“Just Wait Until They’re Teens…” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

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 Godly mothers I know whose children, now Godly 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…

Scientist Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0 and former editor of Psychology Today , believes that adolescence is a modern phenomenon that comes from treating teenagers like children:

” 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.  Many Fundamentalist Christians, who will argue to their last breath that the world was created in a literal seven days, will hem and haw over this verse, explaining that it actually means that the child will come back to God when they’re adults (not what it says.)  Or, that parents can train the children in the right way, but somehow the child just doesn’t receive that training (also not what it says.)  Or they’ll say that we just don’t have control over the way our children are raised (sorry, don’t buy that, either… the amount of control we have over how our children are raised equals exactly the amount of control we choose to have during their childhood years.)  As for myself, I believe that verse of the bible means exactly what it says – more than I believe (or care) how many days it took to make the world or whether dinosaurs were actually on the ark.  I believe that God is more concerned with my children’s well-being than I am, and that He WILL show me how to “raise my children in the way they should go.”  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.

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9 Responses to “Just Wait Until They’re Teens…” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

  1. Tracey says:

    Bravo, bravo, applause…. I was out once with 4 of my little ones and a woman said “Just WAIT till they are teens!” I replied that I had 6 teens at home and I loved them dearly. There are 2 things I have personally found to be true – – behavior you allow at age 2 /3 tends to resurface at 12/13 – if you taught your toddler / preschooler to be sweet, obedient, kind, hard working and helpful you will reap that fruit in their teens. If your 2 year old ran over you with your consent, was “too wild to (choose) to handle” thought the world OWED them a life of entertainment and happy meals, etc, I am not looking forward to seeing YOUR teen years…
    YOU need to parent your teens differently than you did your toddlers – don’t hold them choking tight, don’t squeeze them so tight they slip through your fingers, but don’t abandon them either… be there, watching, listening, respecting, and parenting….

  2. Patti Milam says:

    Rina, our pastor preached on raising adults instead of children recently, and that is what the world is doing. However, I have tried to be a Godly parent and feel that I have raised Godly children. This did not come easy and I don’t care how good of a Godly parent you are, it’s going to happen. I homeschooled Amber and thought I kept Jason, Aaron, and Brandi close to the fold. They all strayed. I think that is why the Bible says: Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6. It doesn’t say they will always stay on it, but that they will not turn from it when they are older. People used to tell me that my kids all acted like little adults. That scared me because I thought I hadn’t let them be kids. I realize now that that was a good thng, I raised them to be mannerly, respectful, etc. Always “yes maam, no sir”.Training them to be adults means training them to be able to handle whatever comes toward them. Sooner or later, they will try you, not because they don’t love you, but because that is human nature. God gives us choices and sometimes we make the wrong ones , as humans. We all have to try our wings and in doing that, we may think our way is better than our parents, sooner or later they see that mom and dad are right. I’ll never forget the day Jason wrote home from the army an told the other 3, “you need to listen to mom, she knew what she was talking about.” Or Brandi, when she said, “I’m just like you.” I think you are doing a fantastic job.

    • Rina says:

      Patti, a long time ago, an older mom told me the same thing – that we’re not raising CHILDREN, we’re raising ADULTS. That has always stuck with me. I do disagree with your interpretation of Proverbs 22:6… I think that the statement “will not stray” assumes that they will always stay on the path (if someone is giving me directions and tells me to go on a certain road and not “stray” from it until I reach my destination, I’m going to stay on that road.) Having said that, I also believe that Jesus is in the business of redemption, and even if my children did stray, all is definitely NOT lost – far, far from it.
      You wrote that “sooner or later, they will try you”… I agree that sooner or later they will start to question the things they have always been taught, and they will start wanting more authority over themselves than they have previously been given and make their own decisions regarding things we have always decided for them (curfews, movies they can watch, books they can read, etc.) Whether this becomes a “trial” or not I think largely depends on the quality of relationship we have with built with them during the early years, how much influence over their hearts we have, and how my husband and I handle the situation.
      Thanks, as always, for your encouragement! I know I’ll make mistakes along the way, and I’m glad to know people who are always there with an encouraging word!

  3. free2bme123 says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!!! Absolutely on the right track, I wish everyone could read this blog. Hope you don’t mind if I re-blog it. I too love every waking moment with both my teens just as much as I did when they were little and I do treat them like adults as they should be. I do however still sneak in my snuggle times and am thankful that they humor me with such! They have been working since they were 14 and volunteering since they were 12 and love it, it isn’t work for them, they actually enjoy it. Respect has always been a very important part of raising our children. If you don’t teach respect at a young age, you end up with out of control teens unfortunately. You have to invest the time when they are young and you will be rewarded when they are young adults . . . It is sooo worth it!
    I work with children every day and over the course of 20+ years I have seen the change in the parenting styles and the children’s behaviors as a result and let me tell you something needs to be done now if we want our children’s generation to be respectful, responsible, independent and productive contributors to society. I always say children are doing their job when they act out, but it is our jobs as parents to deal with it in an appropriate manner which teaches and guides them in the right direction!
    The days of the children running the house because parents have been taught that if they say no to a child it will hurt their self esteem are here full force and I am afraid that these children will have a rude awakening once in the real world. I just wish that parents would see what an injustice that they are truly doing for their children. A lot of children I deal with have no respect as children therefore will grow up to be disrespectful teens. I don’t blame the teens 100%, the parents have to also share the blame after all parents are the ones who are laying the foundation for their children.

  4. free2bme123 says:

    Reblogged this on free2bme123 and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Invest in your children when they are young and it will definitely pay of when they are teens ;)

  5. That’s a really interesting point of view that I’ve never heard before. I like it! And, being a mother of two boys, I think I might just embrace it. Thanks :)

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