By Nat Sniatecki
I hate using the word ‘teenager’. It rarely has any positive connotations, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Teenagers are rarely spoken of in a good light, and when they are, it comes as a surprise to the person reporting it. Before 1941, it never even existed. The idea of being in this strange place between adulthood and childhood never came to mind. Yet, now that the idea has not only been coined, but instilled in the minds of youth for generations, it’s a nearly inescapable notion.
Much to the surprise of my peers, I believe we are capable of things that adults can do as well; whether we rise to the challenge or not is a point yet to come. But when I say “It was a different time, and a different type of parenting”, no one seems to understand. I know someone who was just married last year at seventeen, and she’s perfectly happy and living well, and that’s come as such a shock to many of my friends, because they think of adulthood as this distant, vague entity they’re neither prepared nor willing to reach.
So now, once I reach my eighteenth birthday, I’m suddenly supposed to take on the responsibilities and legal duties of an adult, regardless of my personal capability to do so? Until that point I can do as I please and for all intents and purposes, stay a child, but once the clock strikes eighteen, I have to instantly become an adult and I’m expected to fully function in society? I’m not asking this out of complaint for the modern responsibilities of an adult, or even the fact that it comes so soon: quite the contrary, in fact. I’m asking this to question this ludicrous system that’s been put in place.
Look at King Josiah. He was eight when he ascended to the throne of Israel, and no doubt felt intimidated by the concept of ruling an entire nation. He could have shirked the responsibility of kingship. He could have ignored the problems of the nation, chiefly the rampant idol worship taking place. He could have fled the land and gone into exile. But instead of fearing responsibility and falling back on the handicap of his age, he decided to rise to the task. As king, he sought out and destroyed the idols and temples to false gods across Israel and followed God with an obedient heart, as we know from Scripture.
There are two elements to this notably young success: firstly, his obedience to God. Without that, his failure as king would have been inevitable. Secondly, though, and the focus of this article, was the expectation set before him. No one said to him, “You’re too young for this job” or “No one expects you to do well, you’re too young for competence”. The bar was set high, and he exceeded it.
But we’re living in an age where the ceiling of our youth is so low it nearly touches the floor. No one expects us to do well in school, or to participate in church events, or to volunteer our time for the poor. Consequently, we meet those expectations, or even fall short.
A hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a teenager. You were a boy or you were a man. Your father taught you a trade, you learned it, and by the time you were sixteen, you were ready to marry off, work, and become an adult. You didn’t have time for video games or texting. You didn’t see the technical teenage years as a time to kick back your feet and avoid responsibility: they were the start of your adult life, the launching pad of your future.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” I’m sure we’ve all heard the words of Paul here, and they certainly apply today. This isn’t just in school, getting good grades. This is young people submitting themselves to God in honest acceptance of their potential, and choosing not to fall short of what their capablities.