Teenage Wasteland

After writing my last article on what a successful teen looks like, I’ve been praying for my children more specifically as they approach their teen years. Honestly, as a parent I have been pretty afraid of these years. My oldest, Solanna, will be turning 13 this summer. I pray often about the people they are becoming, and that my children will desire God’s glory as they grow. But I usually envision them now, and then as adults. The teen years have been parenthetical in my prayers. A new confidence is arising in me as I pray for God’s Spirit to be actively working in those teenage years, despite my own inadequacies as a parent. That has led me to consider the liberal license our culture gives to teenagers. As long as they are building a strong college resume for themselves, I’m afraid that much of our expectations for our youth is reduced to responsible fun. What do the teenage years actually accomplish?  We don’t want our kids to grow up too fast, but do we even help them to grow up at all? By and large, the twenties are now seen as extended teenage years. And I think much of the blame for this lies on the adults. We are the ones telling them they are too young. It seems that lack of experience distances the youth from gaining any respect from the middle-aged crowd (argh, is that me?), as well as the wise sages above them. So teenagers seem to roam around in the land of wild oats and technological advances. Maybe our hope is that they get all those wild oats out of their system before they have to really be responsible like us. But now this attitude is being carried into adulthood. As I was picking my first-grader up from school yesterday, I noticed a Ben & Jerry’s bumper sticker on a parent’s car that read: If it’s not fun, why do it? Wow. That cannot possibly be a mantra any parent could live by. To be clear, I love a good time. But I think we have so misplaced the idea of fun that it has become meaningless. We have succumbed to the delusion that in order for something to be interesting it has to be entertaining. And so the schools have followed suit in making education more fun. Churches have complied with fun music and exciting messages. And the youth group gets their own wing where they are separated from us boring adults to receive a more hip and entertaining experience. Our youth now believe that they need constant entertainment in exchange for their attention. They need a new thrill around every corner. The worst insult they could utter is, “I’m bored.” My kids know better than to tell me that because I reply, “What do I say about people who get board?” They moan, “Only boring people get bored.” Boredom is a byproduct of the gluttonous entertainment consumer. We’ve even done the idea of fun a disservice. Often fun is a secondary surprise, a pleasurable reward of gratefulness when people set out to accomplish a higher purpose. If we go on trying to manufacture fun as a means for appeal, we take away its true value. Unfortunately, I think too many of us adults look back at our youth as a teenage wasteland. I wish my eyes had been bigger than my social circles and where we were going to hang out that night. In his grace, God still used those years to shape me. No matter my own efforts, he does not waste a thing. And for that very reason, I want to pass down to my kids what I have learned about redeeming the time. To do this, I need to understand better the values that the teenage years can offer. It has to be more than a parenthetical time to sow wild oats and gain an education, with the hopes that they will return to the faith we handed down in their childhood. I’ve mentioned before that I was asked to teach the Tuesday morning ladies Bible study at my church. Most of the women in the class are grandparents, and even great grandparents. I was humbled at the invitation. I have much to learn from them; why would they possibly want to be led in a study by me? I think these wonderful women are teaching me much about how to treat our youth. Ironically, our study meets in the church’s youth room. Painted at the top of the wall is 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” We need to be cultivating leaders in their youth. How better to do that than by calling them out of the teenage wasteland and investing some of our own time with them?