Is adolescence really a modern cultural construct, as many have claimed? Author and veteran youth worker Crystal Kirgiss began her journey into the history of adolescence when the fourteenth-century Squire of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales caught her eye. Not a boy, not yet a man—the Squire’s classic hallmarks of adolescent attitudes and behaviors pushed her to search further and further into historical literature and documents in search of adolescence.
Here Kirgiss offers youth workers a glimpse into the rich history of adolescence from the tenth through the eighteenth century, walking readers through exactly what many deep thinkers, artistic creators, impassioned preachers, and other influencers had to say about this life stage, long before our modern and postmodern incarnations of youth and youth ministry existed.
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About Crystal Kirgiss
Crystal Kirgiss earned her PhD in medieval language and literature from Purdue University, where she is now a writing instructor in the English department. She writes a monthly column for Youthwalk devotional magazine, has authored numerous books for both adults and students, and has contributed to many Bible editions, including The Way (Tyndale). Besides her involvement at her local church, she has worked with students in the public school system; mentored adjudicated adolescent girls; served as a leader for Young Life, Wyldlife, and Capernaum; and led small groups for both high school and college-aged girls. She is married to Mark, a veteran youth worker.
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 as a modern invention, an 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 | @markdevriesYMA
Founder, Ministry Architects
Author of Sustainable Youth Ministry
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 | @kendacreasydean
Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture Princeton Theological Seminary
Author of Almost Christian
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 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 | @chapclark
Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture; Fuller Theological Seminary
Author of Hurt 2.0
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 | @kurtjohnston
Pastor to Students, Saddleback Church
Author of Middle School Ministry Made Simple
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 Jell-O to a wall. Now, I owe a big thanks to Crystal Kirgiss 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.
Walt Mueller, PhD | @CPYU
Founder and President, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
Author of Youth Culture 101
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 | @ellllllllllle
Coauthor of Creating a Lead Small Culture
This is a rare book that will change the way we think and speak about adolescence. Crystal Kirgiss 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 | @terrylinhart
Chair of the Dept. of Religion and Philosophy, Bethel College
Coauthor of Global Ministry: Reaching Adolescents Around the World
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, rethink 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.
Duffy Robbins PhD | @duffyrobbins
Professor of Youth Ministry, Eastern University
Author of Building a Youth Ministry That Builds Disciple
This book is a game changer for anyone who thinks that adolescence is a modern invention. Crystal 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.
Tom Bergler, PhD | @huntingtonu
Professor Ministry and Missions, Huntington University
Author of The Juvenilization of American Christianity