Consider for a moment the modern concept of an adolescent in the United States. It is a young person who is neither a child nor an adult but is a combination of the two. By this concept, American culture expects for such a person to be freely given provisions as if he is still a dependent child but also to be allowed to make decisions for himself as if he is an independent adult. In this way, he gets the benefits of both childhood and adulthood without the restrictions of childhood or the responsibilities of adulthood.
This concept of adolescence is not found in the Bible, but rather it is based solely on the teachings of man. It began in 1904 when G. Stanley Hall, the first president of the American Psychological Association, published his book Adolescence. (The word "adolescence" comes from a Latin word that means "to be nourished.") Hall's teachings were based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and Sigmund Freud's psychodynamic theory. Applying these theories, Hall compared children to man's supposed savage ancestors and adolescence to the process of evolution that brought about modern man. Just as Darwin's and Freud's theories were contrary to Biblical teachings, so also was Hall's theory. Since the time of Hall, his unbiblical teachings have been modified and developed into the modern concept of adolescence that we see in our culture today.
Nothing in the Bible condones an irresponsible period of youthful self-indulgence. Instead, the Bible teaches an ever-present sense of accountability to God that transcends all stages of life. For example, consider Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1:
This passage comes as close as any to expressing the modern concept of adolescence and the idea of young people "sowing their wild oats." However, the emphasis of this passage is for young people to always remember God and their accountability before Him. By no means does this passage condone irresponsible young people indulging every desire of the flesh, but instead it demands that young people use their youthful vitality in the fear of God. "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccl. 12:13-14).
The culture's expectations for young people in terms of morality and spirituality are appallingly low, but God's expectations are divinely high. For example, by inspiration Paul told Timothy, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe" (1Tim. 4:12). Timothy was not a teenager when Paul wrote this, but the principle of godly youth found in this passage applies to all young believers. Also consider the standard set forth for young men in Titus 2:6-8 -- "Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." In these passages, there is no place allowed for selfishness, fleshly indulgence, or foolishness among young people.
Young people (children, teenagers, young adults) are quite capable of fulfilling these high expectations, for God had made it possible for them. In Psalm 119:9, the way to fulfill these expectations is given: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word." Indeed, many young people have succeeded in keeping God's word from their youth (see Matt. 19:20; Acts 26:4; 2Tim. 3:14-15), but to do so they had to apply themselves diligently to study and practice (2Tim. 2:15). Today's young people are just as capable as those of the past, but they and their parents must make the study of God's word a high priority. The Pew Research Center reported that the average teenager sent sixty text messages per day in 2011; what if the time spent texting was used in Bible study?
Much more needs to be said concerning adolescence, but for now let us make a few resolutions. Let every young person, whether a child, a teenager, or a young adult, resolve to serve God to the best of his or her ability while refusing to be absorbed by the culture. Let every mature person resolve to encourage the young to keep their ways pure by following God's word. Let every parent resolve to set high standards for their young people and instill in them the priority to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Let them also resolve to not to place their young people into situations they are not prepared to handle. In these ways, our young people can have great success as they grow from childhood into maturity.
Stacey E. Durham
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