It seems that the above sentiment has been popping up from friends and family more and more often, as my children get older. I’m amazed at the number of people who are convinced that the teenage years are necessarily fought with anger and rebellion. I’m amazed at the wide-spread belief that there is some kind of unavoidable twighlight zone between the ages of 12 and 20 that changes formerly kind, loving and obedient children into rabid adolescents.
Sorry, but I just don’t buy it!
Granted, I haven’t entered the teenage years with my children and I’m speaking from absolutely zero personal experience. But I am relying on the experiences of mothers I know whose children, now adults, never entered this teenage twighlight zone of rebellion. I’m relying on history as I see it played out before the existence of the word and concept “teenager.” And I’m relying on a bible passage that tells me that if I raise my children the way they should go “they will not part from it” (Proverbs 22:6.)
Only relatively recently in history have we come to understand the years between 12 and 20 as something in-between childhood and adulthood. “The earlier onset of puberty, compulsory education through age eighteen, the higher average age of marriage and child labor laws that prohibited children from the workplace all contributed to the development of adolescence as a defined stage of maturation that separates childhood and adulthood in the modern world. (To read the full article, click here.)”
I look through history, and it’s hard to imagine teens from centuries past as cranky, rebellious, and lazy. It’s hard to imagine Lara Ingalls slamming the door in her mothers face, or George Washington cursing at his dad. In the 1700’s, so-called “children” were allowed to join the British Navy at age 11 and were often captains of their own ships by the age of 20. Up until the 1900’s, girls were usually married and running their own homes by the age of 16. Alexander the Great founded his first colony at age 16, John Quincy Adams was made ambassador to Russia at age 14 and Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories before the age of 19. Are these extraordinary examples? I don’t think so. I think they reflect a society and a parental outlook that sees two stages of development (childhood and adulthood), rather than three (or four, if you include the years now commonly referred to as “tweens.”) I think it reflects parents who were willing to move comfortably from authority figure to peer, and a society who embraced and supported those in their “teenage” years as adults.
Teenagers today are treated like children, and they often view themselves as children, rather than as young adults with the potential to do great things. They often see themselves and are seen by others as dependent consumers, rather than creative producers, so they seek fulfillment in consumption rather than achievement.
Edward Eggleston drew a similar conclusion in 1900 as he explained the reasons for American superiority in the world. He observed that first generation Americans were still crippled by their habits of dependency learned in Europe, but American young people, freed from the European social system, were free to thrive. At the age of 7, he said, Americans begin growing up.
Alexis de Tocqueville agreed. In his 1839 book, Democracy in America , he observed that “In America there is strictly speaking no adolescence. At the close of boyhood, the man appears.” In old America, teenagers were treated as powerful individuals with great potential. Those that viewed themselves the same way did great things…
” In 1991 anthropologist Alice Schlegel of the University of Arizona and psychologist Herbert Barry III of the University of Pittsburgh reviewed research on teens in 186 preindustrial societies. Among the important conclusions they drew about these societies: about 60 percent had no word for “adolescence,” teens spent almost all their time with adults, teens showed almost no signs of psychopathology, and antisocial behavior in young males was completely absent in more than half these cultures and extremely mild in cultures in which it did occur.” (To read the full article, click here)
It is my opinion that the modern day phenomenon of teenage rebellion exists in part because we’re holding young-adults back and keeping them in limbo between childhood and adulthood far beyond what is necessary or beneficial. We’re encouraging young adults to play sports, go to prom, make friends, see the latest movie and do all they can to enjoy their “teenage years” while delaying any semblance of adult responsibility for as long as possible. Further, as the desire comes upon them to start making their own decisions and feeling their own way out in life, we’re not willing to move from a parental role to a peer role when it is most necessary… we’re trusting our authority to guide these young adults rather than the relationships we’ve established with them during their formative years (if we’ve managed to establish a relationship with them at all.) Perhaps most importantly, I believe that teenage rebellion exists because we have come to expect teenage rebellion. There is something to the old saying “you get what you expect.”
If we expect our kids to rebel as teenagers, it’s easy to let what was once a solid relationship with our children slip as they get older because we think that’s just the way it’s “supposed” to be. We sense them pulling back, becoming distant, and rather than seek out their hearts and make efforts to strengthen our relationships with them, we assume this is “just a phase.” We find them questioning what they’ve never questioned before and rather than draw them into a conversation and allow them to make their own decisions (hopefully with a great deal of desired and trustworthy input from us) we force our will upon them just at the time when they need guidance rather than dictatorship, at the time when it’s most important for them to come to their own conclusions and understandings. We’ve bought into the notion that teenage rebellion simply can’t be helped, and that the odds are against our children staying on the right path, and remaining close to us.
I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy into what this culture has to say about my child’s development. God hasn’t given me any reason to believe that rebellion, anger, disrespect, and defiance are necessary or unavoidable for the growth and well being of my children. God hasn’t given me any reason to expect them to reject their parents values or walk away from all we have and will teach them. American culture has presented its case against my children, and I’m simply not willing to listen.
Proverbs 22:6 tells me that if I raise my children in the way they should go, they will not part from it. I believe it. It’s not a popular position, but I think many people I know would be better served (or would have been better served) to believe and expect God to help them keep their children on the right path than to assume their children are destined for rebellion and resign themselves, and their children, to that fate.
A friend recently told me of a conversation she had with her young adult as they were talking about the so-called “teenage years” and what everyone warned her to expect. She said to her daughter:
“I don’t know what they’ve all been talking about, I’m LOVING you as a teenager! This has been my favorite age with you yet!”
THAT sums up the expectations I have of the years ahead with my children. THAT is what I’m looking forward to.