There is only one cure for the malady that afflicts our culture, and that is to
speak the truth about it. Once we can bring ourselves to do that, it will be
time to worry about “constructive solutions,” “practical proposals,” and
“social alternatives” for our young—discussions of which, so long as they are
so absurdly premature, serve only to distract our attention from the truth
In the summer of 2008, we and a team of trained interviewer-researchers fanned out across the United States to interview 230 18- to 23-year-old emerging adults representing every region, social class, race, ethnicity, religion, educational situation, and family background in the country. Most of these we had interviewed twice before when they were younger. Much of what we heard in our interviews with these emerging adults was intriguing and encouraging. Many emerging adults, we learned, are leading interesting, promising, and sometimes impressive lives. At the same time, a lot of what we heard from them was also troubling, and sometimes disturbing and depressing. The first book to come out of this research focused especially on the religious lives of emerging adults.1 But when that book was written and published, it was clear to us that there was much more of a story to tell than the first book disclosed, and more about emerging adults beyond their religious lives that needed to be reported and considered. That story became this book.
Building on previous studies of emerging adults by other scholars,2 we have shown that the passage of American youth moving from the teenage years toward full adulthood today is often confusing, troubled, and sometimes dangerous. Many who make this passage find themselves disoriented, wounded, and sometimes damaged along the way. In the popular imagination, these early adult years are filled with youthful fun and freedom enjoyed in the prime of life. For some, this image is true. The actual reality for many, however, is instead one of