Friday, April 8

Creating A Better Culture

This post picks up where I left off last week, concluding that extended adolescence is not a biological phenomenon, but a cultural behavior we have taught our young people. The bad news is that the culture to which we have all contributed is to blame for our youth's perpetual immaturity. The good news is that since it is cultural learned behavior, we can make intentional choices that will alter the culture of our homes and churches so that our young people can grow into fruitful adults in the kingdom of God. In this post, I will discuss the first of a few deliberate ways ways we can alter our home and church culture for the better.

1. Our culture has taught us that the best parent is the one whose child gets in the least amount of trouble and is the best behaved. If we think about this, we can see that it is not true at all, but when the rubber meets the road, we typically try to control children because that is the best way to "parent" them. In the context of extended adolescence and its causes, this is clearly problematic. The more we control, the less meaningful responsibility young people have, which teaches them to be adolescent, not adult.

One writer gives the illustration of a puppy in a yard and a puppy in a park. If a dog owner lets her puppy run free in a park, the dog wil run and run and possibly never come back again. It's just more freedom than is healthy for a puppy. However, a leash is too resrictive. A puppy on a leash will never damage anything and he will never be run down by a truck. However, he will never be ready for life in the park. A better solution, the writer suggests, is to put the puppy in the fenced-in yard. Sure, he will dig up some roses and he might chew up the hose, but he probably won't do any major damage to himself or anything else. In the meantime, the puppy grows in a realtively safe environment and is growing capable of handling the freedom of the park.

Research has proven that teenagers need and want boundaries. It is counter-intuitive to imagine teenagers wanting boundaries, but studies show that they are happier and more successful socially and academically when they have clear boundaries set before them. These boundaries, however, need to be loose enough that there is freedom for them to make bad choices that result in natural consequences. Another lie we have been made to believe is that only a bad parent allows their children to suffer consequences. When our teens make mistakes with serious consequences, we often see parents taking the brunt of the blow. Is this preparing them to be adults? Often as an adult we make decisions that result in negative consequences. Sometimes the consequences are disprportionate to the crime, but alas, the price must always be paid in full. To deprive teens of such an experience is to take away ameaningful learning opportunity that can be significantly formative.

The main idea is that our culture, at home and in our youth groups, should be one in which teens are protected from themselves, but where they are free to make their own decisions for better or worse. When they are for the worse, we have to fight our inclination to save them, since, in doing so, we will deprive them in the long run.

Next we will unpack two more tips for establishing a healthy culture for teens.


  1. A similar study was done with children on a playground. At first, the children were taken to a playground with no fence. The children were observed huddling around the center of the playground, not venturing out too far from each other or the equipment. The same group was then taken to a playground with fences around the perimeter. They were observed playing and utilizing the entire area, venturing out much more than at the park with no fence. Lesson? Children feel safer and experience much more "freedom" when there are clear-cut boundaries. When there are no known boundaries, no clear expectations, they feel less safe and trapped.

  2. This post hurt my toes. You made a similar comment yesterday, something along the lines of "failing to allow our kids to suffer the consequences deprives them of a chance to grow." Raising four kids, only one of which has entered teen-dom at this point, my inclination is to spare them from making mistakes with which the phrase "preacher's kid" has seemingly become synonymous. At least I think that way with my head. In my heart I know that the only way to real growth is likely through at least a little pain or embarrassment, but wow, is it ever hard to take a step back sometimes.