History of Adolescence

Detail from “adolescens” entry in Omne Bonum (Royal MS 6 E VI, folio 58v) c. 1380. Used with permission of the British Library.

RELEASED SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 – In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea
Taking a broad look at how Thinkers, Creators, and Preachers have described and depicted adolescence over the centuries, this book challenges the standard assumptions we have about the history of this life stage. You can pre-order your copy here.

[You can find short summaries and blurbs of historical source material by searching for #historyofadolescence in the blog.]

Here’s what people are saying about the book:

“Crystal Kirgiss lays down the gauntlet: if we’d done our homework more carefully, maybe we wouldn’t have swallowed the “adolescence-as-recent-social-construct” thesis so readily. With the temerity of a well-armed historian, and the compassion of a long-time youth minister, Kirgiss turns conventional theories of childhood on their heads by arguing that adolescence has been around a lot longer than we think. Agree or disagree, In Search of Adolescence is a joyous read that turns one of youth ministry’s most sacred cows into hamburger.”
Kenda Creasy Dean, PhD
Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary
Author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford) and What Youth Ministry Can Teach Theological Education–If We Let It (Eerdmans)

“This book is smart. It’s witty, down-to-earth, well-researched, and quite possibly ground-breaking. I have only one complaint: Reading In Search of Adolescence  is forcing me to reconfigure or, at least, re-think, pretty much everything I’ve been believing and teaching about adolescence over the last three decades! But, the insights of this book are persuasive and profound. With a perfect mix of thorough scholarship and ministry passion Crystal – a seasoned youth ministry vet herself – offers a vital contribution to our understanding of adolescence and the way we minister to teenagers.”
Dr. Duffy Robbins
Professor of Youth Ministry, Eastern University, St Davids, PA
Author of Building a Youth Ministry That Builds Disciples and Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts

“This book is a game changer for anyone who thinks that adolescence is a modern invention. Kirgiss’ lively romp through the sometimes sordid, sometimes hilarious history of adolescence should spark an important conversation among parents, youth ministers, and youth ministry educators. We need to listen to her call to see young people for who they really are, rather than repeating misleading historical narratives that stereotype them.”
Dr. Tom Bergler
Professor of Ministry and Missions, Huntington University
Author The Juvenilization of the American Church and From Here to Maturity

“In Search of Adolescence takes on the revisionist history so widely accepted in the church and the broader culture—the “history” that portrays adolescence itself it a modern invention, a aberration of the way young people were meant to grow up.  A winsome writer, a fearless academic and a brilliant researcher, Crystal Kirgiss unmasks the simplistic assumptions we’ve held for so long about the nature and importance of adolescence.  Like a sharpshooter in a carnival shooting gallery, Crystal’s book blows away falsehood after falsehood with perfectly aimed research and totally disarming humor.  This book has the potential to make us totally rethink the way we see young people and our work with them.”
Mark DeVries, MDiv
Found of Ministry Architects
Author of Sustainable Youth Ministry

“For my entire adult life I’ve been working hard to figure out adolescents and adolescence. My growing collection of definitions and anecdotes regarding this in-between period indicates that both of the aforementioned tasks are like trying to nail Jello to a wall. Now, I owe a big thanks to Crystal Kirgess for adding some significant research and ideas to my ongoing quest as a parent, youth worker, and youth culture analyst. In Search of Adolescence is a must-read for anyone longing to understand and reach our precious kids.”
Dr. Walt Mueller
Founder and President of Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
Author of Youth Culture 101

“As foundational as the notion of adolescence is to the practice of youth ministry, few of us have had the training or done the work to dig into its history. Crystal Kirgiss serves us well in bringing to light how that stage between childhood and adulthood has been understood and addressed in the West for centuries. In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea provides solid research and reflective insight into how this season of life change has always been a contextual struggle – not only for the adolescents themselves, but for parents, communities and the church – and what it means to encourage and care for those moving through this historically ‘normal’ stage of life.”
Chap Clark, PhD
Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary
Author of Hurt 2.0

“This is a rare book that will change the way we think and speak about adolescence. Crystal has mined the history of adolescence for captivating gems and social maps that are treasures to help us better understand young people today. This book is at the cutting edge of adolescent research, not just in youth ministry, but across disciplines. The best part, though, is that Crystal’s gifted writing makes it an easy and delightful read that will inspire us in all our work with youth.”
Terry Linhart, PhD
Chair Dept. of Religion and Philosophy, Bethel College – Indiana
Coauthor of Global Ministry: Reaching Adolescents Around the World

“Rarely do you find someone who is willing to go against the popular narrative the way Crystal Kirgiss does in this fantastic book. In it she challenges long held assumptions and helps carve out a new path for thinking about adolescence. This book truly is a gift to the youth worker community!
Kurt Johnston
Pastor to Students, Saddleback Church
Author of Middle School Ministry Made Simple

“This book is a much needed look at how adolescence has been understood throughout history. It’s fascinating but more importantly it’s an invitation to see adolescence in what may be a new way – not as a social construct, or a problem to be solved, or a stage to be endured, but as a precious phase of life designed uniquely by God to reflect his image. For both young people and the adults who influence them, that’s great news.
Elle Campbell
Cofounder of StuffYouCanUse.org
Coauthor of Creating a Lead Small Culture


My research focuses on the history of adolescence – how it was experienced, described, depicted, and defined throughout the centuries.

Yes: centuries.

While it may be accurate to say that the psychological and sociological study of adolescence in the 20th- and 21st-century collegiate academy is a mere 100 years old (the math makes that hard to debate), it is not accurate to say (as so many have) that adolescence itself is a mere 100 years old, if by “adolescence” we mean an in-between stage of life, beginning with puberty and ending with full adulthood, during which people are viewed as neither children nor adults, live under certain social and cultural constraints, and are often described in ways that highlight negative behaviors. That last part isn’t so much a technical element of the definition as much as it is a harsh reality.

If you are interested in getting more information on historical primary sources that discuss adolescence, email me at crystalkirgiss@comcast.net

If you are a grad student or researcher looking for a fresh topic that needs more attention and coverage, consider diving into the world of historical adolescence.

***You can find short summaries and blurbs of historical source material by searching for #historyofadolescence in the blog.

One thought on “History of Adolescence

  1. Dann Robert Johnson August 7, 2015 / 12:10 am

    I’ve got windburn from all those amazing quotes rushing past me. Hats off to you, Crystal!!

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