This time next year I will be the parent of teenager. As that time gets nearer, I have had numerous people begin to tell me to get ready of the hardest parenting years of my life. Hormones, friends, and pop culture (I am told), will cause my teenager to rebel, and there is not much I can do about it. Many give me the impression that the best thing I can hope for is that my teens make into adulthood without getting pregnant, getting someone else pregnant, or being addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. There seems to be this mainstream idea in our world today that says that all teenagers drink, so help them do it in a controlled fashion. All teenagers have sex, so help them do it in a safe environment. Control and safety dominate the conversations about how to raise teens rather than talking about what is right and wrong. I see parents who turn their heads to what teens are doing at parties as if nothing wrong is going on. Maybe it’s because they did the same when they were young, but, in their opinion, they turned out to be OK. Maybe it is because they do not want to make their teen feel trapped with rules by not letting them go crazy until they are ready to become and adult. I mean all the other parents let their kids do it, right? Maybe it is because they are so naive that they do not think it is their kids doing the drinking, drugs, and sex, it’s only the other people’s kids. No matter the answer, I can not simply sit back as a passive parent and hope my kids make to their twenties alive, not pregnant, sober, and not in too much trouble. There has to be a better answer, a better expectation, and a better plan.
Where do teenagers come from anyway? According to the sources that I have read, the idea of a time between childhood and adulthood that we call “teenager” is relatively a new thing. Its origin is about 150 years old. As the modern world industrialized, the movement of families from the farm to the cities caused many things to change. One of those was the identification of an age group we now call the teenager. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as industries grew in the cities, companies began to employ children. With profit being the main motivation for growing business, children were abused with long working hours and low pay. With living costs being high in the city, parents needed their children to help provide for the family by dropping out of school and getting a job, often in unsafe working conditions, below-standard equipment, and few or no breaks during the day. Fortunately, labor laws were enforced to help alleviate much of the abuse among children in the factories. New laws made minimum working ages, minimum wages, and other protective laws for children. This, as well as other factors indirectly helped create the age group we call teenagers. Too old to be a child. Too young to be considered an adult. This age group was caught in between wanting to act like an adult, but not given the opportunity or the responsibility to be one. In the generations before the industrial revolution, there was really not a such thing as “teenage” years. Children grew up learning what it meant to be an adult, then at a point in time in their life, they were considered an adult. Different cultures at different times had varying ages that this took place, but usually it was between 12-15 years old. It was then that children transitioned to an adult and took upon adult responsibilities.
So, what does this have to do with the drinking, drugs, and sex of today’s teens? Well, one of the major results of protecting children from being abused is that we created a “barrier” between childhood and adulthood. With time, that barrier has turned into an age group that today has characterized it as a period for partying, sexual promiscuity, wild living, and irresponsibility. This group has, on average, been given much more freedom with much fewer rules to live by. The result has been devastating. Teenage alcohol consumption is out of control. Kids are losing their virginity at very young ages. Many have sex before they even become a teenager. The combination of high freedom, low restrictions, the internet, social networks, and smart phones has created an avenue for teens to explore, experience, and promote their “rebellion”. Unfortunately, due to their age, the law shelters them from experiencing many of the severe consequences they would face if they did the same things as an adult. What is unfortunate about this is that the average teen knows this, and they know they can get away with more mischief before they turn 18.
Many parents have not helped in this process. We (since I am a parent, I will include myself in this category) have turned our teens into a group of consumers rather than contributors. They live mainly for what’s in it for them, and give back very little to their families, churches, and communities. We create programs for the teens that cater to their most wanted desires, yet ask them for very little in return. For a lack of better words, we help them think that the world revolves around them. We entertain them rather than asking them to get active. We give them computers, iPhones, iPads, video games, etc but do not demand that they serve others in any way. I have nothing against these things. I have an iPhone. My daughter has an e-reader. But, it seems that many parents just want to occupy their kids with these toys, hoping it will keep them from getting into “real” trouble. The goal has become that they be happy, not that they learn what being an adult is all about. One contributor to this is that our culture, instead of having boys who want to look and act like men, we have men who want to look and act like boys. The term “teenager” now has spilled over into the 20s and even in some cases the 30s. We have lowered the standard for teenagers. Popular opinion says, as long as they are not in trouble, things are going good. But, really this comes from low expectations we have for all ages, not just teens. We live in a culture of low expectations. I mean, if our expectations are low, then our self-esteem will not get hurt. Self-esteem has become one of the biggest gods of our society. Girls care more about what they look like than what kind of person they want to become. Brand of shirt has become a higher priority than caring for other people. Today’s popularity has become more important than our life’s calling and goals. We trade morals, ethics, friends, & family for popularity, temporary fame and pleasure which are nothing more than fading cheap thrills. We, parents, have led our teens to this point, and so,we must lead them out. We can not leave them as helpless sacrifices to pop culture and to our gutless, heartless, and selfish world. We must step up.
So, what is the answer? Well, what is the calling of a follower of Jesus? If you are not a believer in Jesus, then your biggest need is not knowing how to raise your teenager, but understanding and dealing with your position and relationship with God. But, for Christian parents, the Bible says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV) Our calling as a follower of Jesus (including teenagers) is to glorify the Lord with all that we do. This is living by a high standard. This means that a teen’s goal is not just to do what is expected, but do more. To go beyond what is required. But, what does this take? It takes parents and role models who will guide young people to go the extra mile. It also requires that the parents also live by this same mind-set. It takes parents who are seeking to live their lives for the glory of God. This is a huge missing link in the life of our teens. Many teens are simply repeating what they see in the lives of their parents: living life only at the minimum or required level.
As Christian parents we ought to lead our kids to do hard things. To get out of their comfort zone and attempt hard things in the name of Jesus. Now, it is not doing the hard things simply just to do hard things. But, it is challenging our teens to live fully for the glory of God in all they do. Whether it is their grades at school, chores at home, volunteer work in the community, standing up for what is right (according to God’s word) in the class and with with their peers, their involvement at church, reading their bible, begin Bible studies at school, prayer, giving, going on mission trips, sharing Christ with their non-Christian friends, saying no to alcohol, drugs, and sex (until marriage); parents need to challenge their kids to do hard things for glory of Jesus. Anyone, Christian & non-Christian, can attempt hard things. But, only followers of Jesus can live it for the glory of Jesus, and this is what the Christian life is all about. It is this life that brings the greatest joy & lasing peace. Teenagers do not have to wait until they are 25 to live this way. But, the sad truth is that most church-going teens will not be challenged to live this way. Why? Could be for several different reasons. But, in my humble opinion, I think there are two reasons which are major contributors. First, many churches gear their youth groups to entertain their youth, and not challenge them with the word of God. The expectation for the youth are low. They are placed in a room, play games, all without being challenged from God’s word. They are not implicated in serving their local church family. Many churches place their teens in a corner of the congregation, try to entertain them, and pray to God they are still there when they turn 25. I am all for playing games and having fun. But, at the end of the day, I need to hear from God. But, there is a second reason. I think it is even more influential than a church’s youth group. It’s the parents. Parents that challenge their kids to live for the glory of their excellent Savior, will most likely be living that way already. Teens that love Jesus often have parents that do too. This is not a fool proof rule. I know parents who love Jesus and their kids hate Him. I know teens who love Jesus and their parents hate Him. But, parents that live for the glory of Jesus in all they do, do not wake up on Sunday mornings and ask themselves if they want to be with their church family. They do not struggle with serving others in Jesus name. They do not have to dust off their bibles. Praying is simply natural for them. The expectations for themselves are higher than the typical person living for themselves. And the overflow effect is more often than not, having children that follow in their footsteps. If you are a parent that is not living for the glory of Jesus, let me encourage you to consider your Lord (if you are a believer), and ask yourself this question: Why not? He is a good Lord, and He is worthy to be followed with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30-31).
So, I think teenage rebellion does not have to be normal. Sure, since all people are sinners, and parents are not perfect, then teens will occasionally rebel. But, I am not sure it should be any more than my 3 year old. I guess only time will tell if my idea is true. I am sure some, who currently have teenagers, reading this, are skeptical. That’s fine. But, I, along with my wonderful wife, will do our best to proclaim the good news to our children, and challenge them to trust in the Lord with all their heart, and lean not on their own thinking, but in all they do, acknowledge He is Lord, and watch Him guide their steps (Proverbs 3:5-6). If, in the future, one of my children decides not to follow Jesus, it will not be because I showed them the way. Teenagers, as well as people from all other age groups, if you want to follow Jesus, you can not do it while living for your self, and walking in rebellion to God’s will for your life. If we want the next generation to do accomplish great things for God, then we must show them the example by attempting great things for God. We will fail often. But God’s grace is greater than our sin, and by His grace we will see the next generation do 100 fold more for the glory of Jesus than us. And may we bless and praise God for it!
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” – Luke 9:23-26 (ESV)
Good sources on this subject:
Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris
Already Gone by Ken Ham