Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Nihilistic Lives of College-Age Americans

Moon over the River Raisin
Monroe County
Here's a review of Notre Dame scholar Christian Smith's Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. See Thomas Kidd, "A Jeremiad with Statistics: Christian Smith on the Nihilistic Lives of College-Age Americans." I've reviewed Smith before - see here, here, and here. He is THE scholar to read to find out about the moral and spiritual status of today's midadolescents in America.

Here are some bullets from Kidd's review.
  • Smith has data and statistics, hard empirical research, to back up his observations. As I have said before, his conclusions jive with my experience teaching college students over the past 11 years.
  • "Shockingly high numbers of Smith's subjects are living listless, anxious, nihilistic lives, consumed with buying more stuff, getting stoned, hooking up, and tuning out."
  • "Endless consumer choices, easy access to drugs and alcohol, and an increasing lack of taboos in sexuality, all make it critical that emerging adults have a moral framework for making wholesome choices. But Smith shows that this foundational framework is exactly what the majority of his interviewees do not have. Sixty percent of them said that morality was in the eye of the beholder, and about half subscribed, as best they understood it, to the concept of moral relativism."
  • "One in three had no idea what made something right or wrong. Many of those interviewed simply could not understand questions about their sources of morality, no matter how the interviewer rephrased them."
  • "Interviewees displayed distressingly high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as high-risk sexual behavior. About half of those studied had engaged in binge drinking within the past two weeks. Almost three quarters of the non-married emerging adults had experienced sexual intercourse a number of times with a variety of partners, typically beginning around age 16. Especially for women, this pattern of reckless sexuality has fostered deep regrets, insecurity, and trauma from abortions or sexually-transmitted diseases. Other emerging adults, especially some men, seem to sense no regrets whatsoever about their amorous escapades."
  • "Smith and his co-authors offer almost no practical solutions to help today's teenagers become more ethically adept than this cohort of college age adults. Even his tentative proposals—better moral education in high schools?—seem nearly hopeless. But parents and pastors sure ought to think about a solution; the average American teenager's cultural diet of school, media, sports, and/or church is not preparing them to emerge as morally capable adults."
This Sunday morning I am going to offer all the young people who come to Redeemer the opportunity to embrace a Moral Framework, the only one I think actually works. (New Redeemer website coming very soon!)