The Vanishing American Adult:

Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance

Written By: Ben Sasse

Published By: St. Martin's Press

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                I had read an excerpt of The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse online and I knew I wanted this book.  In just that excerpt discussing the then college president Ben Sasse’s discovery that our nation’s youth was stuck in adolescent stage, I found a book I could really get into.  I had long been complaining that the new employees in my workplace lacked the maturity and strength of character I and other older co-workers had at their age.  Now, I had, in Ben Sasse, someone who agreed with my point of view.  But could he come up with a way to save our new era of kids before the American adult lapses from endangered to extinct?

                I should note here that Ben Sasse is a Republican Senator from Nebraska.  What qualifies him as an expert on the vanishing American adult?  Well, for starters, he was a teacher for a number of years at the University of Texas.  His wife is also a teacher.  In 2009, he became president of Midland University and was charged with turning the failing university around.  He achieved that and then some, but I believe there was more to turning this university around than just knowing business and finance.  There had to be something gleaned from learning about the clientele (aka: the students).  Plus, Mr. Sasse is also a father of three children.  I would hope that would give him some insight as well.

                As I began to read this book, I realized that, though we may not agree on certain points of politics, we agreed on one very important premise – we were failing our youth.  Our yearning to give our children all that we couldn’t have at their age is actually inadvertently causing them to be dependent on us for their welfare.  Hence, the growing number of twenty-something to thirty-year-olds still living with their parents.  Hence the lack of independence and maturity we see in our incoming workforce nowadays.  Don’t get me wrong – what parent wouldn’t want better for their children?  The problem is, we are simply giving them everything and not teaching them how to earn it.  We are not teaching them the difference between needs and wants and that is something that is very important in this day of consumerism.  Everyone needs to own things, but are these things necessary to their survival, or are they things that just appear to make them happy for the moment until the next shiny thing comes along?

                Ben Sasse also points out the lack of a desire to learn about cultures, people, history, etc. through books in our recent generations.  He includes some very compelling statistics regarding the reading habits of today’s youth.  And we aren’t talking about what we read online folks – we are talking actual books that our kids are missing out on that can teach them important lessons in life.  Lessons regarding how to avoid being spoon-fed information and being able to cite and back one’s own opinion on things.  Just think of how easily social media melds its users around one opinion, whether it makes sense or not.  Fake news, though a relatively new term, is there for the gullible to swallow.  Educated and independent thinkers are not so gullible to follow the sheep and swallow the spoon-fed servings.

                Sasse doesn’t just explain how our youth has become trapped in a perpetual adolescent stage, he offers ways in which to help your kids escape this trap.  He homeschools his kids and, while this sort of thing is not for everyone, he points out that this type of schooling allows his children to receive a broader spectrum of learning than an average school bent on core training does.  I don’t agree with every concept Sasse outlines – I think that the streets of NYC are not exactly the place I want my nine-year-old child roaming around on their own unsupervised adventure – but I agree with quite a few of his concepts in regards to teaching children independence and free thinking.  In the end, I think that his methods will yield well-rounded, self-reliant adults that can formulate their own opinions and handle both accomplishment and failure with equal poise.

                What I love about this book is, despite being a politician, Ben Sasse doesn’t try to force his party’s beliefs on his readers.  He only slightly touches on Republican morality ideals, but it’s a very light brushing and well-meaning toward his ultimate goal.  I also love the anecdotal tales of his own dealings with the youth of today that help in proving his point regarding the endangered species known as the American adult.

I found The Vanishing American Adult to be not a lament to the loss of the independence and maturity of the folks coming of age in our society of late, but an honest look at what may be causing this decline and how we can help stop it.  The Vanishing American Adult is a very well-thought out book with attainable goals and feasible concepts for achieving them.  Quite an excellent read that I would recommend to any parent or parent-to-be!


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