Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.
Attacks on the Family Pt. 1 - The "Teenager" Myth
We've all heard about how the family is "under attack" by this and that and so on. Usually the list of attacks on the family include gay marriage, pornography, divorce, casual sexuality, secularism, and so on.
These are all attacks on the family, to be sure. But I've grown in the opinion that the disintegration of the family, and as a result of our society, has more fundamental roots.
The first attack I will write on today - the "teenager" myth.
What is a teenager? We would typically define a teenager as someone between the age of 12 and 18 years old, during which time they are considered neither children, nor adults. "Youth" is another word we use to describe them. During these years, their minds, their bodies, their souls all undergo a metamorphosis - they mutate - they get smarter, stronger.
They also become aware of things they weren't aware of as children - they see some of the imperfections in the world, and particularly in their parents. Sometimes they are particularly critical, even angry, with their parents - realizing that their parents aren't the perfect people they grew up thinking that they were. This is where the term "rebellious teen" comes from. Its an individuation process, whereby a teen learns that they are unique from their parents, and that they have power to make up their minds on their own. That rebellion is a necessary part of growing up - sometimes it takes the form of staying out all night, sometimes its as apparently benign as staying in their own rooms rather than watching TV with the family. Through this rebellion, these young people learn that they have power.
But why is it rebellion? Why is it that so many teenagers are getting drunk, destroying mailboxes with explosives, shoplifting, experimenting with drugs, exchanging casual sexual favors, and a list of other destructive behaviors that go far beyond arguing with mom and dad? Well, if you ask them why they do it, usually it comes down to the rush they feel - the power and the freedom that they get to experience while they are doing it.
But why do they need to do these acts - to demonstrate their power - to prove to the world, and mostly to themselves, that they have power?
The fact is, teenagers DO have power. They are growing to be as smart as adults, as strong as adults, as capable as adults. That's why we let them get jobs. Their bodies give them that physical, mental and sexual power. Their jobs give them economic power. God gives them power.
BUT - what do we let them do with that power? Nothing. Be teenagers!! Have fun!! Enjoy a life with NO RESPONSIBILITY!!
One hundred years ago (back in the so called "good old days", when teenagers didn't rebel), teenagers were expected to work to support their families - to be apprenticed - some even started to get married. Bottom line, we treated them like adults. Now perhaps 13 is a little too young to get married and have kids, perhaps we have made progress in that regard - but I think we've gone to the opposite extreme.
They have power, nature is turning them into adults, nature has GIVEN THEM POWER, but WE WON'T LET THEM USE IT - not in a productive way anyway. So, instead, because of their desparate need to experience this power that they have, they use it in destructive ways.
And society even takes advantage of them, particularly their economic power. Do you think THE GAP, or BRITNEY SPEARS, or X-BOX would be making the millions of dollars that they are making if teenagers had to use their economic power to support themselves and their families, or contribute to their educations, or give their money to the poor? Not likely. Advertizing, MTV, much of the internet, are all about channeling that source of economic power towards entertainment industries, all while our teenagers remain uneducated about their history, kept ignorant of political injustice by distracting them, and people starve all over the world.
So what's the solution. Well, this is what I think.
One, we need to treat teenagers like adults. Empower them, and expect responsibility from them. My experience is that the best behaved, well balanced, and healthiest teenagers are also the ones who contribute to their families' well being, have chores that are expected of them, are EMPOWERED, not all at once, but step by step, day by day, to be adults, contributing members of society.
Two, we need effective RITES OF PASSAGE from childhood to adulthood. Right now, what is the ritual that marks a person's being recognized as an adult? They turn 18 and... out to the bar to get drunk. Nothing constructive, nothing meaningful. What does this say about adulthood? That adulthood is about freedom, but not about responsibility. Adulthood is about hedonism. High School Graduations could serve the purpose of Rite of Passage to adulthood, if they were more meaningful, but the reality is, by that age, its pretty much too late anyway.
A ritual, right at the onset of their metamorphosis - that would be somewhere during their puberty - is what they need - a ritual that says, "you are no longer a child - you are an adult." My opinion, that ritual is so important it need to be at the level of a Sacrament. This is why I will ALWAYS argue against those liturgical purists that want to move the Sacrament of Confirmation to infant Baptism. Afterall, this is what Confirmation is, right? People are empowered by the Spirit of God's love itself to do work in the world - sounds like the transformation that takes place at puberty to me. If anything I think we need to beef up the intensity of this ritual - make it tough for teens - so that they really know they've been through an ordeal to get that recognition - that way they can be proud of themselves.
Teenagers need to know that this transformation is a sacred thing - that they aren't social misfits for going through it - that God is at work in them.
And lacking such a rite of passage, what are we left with? We're left with a society of children. A society of CONSUMERS. Which is exactly what we have in North America right now, all wondering why our economic strength has collapsed.
So that's my piece; I've said it. Teenagers are some of my favorite people, I think they kinda like me too - but its not because I treat them like children - they need to be empowered - to have the power THAT THEY HAVE, WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT - be recognized, and be celebrated - that its the miraculous power of God's Spirit at work in their lives.