Adolescence Growth Enhancements

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Though we’ve finished covering the eight ingredients in the growth of adolescence there are a few additional elements that have enhanced its growth.

For example, the age of marriage. The myth of adolescence (and its real results) has obviously had an impact on the age young people get married. Under Roman law (2,000 years ago) women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. A thousand years ago this was true under English law as well. Two hundred years ago in the United States it was still the same: women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. For at least three thousand years, the minimum legal age for marriage stayed the same. I didn’t include this as an element in the growth of adolescence, though perhaps it should be. Maybe it is more a result. Regardless, today we have trouble imagining that a person would be ready to get married until they have finished at least a Bachelor’s degree and established themselves in a job and whatever else. Currently the average age for first marriages in the United States is 26, and that will only continue to rise.

Now I am not suggesting that we promote and push teenagers to get married. Many teen marriages in our day end in divorce, though obviously age is not the only problem. But we might argue that it is precisely because of our assumptions about adolescents that parents don’t even consider it possible to train their young person for marriage-responsible maturity. Perhaps if our society expected them to act like responsible adults, many of them would be mature enough to marry (impacting a significant number of additional problems that later-age marriage brings with it).

But beware, parents, allowing this immaturity has results. It used to be in the United States, at least to hear the older generation tell it, that young people reaching adulthood could not wait to leave home and be on their own. And their parents longed for an empty nest and quieter lives. But young people are spoiling these plans. According to the 2000 Census, nearly four million Americans aged 25 to 34 are still living in their parental homes or have moved back in with Mom and Dad. Boomerang kids, as they’re called, leave home for college or a job or the military, only to end up back home. Newsweek magazine called them “adultolescents,” young adults who just aren’t ready to face the world on their own.

Perhaps still another adolescence growth enhancement is the invention and accessibility of the automobile. The most obvious value of a car for a teenagers is that it is a private space in which to be alone. Not only is a driver’s license probably our culture’s most important rite of passage, cars impress girls and get you away from your family for a little fun.

Still yet another enhancement relates to the current American economy, namely that the United States is wealthy enough for most everyone to afford to have a troubled adolescence. Many dads (or dads and moms together) make enough (or borrow enough) so that their kids don’t have to work to support the family. There’s no reason for them to act mature if they don’t have to. Why work today when you can put it off until tomorrow?

For many individuals, such a long period of education, exploration, and deferred responsibility has been a tremendous gift. For other individuals, it has not been a blessing. … This lengthy waiting period has tended to reduce young people’s contacts with older people and increase them with people who are exactly the same age. That in turn has lead to the rise of a youth subculture that has helped define and elaborate what it means to be a teenager (Hine, p. 7).

I mentioned this before, but I want to say again that I make no denial that most teenagers act like…teenagers. The world and the church are filled with 12-20 (30-40) year olds with the mindset described above. But I truly believe that we are to blame for creating this context, and it only continues because we keep giving it credence. Ideas have consequences and the consequences of the myth of adolescence are no myth, they are very real. But we in the church must work to change our collective thinking as God’s community before we will see any change.

Let me also say again that I am thankful for God’s patience with me, and a rejection of adolescence is not equal to an approval of intolerance or impatience with those who are in the growing process. My challenge is to those who argue that adolescence grants them the right to stay stagnant and prolong immaturity and irresponsibility as long as possible.