Teenage Turbulence

Matthew 18:6

While I was away for a couple weeks of vacation many years ago, I read a book by David Elkind describing the staggering number of teenagers who lack the adult guidance and support they need to make a healthy transition into adulthood. His choice of title was appropriate: All Grown Up and No Place to Go. The book goes to the heart of the issue and addresses the breakdown of parental security and stability. Awash in the tide of social change and absorbed in their own voyage, seeking self-fulfillment and personal discovery, parents are often so overwhelmed that they have only minimal energy to invest in their teenager’s struggles. And when you add the fact that today’s parents are caught in the crossfire of social philosophies, moral standards, and conflicting value systems, even committed and well-meaning parents (especially those who desire to lead with fairness and tolerance) often lack the decisiveness teens need and expect. I quote:

Caught between two value systems, parents become ambivalent, and teenagers perceive their ambivalence as license. Failing to act, we force our teenagers to do so, before they are ready. Because we are reluctant to take a firm stand, we deny teenagers the benefit of our parental concern and we impel them into premature adulthood. We say, honestly, “I don’t know” but teenagers hear, “They don’t care.”

As a father who reared four children through their teenage years, I was naturally interested in any reliable and insightful counsel to help make this journey as wise yet pleasant as possible. While I may not applaud everything Elkind suggested, I did find his words provocative. His ideas became food for thought.

While chewing on and digesting them, I was struck with an interesting analogy between today’s teenagers and adolescent Christians. By that I mean a believer who is somewhere between childhood and adulthood. It’s impossible to measure this individual by years—some Christians are in their teens two years after conversion, others aren’t there until they’ve been in God’s family for 20 years or more. But it seems that all who press on to maturity must endure such a turbulent passage.

It’s tough enough to cope with the changes and handle the peer pressure and make more right decisions than wrong ones during those impressionable years . . . but could it be that the thing that complicates matters most is the ambivalence of those who are supposed to be the models? Perhaps the lack of stability, integrity, and decisiveness within the ranks of leadership causes many a Christian in the turbulent “teen” years to misread the signals and conclude, “They don’t care.”

I am just about convinced that it is the teenaged believer, struggling to reach a measure of spiritual equilibrium, who becomes the most disillusioned when one of his or her “spiritual parents” defects or lives hypocritically. No wonder Jesus assaulted the Pharisees! And that explains His eloquent warning about hanging a millstone around the necks of adults who cause those who are growing to stumble. I always wondered why He spoke those words with such severity. The reason is obvious. Stumbling, disillusioned believers in the fragile teen years easily lose their way en route to adulthood.

Maybe that’s why so many in the “family” find themselves all grown up with no place to go.

Growing young Christians are watching you! How much stability, integrity, and decisiveness are you demonstrating?

Excerpt taken from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. For additional information and resources visit us at www.insight.org.

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