The Myth of Adolescence (Part 1)

We have all defined the teenage years in so many ways: a time of rebellion, trouble, awkwardness.  Myself, I have used these words in one way or another to describe the tumultuous years of middle school and high school.  But ask anyone who lived 100 years ago what an “adolescent” or a teenager is and you would most likely get a blank stare and a shrug of their shoulders.  First used in 1904 by G. Stanley Hall, the term “adolescent” was used to describe a person between the ages of 13 and 19.  Before 1904, there were just 3 categories of age: childhood, adulthood, and old age.

In some ways, the use of the term “adolescent” was a great idea–preventing child labor that would often severely damage a young persons body, delaying marriage for teenagers, and providing them more time for an adequate education.  However, in many ways, defining this age group has significantly hindered our teenagers.  Expectations were very high on the teenager of one hundred years ago.  Now, what is expected from this age group is immaturity, rebellion, and irresponsibility.  It is ironic that in this age where teenagers are so extremely proficient with technology that we don’t expect them to be able to clean their room, carry on an intelligent conversation, or make somewhat wise choices (there I go lowering the expectations again by saying “somewhat wise” haha).

Indeed, it is our expectations of teenagers that have done the most significant damage.  When I think back on the people who have most influenced my life, it is those whose expectations of me were the highest.  These were not unrealistic expectations of perfection or people who demanded things of me in an overbearing, controlling way–or those people who could not accept failure in my life. But these were people who expected great things of me and who expected me to do my best in everything.  People who, when I failed, encouraged me to keep trying, learn from failure, and loved me through it.

I am just as guilty of anyone of lowering my expectations of our teenagers today, and I am learning how to be the kind of person described above in our own students’ lives.  There is no reason our students should not strive to give their best to God in the present.  There is no reason our students should not be able to dig deeply into scripture on their own and discuss its implications.  There is no reason our students can not make a lasting impact upon the world around them in the way they serve others and give generously!

There is always a chance that they will fail.  But, they will fail with the pride that they attempted something great for Christ and that He will use it to grow them and prepare them for their future!

Part 2 will be coming in the next week or two and I hope to practically apply this to our students and parents!

Bart

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