I think deep down, we all really know: we (collectively, as a culture) are hurting our children with the notion that the teen years are nothing but a time to have fun “while you still can.” Implying, of course, that growing up and all the things that come with it, really stinks.
It’s so deeply ingrained that none of us is exempt from feeling it, even if we inherently know it’s not the way it should be.
Reading Do Hard Things has got me really stoked about this subject. The bottom line? People live up to the expectations created for them. And in this case, “teenagers” meet the low expectations we’ve set for them and that is tragic.
It’s notable that throughout history, until the last 70 years or so, there wasn’t really a recognized adolescent period. There were children, and then there were young adults (or youth). And the expectations were much higher; the idea that there was a period of time where young people were supposed to mainly just play and be entertained, was unheard of. (Read a few biographies of young men and women who lived prior to the 1900’s to get a glimpse.)
Yet now, we religiously guard and defend this “teen year life” as an inalienable right, (Go have fun! Sow your wild oats! You only live once!) feeling sorry for the few that seem to have more responsibilities than the average teen. God forbid they even begin to pursue marriage before their mid twenties.
The Harris boys make the sensible point that our youthful years give us our strongest, most energetic and passionate years, a time when teens should utilize that advantage to “do hard things” instead of succumbing to the low expectations of society. They are foundational years too, that launch us into committed adulthood, and it should behoove us to challenge our teens to prepare well, not squandering this time.
So what does it mean exactly to do hard things?
What can a “teenager” do besides squander 7 or 8 years on Instagram or video games?
The possibilities are endless, but here are just a few:
-A young man whose mother is a facebook friend of mine challenged himself to write out the entire Bible. And my WORD look at his beautiful penmanship! (I’m going to assume that link is public–sorry if you can’t see it. Here are the final moments as well as his thoughts.) He shares about how proceeding through the writing process so slowly allowed him to digest God’s Word in a way that reading does not.
-Learning new skills–musical, computer-related, business-related, writing, mechanics, how-tos, whatever the interests are. The Internet makes it particularly easy to learn things now, so there’s very little excuse for the motivated.
-Campaigning for a cause about which they are passionate. Writing letters of influence, organizing fund raisers, speaking out against injustices of our day.
-Investing in the lives of others. Whether it’s serving the local church, the local ministry, your neighbor, a widow you know, and even siblings, helping people is a constant need, and an investment well worth our time. Eternally speaking, it is the essence of the Gospel.
-Setting personal goals of spiritual, physical and emotional growth.
-Reading good books. Books are life-changing. Our kids need to be digesting good books, even if we have to make them.
Encouraging our young adults to make the best use of their energetic, single years is good for ALL of us. It’s good for them and it’s good for those whose lives they will impact by their efforts.
One side note: there are some children, despite your desire for them to be wise and “do hard things” and despite your diligence as a parent, will not choose the higher path. We parent, not to be successful, but to be faithful. Don’t be disillusioned if one (or more) of your children don’t get it. Keep doing what you know is right, and encouraging all of them to rise above the low expectations our culture has set. Remind them that YOU believe in them, and watch how far they will fly.