Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teenagers Don’t Have To Be Immature

We live in the age of the teenager. Entire businesses and marketing campaigns are designed around the teen years. Kids look forward to this period because many believe that it is a time for “sowing wild oats” and getting out from under their parents’ oversight.

Believe it or not, the word teenager is much less than a century old. The word “teenage” was first observed in the 1920’s, and “teenager” didn’t appear until the late 1930’s. The word “teenager” entered the mainstream when it appeared in a 1941 article in Reader’s Digest and has made progressively more appearance in everyday language.

It’s not so much the language or the word that is meaningful , but more the “concept” of the teenager. Before 1920, people were thought of only as children or adults. There was not a third life stage to be considered. A child worked with his or her parents to learn and mature, and would one day become an adult – no in-between mode of rebelliousness was expected (rebellion surely happened in certain cases, but it was not a given that children would experience this). The Bible supports this two-tiered thinking.

Does our society now expect a period of defiance in our children? Do we think it’s a good thing, and that it’s just part of the maturing process? Without a doubt, there are some children who have gone through this period and come out stronger and as better human beings on the other side. And I detect a distinct expectation from some parents that their children must go through a disobedient, disrespectful phase in order to learn life lessons that are necessary for maturity. But I don’t believe it.

Simply put, we should not expect that our children will go through a phase of rebellion. It is not only possible for them to avoid this trap, it is a desirable thing, and one that every parent should pray for. By expecting such a phase in our young adults, we give in to the lie that “teenage rebellion is acceptable” and pass on to our children a permission slip to do wrong. In some cases, these children will not recover from the temptations and addictions that await them in this very formative period. It is better that our children are taught to see this period for what it really is – a retreat from necessary parental guidance and oversight.

History records some fine examples of men and women who progressed from childhood to adulthood, with no intermediate stopover. Alexander the Great became a ruling regent when he was only sixteen. Joan of Arc led armies to victory and brilliantly defended her faith before the age of nineteen. Goliath looked down on David and “saw that he was only a boy”, but Goliath would be dead only a few minutes later, killed by that very youth. When looking at the historical account of David’s life, I see no evidence of rebellion or disrespect to his father – only that he obeyed his father and proceeded to do great things, even though he was very young.

It is my expectation from my own children that they move from childhood to adulthood without the rebellion that often occurs in between. My oldest is now fifteen, and for those of you who know her, you can witness that she obeys and respects her parents, while still progressing into the period of maturity and adulthood. I’ve had many talks with her about this very subject. “Don’t be an immature teenager just because others around you think it’s okay. Don’t disrespect your parents, even in private circles away from home, merely because you see others engaging in that practice. And start doing great things for God and others, right now, because you have the maturity to go straight to adulthood.” Paul summed up the parent’s message perfectly in 1 Timothy 4:11-12 – “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

The “teenage years” are a relatively new concept in history. In less than a hundred years, our society has moved from the viewpoint of expecting maturity at an early age to one of catering to teenage immaturity and encouraging reckless experimentation. I’d rather reverse this trend and go back to the days when expectations were higher for young people. As a parent, I believe it’s possible to bring our children to adulthood without giving in to irresponsible behavior.

1 comment:

Miranda Rat said...

Have you read Do Hard Things? Good book. :)