Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

My Photo
Location: Kansas, United States

Thursday, September 29, 2005

younger adults?

Here's a random thought I'll throw out in a hurried attempt at a real post:

For years I've heard people say that teenagers are having a harder and harder time making it through adolescence unscathed. Drugs, alcohol, gangs, sex, and stupidity is rampant. But when people say that I usually ask them, "What's different now?" Usually they say that the world is headed to hell in a handbasket and society is so much worse than it used to be. Ok, maybe. But do you notice any other difference? Yeah...our adolescents are being adolescents for longer than they were when you were a kid.

For someone who loves teens, I have a strange theory about how we could help our youth and cut down and drugs, violence, teenage pregnancy, etc. Make adolescence shorter. You see, we've always had teenagers (people who's age ends in -teen), but the concept of adolescence is very, very new. It began with the invention of public schools and then secondary school and the expectation of college (now grad school is almost expected). Sure those are good things, but they also delay the beginning of a true life journey for years. That period becomes some weird stasis period where learning is expected but not much else. My grandfather used to tell me the story of finishing the eighth grade. He asked his father if he could go on to high school and my great-grandfather replied to his 13 year old son: "Don't be stupid. Get to work." According to today's values that sounds pretty cruel, almost abusive, but my grandfather did as he was told, learned the farm trade, got married at 17, raised 9 wonderful children who bless me to this day, and lived to be 90, all without ever doing drugs, taking a single drink, joining a gang, or having extra-marital sex. Of course, the purpose of the gospel is bigger than just keeping kids from getting involved in substance abuse and sex, but maybe we can agree that since those things are truly harming our society, that a downturn in those behaviors would be helpful, both on a individual and societal level.

Currently, sociologists have a hard time defining when adolescence actually ends. Some say they believe for some individuals adolescence can last into the early 30's, and most will tell you that adolescence rarely ends before the early 20's when we actually allow people to get on with their life. Even the government doesn't know - you can vote and be drafted and be the subject of a lawsuit at 18, but you can't have a beer until 21. Conversely, if you commit a heinous enough crime at the age of 15, the government will confer upon you the honor of being tried as an adult. Businesses are equally confused: Insurance companies don't consider you an adult until your mid twenties, you can't rent a car until 25, although a 21 year old can rent a U-haul if they need to drive somewhere. But one thing people are pretty unified about is that the adolescent years are intimidating, difficult, and frought with danger for those who make poor choices about their mature bodies using their immature minds.

STD's and pregnancy are rampant among young people. Between 80% and 90% of the teens you know will have had sex before they graduate high school. 30% of those will have contracted some sort of STD. More than 10% of the sexually active girls will have had abortions. But when we crunch some more numbers another interesting trend comes to light. At what age do most people reach sexual adulthood (i.e. able to procreate)? Normally by the age of 13. At what age do most people get married? The national average is 26. Do we really expect people shut down their sexuality for more than a decade until the culture says they are grown up and ready for marriage? A personal commitment to holiness is important, and of course in Christ it can be and has been done, but societally, should we really be surprised? Something has changed.

I often hear ministers urge teenagers not to be afraid to get involved in ministry, not to consider themselves too young to throw themselves into something significant, and they usually back up this plea by saying, "Remember, Mary was just a young teenager when God used her to give birth to Jesus." Well...yes, but that's an anachronism because that was the age that girls were socialized to become wives and mothers and to run a household. We can't really help it, but it's unfair to picture a 1st century 13 year old as an unsure, nervous, incapable kid who's still searching for herself. People at that time were prepared to launch into their own lives at an earlier age. I can't shake the notion that system is somehow unjust, that maybe it's the result of the sexual preferences of a chauvinistic society, but then again, our system isn't exactly producing happier, healthier young people.

So what would happen if we began to socialize teenagers more quickly? Would it help? I don't know, but maybe. Giving people purpose can revolutionize their life. Shortening adolescence would give Madison Avenue a smaller target and might cause them to pick another demographic to terrorize and ruin. It would lead to maturity in a time when immaturity is idolized. But we would really have to change the entire way we socialize our children; cosmetic change would likely do more harm than good. Remember, if this is indeed a problem, it is a systemic one; it is not the fault of individual parents and it is not to be solved by pushing your kids to get married young. I got married at 20, and my wife had just turned 19. We are glad we did, but we've had to admit that our marriage has been a journey not only of growing closer together, but also of growing up. I don't know all the answers, but I'm sure of the fact that our society has failed our young people (don't believe it? Read Chap Clark's Hurt), and that something needs to be done.


Post a Comment

<< Home