The Invention of the Teenager – by Sarah E. Ball
Child labour laws, the invention of the automobile, and creative marketing led to one major invention in the 1940’s – the teenager. Sure, kids between the ages of 13 and 19 have always existed, but pre-depression era, you were a child, then you were an adult. The idea of dressing like a teen, acting out like a teen, excusing yourself from serious life choices, and carefree living, was a product of Coke commercials, Model T’s and laws protecting minors from hard labour. Since this evolution of the teenager, we have treated teenagers differently. We have allowed more room for them to explore and express, excused rebellious behaviour due to hormones and brain development, and given them the grace to find themselves and be anybody they want to be when they ‘grow up’. In all, this has benefited children and society, because we put less pressure on our children, and education has taken priority.
However, could this “you can figure it out when you’re an adult” teenager grace, be robbing our children of their identities and delaying their purpose in Christ?
I often remind my own two teenagers that almost all of the major men and women in the bible, were called to a purpose in Christ as a teen. David was anointed king, Mary was chosen to carry the Messiah, Joseph dreamt of his future in Technicolor, and Samuel was raised in his purpose from childhood. I remind my often begruntled teens, who would rather play video games and Snap Chat friends then pray, that God has a purpose for them to fulfill now. God doesn’t see pimples, God sees purpose.
Inside every person the search for identity drives us. We are endlessly searching for who we are, why we exist, what’s in it for us and asking what we have to offer. This is the longing of the human soul, always in pursuit of purpose. It shows itself in the curiosity and stubborn independence of a two year old, and in the weariness of an 80 year old who wants to know if they are of any value anymore. For teenagers this drive is intense, Satan knows it, God knows, and there’s a violent, ruthless battle raging. If you want to lead a teen in the WRONG direction, convince them that they are needed, valued and belong to a cause. Even if that cause is for evil and not for good. Want to lead a teen in the RIGHT direction, convince them they are needed, valued and belong to a great cause.
When a young person grabs a hold of who they are in God, even if the clarity on that purpose is vague, they live life like a pointed arrow. My teenaged son, like many other teenaged boys, went through a “funk”. I knew that grumpiness, isolation, and “parents are lame” lamenting, was to be expected at this age, but it seemed to go a little deeper than expected. Popular at school, VIP in football, his outgoing personality was fading at home and our conversations consisted of caveman speak and pantry pillaging. How was I going to reach this kid? I kept praying. I asked him one evening if he thought he was depressed, in which he grunted “I’m not depressed, mom, I’m a teenager, I’m doing what teens do.”
Somehow, my son had picked up this theology that apathy, depression, isolation and lack of motivation was a ‘teen’ thing. My husband and I decided to intentionally start speaking purpose into his life, and encouraging him to start seeking God and not the world for his identity. This isn’t always easy, especially when the world offers so many cooler things to identify with, but I know and God knows that our teens can make a huge difference in the world around them, and they don’t have to wait to grow up to do it.
There is no “junior Holy spirt” there is only THE Holy Spirit, and he lives inside a 16year old and a 60 year old Christian. If God can entrust the kingdom to a 14 year old shepherd, we can raise up our teenagers to take on spiritual authority too.
Perhaps this begins with ourselves. Setting an example of living a life full of purpose and clear vision and passing the keys onto our kids. I think it’s also about speaking life into our teens, and not being afraid to push them a little.
In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel stood examining all of Jesse’s sons, from the oldest and strongest to the youngest and weakest, waiting for God to choose. There stood David, ruddy, handsome and young. God said to Samuel “Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature – for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” As he stood before David, Samuel looked past his age, perhaps his pimples and body odor, and declared him King. This is, I believe, is our greatest purpose as mentors, teachers and parents of teens, to make declarations of purpose over them, despite their outward appearance.
Sarah E. Ball is a speaker, columnist, and author of The Shame Project. She is also the Alberta representative for The Word Guild. She lives with her husband and five children in Alberta, Canada. She has made several television appearances and speaking engagements talking about shame, fear, hope and her deliverance from anxiety, depression and harm OCD. You can download a FREE copy of The Shame Project on her blog Virtuous Woman Exposed, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.