BreakPoint: ‘Adult’ is Not a Verb

Helping Young People Spread Their Wings

There’s a new word touted by Webster that exposes a crisis in our culture of generational proportions.

It’s been called a lot of things: “Peter Pan Syndrome” or my favorite, “failure to launch,” but whatever the term, the phenomenon is undeniable. A record number of young people today are getting stuck in the transition between childhood and adulthood.

Despite attending college in record numbers, millennials seem to struggle to move on to the next phase of life. Just a decade ago, a healthy majority of young adults were able to successfully fledge. Now, those who’ve managed to leave the nest are a minority.

Of course, the recession and a sluggish job market are factors. Millennials do have tougher career prospects than their parents did. But the economy isn’t the only explanation, and the language young people use to talk about adulthood makes that obvious.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse announced that Twitter had turned the noun “adult” into a verb. “#Adulting” is what kids post on social media to congratulate themselves for the rather ordinary feats of paying the bills, finishing the laundry, or just getting to work on time.

“I adulted!” goes the saying, as if fulfilling daily responsibilities is somehow above and beyond the call of duty. “Adulting” has become so universally recognized that the American Dialect Society nominated it for the most creative word of 2015.

“To a growing number of Americans,” writes Sasse, “acting like a grown-up seems like a kind of role-playing, a mode of behavior requiring humorous detachment.”

This isn’t just the complaint of a crotchety old man about young whipper-snappers. What we’re witnessing today, insists the senator, is a trend toward “perpetual adolescence,”—a “coming-of-age crisis,” that shows up as a real and measurable reduction in the difference between 10-year-olds and 30-year-olds.

But if our kids don’t know what it means to be adults, parents, we should be asking ourselves, are we teaching them? Isolation in peer groups of the same age, widespread complacency toward history and ethics, unbridled consumerism, and even those infamous participation trophies have all contributed to this crisis.

We’ d do well to remember what C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Abolition of Man” of those who “remove the organ and demand the function,” who “make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,” who “castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Senator Sasse offers steps to reverse the trend of perpetual adolescence and to help kids from an early age understand the meaning of adulthood. Teach them the difference, he says, between a “need” and a “want,” embrace hard work together, travel meaningfully, and read widely. These are all important steps to forming mature citizens.

And in our new book “A Practical Guide to Culture”, my co-author Brett Kunkle and I have a chapter entitled “Perpetual Adolescence and Castrated Geldings.” In it, we offer even more suggestions for helping teens grow up. Come to to find out how to get your copy.

But the Senator’s most important suggestion? Older generations must start investing in the lives of young adults. Summarizing relevant research in 2013, The Boston Globe reported a staggering statistic: Only a quarter of Americans 60 and older had discussed anything important with anyone under 36 in the previous six months! Exclude relatives and that figure dropped to a mortifying 6 percent. How alien this would have sounded to the Apostle Paul, who in Titus 2 urges older men and older women to teach the younger.

Only by connecting and investing in their lives can we reasonably expect our kids, our grandkids, and their peers to understand that “adult” is not something you do. It’s someone you are.


Further Reading and Information

‘Adult’ is Not a Verb: Helping Young People Spread Their Wings

Encourage the young adults in your sphere of influence to enter their adult years with confidence and a sense of responsibility. Check out Senator Sasse’s suggestions in the article linked below, and get your copy of “A Practical Guide to Culture” by John Stonestreet and Bret Kunkle for more ideas. It’s available at the online bookstore.



Find a BreakPoint radio station in your area–Click here.


A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today's World
  • John Stonestreet, Brett Kunkle | David C. Cook Publishers | June 2017
How to Raise an American Adult
  • Ben Sasse | Wall Street Journal | May 5, 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Janet Landrigan

    Senator Ben Sasse is from Nebraska, not Nevada. Please correct. We are very proud of Senator Sasse and how God is using him to positively influence our government and country. We also appreciate your work and the influence you have for God’s Kingdom. Thanks!

    • David Carlson

      Oh my. Our apologies. We have followed Sen. Sasse and his work (as you can tell from the commentary). Honestly, I don’t know how we made that mistake.

  • Loren & Christina Killgore

    I was totally thinking of Titus 2 while I was reading this. And then it’s mentioned near the end!

    I’m 33, so I witness first-hand so much of this stuff going on with my generation. It makes me so sad.

    And I must confess it makes me kinda mad, when other people generalize and throw every young person under the bus of being selfish, lazy, unable to leave the nest…the list goes on and on.

    Romans 12:11-12 comes mind: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

  • James

    Matthew 5:13 “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith
    shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and
    to be trodden under foot of men.”
    The “Church” needs to learn how to let go of the world and follow Christ. The “Church” is conformed to this world, and the cumulative effect is getting obvious. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. But we cannot be transformed if we like our minds just fine the way they are. One question I ask is, how can people who call themselves “Christians” send their children to government indoctrination centers, where Christ and prayer and the Word of God are forbidden by law? WTF is up with that, can anyone tell me? Anyone? Hello? Buehler? Why would anyone take “Christians” seriously when Christians don’t take Christianity seriously? Far too often people who call themselves “Christians” are all hat and no cattle.

    • gladys1071

      some parents don’t have much of a choice and have to send them to public schools, in this day both parents have to work most of the time, and paying for private school is expensive. Remember Moses went to school and was taught to worship the egyptian gods, yet God used him despite that.

  • GuzziLarry

    Of course, the recession and a sluggish job market are factors. Millennials do have tougher career prospects than their parents did. But the economy isn’t the only explanation, and the language young people use to talk about adulthood makes that obvious. John Stonestreet & G. Shane Morris, you are part of the problem. I was deafened by the family doc. fed scads of antibiotics between the ages of 2 and 4, misdiagnosed tonsillitis. Lost my conversational hearing. Nobody noticed. I told my mother I could not hear before I

  • GuzziLarry

    hit wrong button. before I started school. “I cannot hear other peoples conversation.” “Don’t listen to other peoples conversation it’s not polite.” Parents took me to start school saying “he talks funny, we don’t know why.” The fool teachers… get factory work. Sluggish job market my butt…

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      I’m not quite sure what this has to do with the commentary, GuzziLarry. Please try to keep your comments on topic, or I’ll have to start deleting them. Thank you.

      • GuzziLarry

        I wrote the larger half that is no longer up. I don’t think I hit enter but it showed it as entered. I finished quickly in frustration. Your article talks of youth having harder than parents is just bull roar. I lost my hearing no one understood. I pushed forward alone. Never stop looking for work. Nothing is to low, menial. Continue to work.
        delete away, you are in control…

  • Billy

    I am proud to say Ben Sasse is one of my US Senators. The printed copy above was right when it said he was from Nebraska.However on the audio you said he was from Nevade. Just thought you might like to know. Thanks..

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      Yes, we fixed the transcript, but it was too late to fix the audio. Our apologies.

  • gladys1071

    This is so true. My sister is of the millenial generation, and my cousins are too, they all don’t want to leave home, completely dependent on their parents for everything,it really is a shame. My generation which is generation X, was not that way, all of my high school friends moved out on their own, and could not wait to leave home and be on there own.

    I mean 28 years olds still living with their parents is really sad. Don’t know what can fix this, it is like a whole generation did not grow up.

  • Chris Rodgers

    After hearing a lecture on Youtube about this very thing, this topic has been a topic with my family lately. I am Thirty three, and I asked my Parents, Where was I suppose to learn to be a man/Adult. My Father Admittedly said he has failed in the area, because His father Failed him. I asked if he Tried to learn anything about teaching me, he said no. I asked my Mom, where was I supposed to get good influences, She admits she had no Idea. But now if I ask, She says ” When you were young, you could blame me, but now its all on you to learn.” No help there. It will be interesting to see if the Older generation writes us off a failures and Half heartly tries with the next gen.

  • Giraffe

    Ehh. I totally agree on the infantilization of younger generations who aren’t growing up and taking adult responsibility, but I also do a lot of things on the internet, language-wise, that are not reflective of an entire world view or maturity level.

    Like verbing nouns. Spelling it “teh” on purpose. {nodding seriously between brackets}

    And, yes, I do talk about “adulting”. It *is* hard. When I got new tires, an alignment, and then had to shell out extra cash to replace other things that were on the verge of failing? (Thank God they found it then!) I said adulting is expensive. On the days I battle my depression and nonetheless manage to make those professional phone calls? I say adulting is exhausting.

    In other internet parlance: Don’t squick my squee!

    (35 year old woman, not living with my parents, practicing lawyer with no student loans and a 10 year old fully paid for car.) (Just sayin’.)

  • Joseph

    If you want to talk about spoiled entitlement, you should direct this article at our 70-year-old president, who throws daily temper tantrums on social media (is that how to #adult?), and his baby boomer enablers.

    Speaking for the millennial generation, we didn’t destroy the economy, start misguided wars, or blow up the national debt, but we’ll be the ones cleaning up the messes while being lectured about “responsibility.”

  • zonie6044

    You said, “Despite attending college in record numbers, millennials seem to struggle to move on to the next phase of life.” Seems to me that colleges and universities are a large part of the problem, and certainly not part of the solution. Examples abound: courses and majors which have no practical value and do nothing to prepare these children for life after college or any sort of career (except perhaps college professor); indoctrination in destructive liberal values which provide no basis for living in reality; sensitizing students so they are “triggered” by every little insult, real or imagined. It’s no wonder they are called the snowflake generation, and the “educational” system is largely responsible.

  • Lynn Wagenet

    There’s a great organization in Southern California called Wheatstone Ministries whose focus is “Inviting Youth into Christian Adulthood.”