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Adolescence: Social Construct or Eternal Verity?

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Since its emergence as a discrete ministry in the early 1970s, youth ministry has functioned in a void, oblivious of the long history of young people. Unaware of historic social forces and roles that sometimes empowered and at other times limited young people, youth ministry functioned in following decades as if adolescents were by nature characteristic of the American status quo – with its prolonged education, minimal involvement in the common good, tension with parents and authorities, and a ravenous hunger for commodities. By the late 1990s, due to a flurry of historical research, youth ministry professionals became aware that adolescence was a relatively recent and not entirely benign cultural invention. But recently, author Crystal Kirgiss, has sought to debunk the notion of adolescence as a modern social construction by offering historical accounts illuminating the vast commonalities between youth of all historic ages. This review affirms the rich historical work done by Kirgiss as constituting a contribution to youth ministry, but also challenges her essentialism as dangerous and unwarranted.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Christian Education and Methodist Studies, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, USA,


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