"The evidence suggests overwhelmingly that young adulthood is a time when other social institutions fail to be of much help. . . . [As a culture] we provide day care centers, schools, welfare programs, and even detention centers as a kind of institutional surround-sound until young adults reach age 21, and then we provide nothing. Schooling stops for the vast majority, parents provide some financial assistance and babysitting but largely keep their distance, and even the best congregation-based youth groups or campus ministries no longer apply. Yet nearly all . . . decisions a person has to make about marriage, child-rearing, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function.Perceptive observations, and I think they ring true. This is part of the reason I went on to grad school after graduating from college - I couldn't imagine life outside an educational setting! And I was shellshocked to discover that grad school was completely different from college life, that it lacked the kind of community and relationships that I had experienced in college. It wasn't until I got plugged in to a church singles group in the spring of that first school year that I really started adjusting to life after college. And I fear that too many of our peers never find that kind of community.
"This is not a good way to run a society. No wonder young adults experience stress and confusion, worry that they are not yet capable of behaving like adults, delay settling down, and often make bad decisions about jobs and money. This is not a criticism of young adults themselves. They do the best they can in the absence of much assistance or support.
"We cannot hope to be a strong society if we invest resources in our young people until they are 18 or 20 and then turn them out to find their way entirely on their own. The bits and pieces of support are already there--in family networks, among groups of friends, at singles bars, in day care centers, and even in the workplace. But we have not even begun to recognize the challenges that need to be met."
I wrote about this briefly in my singles book in my chapter on loneliness and solitude. Many of us experience a quarterlife crisis or what Douglas Coupland called a "mid-twenties breakdown," defined as "a period of mental collapse occurring in one's twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments coupled with a realization of one's essential aloneness in the world." We typically don't fully understand or grieve the losses of exiting college because we're thrown into the "real world," and a lot of folks end up adrift, without community to help them find their way. (I wonder if the success of Facebook is partially due to a sociological need to preserve some virtual sense of collegiate community as folks navigate the real world.)
In the last lines of the above block quote, I find it telling that Wuthnow did not mention the local church in his list. Ministering to recent college graduates and twenty/thirtysomethings is both a challenge and an opportunity, especially for churches in suburban/exurban areas that have an influx of young workers. Many folks who gravitate toward nontraditional churches or leave church entirely do so out of frustration that traditional churches have little in place for young adults. We want to create viable community and support systems for them/us. But the sad thing is not merely that if the church doesn't, other things will fill the vacuum. What's even more sobering is that other social support systems aren't really there, and a whole generation may drift for years as a result.