Mentoring Young Adults: What Are We Thinking?

Mentoring Young Adults: What Are We Thinking?

One of the better books I’ve read is Souls in Transition by Christian Smith. He studies the age characteristics of the “emerging adult,” 18-23-year-olds who are choosing to navigate life in a little different way than the generations ahead of them. As a college president, you could guess why I am interested in the book. I want to know the influences on this age group.

Counter to popular myth, these emerging adults are significantly influenced by their parents and grandparents. Speaking on behalf of parents/grandparents, we may be fooled into thinking that we have aged into the category of uncool, irrelevant, and obsolete. Statistics gathered from the 18-23-year-olds say otherwise. Smith finds that our wisdom and advice is needed and desired.

Mentoring Young Adults Requires Involvement In Their Lives

But Smith also finds that we have backed away from our role. We have stopped coaching, mentoring, and being deeply involved in the choices our children and grandchildren are making. We cheer faintly from the sidelines believing they will now make up their own mind and that our wisdom no longer matters. What are we thinking? Research from them tells us they need us at the very time we are exiting the serious conversations that they desire.

The same parents who give unsolicited advice on oil changes, hair styles, and sports teams are leaving the conversation when it comes to a college choice. I wish I had a dollar for every parent who told me with shrugged shoulders, “Well, they’re an adult now and we’re going to let them decide which college to go to. We hope they choose a Christian college, but you can’t push them or they may rebel.”  The very students who are statistically telling us they need our wisdom are being abandoned to decide on their own.

A parent who has spent 18 years getting them to church, watching over their friendships, tending to their schedule, caring about their ethical choices, and praying for them is now ready to say, “If you choose to attend a hedonistic, party-throwing college that is the epitome of everything we have encouraged you not to do, a college that will mock our faith as ancient and uninformed, a college that will shape the worldview you will live with—then we are willing to finance that experience for you because we think you are old enough to make your own choices now.”

What are you thinking?

My disappointment is not with the teenager who is lured to a college by the popularity of the state football team they root for, or the cool kid from high school that is going there, or the latte machine in the dorm. My disappointment is with the adults in that student’s life who have not given them sufficient loving wisdom to make a better choice.

What are we thinking?

Come on, Dad and Mom. Come on, grandparents. Stay in the game. The college choice may well set the sail for life for someone you deeply love. And if Smith is right, they are asking for your input.


  1. Dan,
    I appreciate your “core message”. However, another major role of parents and grandparents is to equip our students to be spiritually prepared to thrive spiritually in the big “party” schools. We had 2 sons attend a non-Nazarene Christian university. Our youngest son attended a large “party school” and left a huge spiritual footprint. He grew “in statue, wisdom, and favor with God.”

  2. In retrospect, I wish our 2 sons had followed in our footsteps @ TNU!

  3. Donita Knight says

    I totally agree with you Dan. I am some Christian young people can and do go to non-Christian university and are influencers rather than being influenced. But I have Christians friends who r aised their kids in the church and did not encourage them to go to a Christian university and the results have been heart-breaking. I do believe that God is still at work drawing them back into relationship with Him. And I also know there are no guarantees that come with sending our kids to a Christian university but I am so thankful for places like Trevecca (our alma mater and Northwest Nazarene (our daughters alma mater)and other places where young people can get an education and be equipped to go out into the world to make a difference for the kingdom of God.

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