Christianity and Adolescence
Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
If I could only say one thing about adolescence, it would be the thing that both surprised me the most, and had the biggest impact on my own adolescence. Which is, how the things that I had such deep faith in, and such high expectations of — that I looked forward to more than anything in the world — and really, truly believed would make my life so happy, turned out to be basically the complete opposite of that.
As a teenager and a young "adult" I saw, admired, felt excited about, and looked forward a lot of things. And then, like many teenagers/adolescents, I tried to copy those things, and to experience them myself. Not only did they absolutely not bring me the happiness and satisfaction that they promised — in many ways they completely wrecked my life. And I'm still suffering the negative effects of many of them. (Especially, ongoing physical health issues resulting from past alcohol abuse and other lifestyle choices).
It's very, very easy for someone with little life experience to be fooled by this — because these things look, and seem, and feel, so amazingly exciting and appealing. And there's such a massive effort (on which billions and billions of dollars are spent, and even more dollars earned back), by massively powerful influences like the mass media, consumer culture, advertising, much of what's on the internet, the porn industry, and so on, to convince people (and especially young people) that these worldly things will make us happy. And it works. They really do make these things seem so incredibly enticing and appealing. And so, millions (or billions) of people are sucked in by this completely false message.
I was definitely one of these people. I grew to completely believe these kinds of things as future goals, and things to base my life around. Even once it became obvious that these things were not bringing me the happiness that I'd expected, I still found that hard to believe. Such was the depth and completeness of my faith in them. So I thought, well, I just had to keep doing even more of them. And trying even harder to live in those ways.
It took me a long time, and my life really took a lot of damage, before I realised that the whole thing was nothing but a con. An idol. A false god.
Adolescence (or Lack of) in History
Not only am I no longer a believer in the typical things presented to modern young people as if they're the keys to happiness, but I'm not much of a fan of the entire concept of "adolescence". It's actually a very new thing, in terms of human history. That is, it never even existed for the vast majority of human history — nor over the vast majority of different human cultures. Until now, in our own culture (and also in others that are now trying to copy the modern Western model).
There used to be a stage known as childhood. Where people would play, and work, and learn, and grow, and were looked after by adults. Yet they had no real responsibility — such as having to independently provide for themselves. Nor accountability — the adults and their strict behavioural codes protected the children from most of the dangers and potential consequences of their own inxeperience.
Then, there would be some sort of initiation ceremony, which was a massively powerful event — the anticipation of which had been built up over much of the person's entire life. It generally occurred during the teenage years. Basically at the time when a person biologically develops from a child to an adult.
After that, they would be an adult, in every sense of the word. The men, as they now were, were real men. They knew how to hunt lions with wooden spears. (Or whatever the equivalent of that was for their particular culture). The women were real women, and knew how to manage a household, raise a family, and perform all of the other roles of an adult. And enjoy the benefits of being an adult. They were fully productive and fully knowledgeable adult members of society, who could provide for themselves and for a new family. There would be a place for them within the community. They would have somewhere to work, and somewhere to live.
We don't have this anymore. There are so many differences from this in our own culture that it will probably take up several entire web pages on this site in future. One of those differences is the artificial creation of the intermediate state that we call "adolescence". It's quite a vague thing really. Supposedly, you get the "benefits" of a worldly hedonistic adult lifestyle, but without any of the responsibility, and also without any of the security that comes from knowing you can provide for yourself and can (materially/financially and emotionally) function and be accepted as an adult.
My general advice to teenagers (and anyone approaching those years, and even many who've aged past those years) would be this:
- Spend a few minutes trying to think of everything you can possibly think of about what's generally included in the modern, Western, rich first-world, largely-American-media-invented popular concept of "teenager".
- Then spend those years — to every extent that you possibly can — doing the complete, exact, polar opposite of that.
- To put a more positive spin on that, the next thing to do is to think of all the things that you can do instead.
In the empty, godless life which has become the norm for modern society as a whole, trying this could get pretty depressing pretty fast. Even something as basic to life as a house to live in, which would have been made available (in some fashion) to young adults for most cultures for most of human history, has become far more of a dream than a reality for most young people today. And even for many older people.
This is a big topic, but a big part of it is our modern obsession for material luxury. Which is largely created by the secular media — and by being continually and repeatedly being bombarded with the idea that a residence which only royalty would have afforded for almost all of history is the absolute minimum requirement for a normal life.
If you're 12 years old, and wondering how to plan your next stage of life so you'll eventually live how you think a normal adult should live (with the McMansion, and all the rest of the things that go along with that, as seen on TV and in the movies), I imagine things would look pretty bleak. In terms of how you can possibly achieve that. Ever. Let alone achieve it before you're in your twenties (as people would have for much of history).
So, when seen from a worldly perspective, trying at age 12 or 13 to imagine what you need to do to eventually end up as a real actual adult (as seen on TV) can feel rather hopeless. Since it's essentially impossible for a very, very long time. If you ever get there at all.
And the images we're shown of the "teenage lifestyle" seem so appealing... So this is what most people turn towards. I certainly did. And I'm still suffering the consequences of that now.
The Christian Point of View
However, if you look at this from a Christian point of view, everything completely changes. Now there's so much you can do. Imagine yourself forgetting about the excessive material requirements, and overrated romantic/sexual requirements, of an average modern life as your main motivation to not stay a child (a.k.a. adolescent) forever.
Imagine replacing them with the simple spiritual goals of growing in your Christian walk. And imitating role models from the Bible (and other Christians), rather than celebrities or superheroes or business tycoons.
When you do this, everything becomes different. Suddenly, where there was no point or reward in doing anything mature (other than so-called "mature" things like partying and pleasures of the flesh), now there's a whole world of purposeful things you can do with your teenage years.
To summarise — it's very, very possible, and useful, and ultimately rewarding, to spend your teenage years preparing to be an adult in the sense of living as an adult disciple of Jesus Christ. Much more possible than it is to base your life on trying to be an adult in the sense of achieving the materialistic things that most modern people imagine adulthood to be all about.
And much more satisfying, in the long run, than achieving the entertainment and the other types of worldly pleasure-related goals that most people imagine to be the greatest experiences of life. Trust me, I tried them — and they're not that special.
I love the following video — where Paul Washer describes a lot of things about adolescence, and other topics related to that. I so wish I'd known about this kind of stuff, and took notice of it, when I was at that age. In fact he says that himself in the video — that he wishes he had known about this when he was that age, too.