Monday, May 08, 2006


[NOTE -- personal, theological, and political matters are now discussed at This address is for family and mental health matters]

We have a gas station near us that still pumps it for you. Really. No kidding. They pump everybody's gas -- no self service allowed -- at the same price as the no name brands down the street so I show up there as often as possible and let them! I want to get the fellow that pumps my gas to come to worship with me one day. It will be a long courtship between now and then, I fear. He lives with his girlfriend and her kids (his own daughter is now 24 and on her own), one of whom has just turned 13. He asked me today, "How and why does a sweet 12 year old girl turn 13 and suddenly become Sybil? I saw it in my own daughter and now I see it in my girlfriend's daughter. How does this happen? Why is every 13 year old Sybil?"

For those who don't get the reference, "Sybil" was the name of a young woman who had quite a few multiple personalities (the disorder is now called DID and not MPD). Sally Fields played her in a powerful movie a couple of decades ago.

The reason teenagers can be so difficult is that it is a manufactured stage of development. Most nations and cultures still do not have an "adolescence." They go right from child to adult, usually via a public ceremony. Even "childhood" as a distinct age of development, began to be distinguished in this country around the time of the Industrial Revolution -- the middle 1800's. Before then there were no child labor laws, no mandatory school attendance laws, and children were looked upon as part of the family/community workforce. While rare, 10 and 11 year olds did fight in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The first distinction other than infant/adult is found in a book written in the 1600's that divided the life of man into: infancy (0-7), childhood (7-14), youth (14-28), manhood (28-50), gravity (50-70), and old age (70+). It was not a popular concept at the time, but as technology progressed and the world became smaller and more complex, the concept was forced upon us by reality.

Children became adults early for several reasons. Often, the father died before the last child reached fourteen (that was the norm in the US as late as 1900). Agrarian living was the norm and every mouth that was being fed had to pitch in or the family starved. Most cultures on the earth are still like that to this day.

In the 1920's the idea of adolescence was floated for the first time as a separate stage. It was the period between puberty and adulthood. An "adult" can function independently of its parents (which makes you wonder what to call all these 30 year olds who never left home or who have moved back home). As the world got more complex, the length between puberty and the ability to function independently grew rapidly -- but our biology didn't change! We were programmed to reproduce and make our own decisions by the way God wired our brains and bodies, but we now live in a world where it is foolish in the extreme to let 15 year olds loose to live on their own!

Yes, grandmother might have gotten married when she was fourteen, but she lived within sight (usually) of several family members. They were still a community, but she was free to make decisions, have sex, make babies, and move along if she and her husband wanted to. There wasn't much she HAD to know before she got married. She learned about the facts of sexual behavior by living on a farm and by living in a house with ten other people, some of them adults, separated at best by very thin walls. Other than Cow 101 and Sewing 102, there weren't a lot of courses she needed to take before she could make a home for her family with that young man she married (who was also within sight of some of his relatives).

But now... things have changed. There can be 10-15 years between the time one's hormones and brain kicks in and the time you can successfully leave home. Every nerve ending you have is screaming to get out, live free of your parents, and establish your own place and family. Your testosterone (or estrogen) is screaming "be fruitful and multiply!" but your parents, the church, and society -- some of it, anyway -- says "not so fast, Bucko." It is a very difficult, and artificial time. It puts stress on everybody, but it is a fact we have to live with. The days of an 8th grade education being adequate are long gone in our culture. I am not quite 50 and can remember people telling us to stay in school and get that high school diploma so we'd have a good education. Many of you know that even a Bachelor's degree is not sufficient in many fields to get you in the front door, much less to help you get started in a career.

So how do we live between 13 and the time we can launch into the world? By the constant application of Christ's teaching and example. We have to sit across from each other and acknowledge the problem. "Susie, I know you want to stay out with your friends until 1AM, and I understand why. If I were you, I'd feel the same way. Problem is, both you and I are under orders from God. You are required to shine with the love and grace and purity Christ gave you. I am required to protect you -- even against yourself -- while getting you ready for the day when you can be gone and report where you are and what you are doing to no one but God. I'm going to have to give you some rope and you're going to have to be very, very careful what you do with it. I'm going to have to reel you in sometimes and you're going to hate me for it; almost as much as I hate having to do it...

"But here's a promise: I won't do what most parents do. I won't look at you as a problem. I won't treat you like a child when it suits me and then demand you act like an adult when it suits me. I'm going to remember, every day, that you are in a very stressful, artificial time of life. I'm going to try to help you through it and give you to tools to be successful at it. I'm going to listen to you first and think and pray before I decide to correct you or say 'no.' I'm going to ask you to listen to me first and think and pray before you say anything, too. I give you permission to remind me of what I've just said a dozen times a day if you want to. And I'm going to remind you of what God has said -- maybe a dozen times a day if I have to...

"Remember, Suzie, this stage of life is temporary, but your soul isn't. Don't make any mistakes that last forever. I'll try to help you with that. When you fail, I will still love you and offer you grace. I'll ask the same from you when I fail. Deal?"

More to come...


At 5/08/2006 09:53:00 PM , Blogger Annette said...

Thanks again Patrick for your insights. Please keep sharing. I appreciate you!
Really looking forward to your next visit to us at Pitman!

In Christ,

At 5/09/2006 01:04:00 AM , Anonymous cassie said...

our last conversation resonated well...but in the light of development-it means a lot.

At 5/09/2006 05:10:00 PM , Blogger TCS said...

great one. The post, not a new title for you ;-)

Hope that guy pumping gas comes to worship along side you soon.

At 5/09/2006 08:06:00 PM , Blogger carrie said...

Thanks for your thoughts on teenagers! Though I have not yet raised a teenager, I have taught middle school children with emotional/behavioral disturbances. (some people say that is most middle schoolers). I am one of the few that love this age!!! It can be the most rewarding age I have found! Sure it takes patience, but so do adults! One thing I discovered is how some days they wanted to be "grown-up" and make choices on their own; yet other days, they longed to be "little again". I had numerous times that kids would be kicked out of class for acting up. They would come to me furious!! I, out of desperation one day, gave a child a ball of play-dough to rip, shred, beat, whatever helped him clam down. It was not long before that middle school student was crying like a baby as he revealed to me so much of who he was, his fears, and his struggles. From then on, I spent more time listening and less time fussing. In the end, that student resolved the conflict within himself and learned far more than if I had "pounded the message". I hope that I can keep that same mentality when my son is in middle school.


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