion. Thanks

  6. P. H., Greenville, SCMarch 13, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    Loved the part of the article that states that the church has been balencing law and grace for 2000 years. Well established point. I have noticed in the workplace that the younger generation tends not to follow workplace rules either. In particular when it fomes to work attendance and coming in on time Thanks for the viewpoint about how these behaviors might reflect on the rearing on my future grandchildren.

  7. I remember an illustration from Dr. Jim Dobson, who said young people are like a night watchman in a large building. They go around rattling every door knob to see if the door is locked. They actually want the door to be locked, but if the door is unlocked, they will walk in and explore whatever is there.