The Infantalized Generation

Dr. James Emery White
Dr. James Emery White

A failure by parents and schools to enforce boundaries has created a generation of “infantilized” Millennials. Going further, an “unwillingness to chastise children or use moral-based judgments has left young people ‘disoriented.’”

All this and more from Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University (U.K.).

He writes of the importance of children encountering boundaries and rules, and how today they are simply “kicking against open doors.” As a result, the entire developmental process becomes compromised and you end with a situation where “the transition from childhood to adolescence takes much, much longer than ever before and the transition from adolescence to adulthood also takes much longer.”

The result?

Millennials in their 20s behave as they did in their mid-teens.

It doesn’t help that the lines have been equally blurred between children and adults, specifically with adults trying to act, look and sound like their children.

“Mothers take their 18-year-olds shopping and it’s their daughter that tells them what to wear, not the other way around. Fathers wear the same t-shirt [as their sons], listen to the same music—[there is] almost this conscious effort not to be a father to your child or a mother but to be their best friend, which is not what children need…. They need somebody they can look up to, somebody that can inspire them. There is this estrangement from adulthood.”

In his analysis, I would contend that Furedi is talking about Generation Z rather than Millennials, but many conflate younger Millennials with Generation Z (which I think is a mistake). But that quibble aside, let’s return to the dismantling of moral boundaries. Furedi argues that when you grow up without them, you tend to abhor those who make them. The irony is that you still make them yourself—as in the creation of “safe spaces” from which you can ban people whose views clash with your own.

Again, consider the deep irony: Someone talks about diversity as a key value, but in truth manifests a deep hostility toward a diversity of viewpoints.

Think of the recent resignation of Bari Weiss from the New York Times. In one of the better assessments, the Times (U.K.) wrote that Weiss quit with a scalding attack on the “illiberal environment” at the paper and claimed that she had been “the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with [her] views.” She said that she was a victim of “unlawful discrimination” and that her work and character were “openly demeaned” on internal communication channels.

She accused the New York Times of betraying its heritage as a “paper of record” and surrendering to an agenda set by Twitter, where “stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and draw their own conclusions.”

She described how she was hired from the Wall Street Journal as part of an attempt to broaden the newspaper’s outlook by “bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of the Times as their home.”

The impetus was President Trump’s shock election victory in 2016, which revealed that the newspaper “didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers.” But “the lessons that ought to have followed the election… have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

I agree with Furedi. So much goes back to allowing children to kick at open doors. Doors that should have been closed, even locked, by an adult.

Yes, the child can then chafe at those locked doors and come to their own sense of right and wrong, good and bad—it’s called free will. But it’s that very process of reacting to those lines – those closed doors – that is so deeply formative.

James Emery White

Sources

Frank Furedi, Why Borders Matter.

Greg Hurst, “Parental Failings ‘Spawned an Infantilised Generation,’” The Times (U.K.), July 13, 2020, read online.

Ben Hoye, “Illiberal New York Times Is Ruled By Online Mob, Says Resigning Columnist Bari Weiss”, The Times (U.K.), July 14, 2020, read online.

“Bari Weiss’s New York Times Resignation Letter in Full,” The Times (U.K.), July 14, 2020, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visitChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    


Originally published July 20, 2020.