Why Adolescence?

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Recently, we read about Clovis in Story of the World and in Famous Men of the Middle Ages. Clovis was a young warrior who, at the age of 16, became chief of his Frankish tribe. By the age of twenty, he had united all the Frankish tribes and became king of what would later become France.

Clovis married Clotilde, a Christian. Despite her best efforts, Clotilde’s husband did not become a Christian until, in the midst of a losing battle, he promised God that he would become a Christian if God would help him win the battle. He did win the battle and immediately went and found a priest and converted, along with most of his army.

There’s a strong possibility that I read too many historical romance books, but I was fascinated by the story of Clovis. He reminded me of one of the strong, young, heroic warriors in a good Julie Garwood novel. I was amazed by the strength and wise leadership of a boy who became a man at what we would consider to be such a young age.

About this same time, I came across a quote by Newt Gingrich in Reader’s Digest. Gingrich said:

It’s time to declare the end of adolescence. As a social institution, it’s been a failure.

Maybe it was because I had just read the story of Clovis and all that he had accomplished at such a young age, but this really struck a chord with me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not in any hurry to rush my children to adulthood, but I wonder if there isn’t some truth to this statement. I mean, how many years, as a nation, has adolescence been a time of, for all intents and purposes, extended childhood?

In the early days of our country, boys were apprenticed to learn a trade around age 11 or 12 (if not younger). By the time they were 18 or 19, they were working in their trade. The expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” came to mind. I can’t help but wonder if we give our teenagers too much time and too little responsibility. There is so much time and so many opportunities to get into mischief, to experiment with drugs, alcohol and physical relationships with the opposite sex.

Edited to add: I’m not just picking on boys, either. That’s just what was on my mind when I read about Clovis. Girls have traditionally been kept busy learning their trade, as well. Historically, this was learning to manage a household. Our girls could definitely stand to use their adolescence to a much wiser advantage, as well.

Perhaps adolescents would be better served to be encouraged to explore their gifts, talents and future career interests thought classes, apprenticeship situations or volunteer work. What do you think?

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  1. I think you’re absolutely correct. I think that society tends to underestimate young people. They’re made to line up, follow rules and comform to others’ desires and expectations. As soon as a teenager speaks up, takes control or looks for independence, society gets all freaked out and tells them they’re doing it wrong. Then, society turns the other cheek and asks why they have to motivation, no sense of responsibility, no work ethic.

    I’m hoping to skip ‘adolescence’ in my house. I’m making a concentrated effort at not being controlling, at giving real work and valueable opportunities, at encouraging independence in little bits from a young age.

    Goodness knows if it will work or not, but it’s a better solution in my mind than telling the kids what to do until they’re 19 and then complaining that they don’t have a clue at 20.

  2. Yes! Let’s lose the rhetoric: “Teens are irresponsible. Teens rebel. Teens make foolish choices.”
    Harness the passion in adolescents and give them a purpose to strive for. It doesn’t have to be a trade but just SOMETHING that gives their life direction and meaning – contributing to family and society in a meaningful way.

  3. I think your right. One time I was praying “Lord what would Jesus teach?” during one of my many freakouts over curriculum and “doing it right”…so He said Stewardship. Simple. “Not only being good stewards to my earth, water, herbs but to My PEOPLE!” That really hit me hard and what better way teach our children about hard work, giving, stewardship etc…to not only God’s creations but His people? Volunteering, life-learning, helping others in need and what a good feeling we get when we do these things. Since then, we have decided to start a food pantry at our church and expand from there, having the children help as much as the adults. Who knows what seeds we will be planting in the lives of others, let alone our own children?…nice post-well needed

  4. “…it’s a better solution in my mind than telling the kids what to do until they’re 19 and then complaining that they don’t have a clue at 20.”

    Amen to that, Bonni!

  5. Hmmm, some very good points to consider. I can’t visualize sending my 12 year old off to work every day but he can definitely do more than he does.

  6. Agreed, agreed, agreed! My own boys haven’t officially reached adolescence yet, but one thing I have, consistent with a lot I have read, is that boys want real work. They don’t want made-up examples or simulated exercises; they want to do something real.

    The best thing, in my opinion, is to keep boys engaged in the family and the community, no matter what their age. As they get older, the “work” they can manage also becomes greater.

    This doesn’t mean burdening our children with the chores we don’t want to do; it means helping your child use his/her talents in the world.


  7. I have often thought the same things, particularly in the context of church youth groups. It makes so much more sense to me for the “teens” to integrate into the adult world instead of cloistering themselves together for an almost constant diet of fun and games.

  8. Love this post!!! Great points. Can’t wait to get my hands on The Story of the World. We are reading Farmer Boy (2nd Laura Inglass Wilder book) out loud, chapter by chapter. Just last night, the young character was given the task of training two young yolk of oxen. His parents even let him miss school to do it, cause he made a good argument. We were talking about how long kids usually have to wait to do something important like this and how unfortunate that is. If they are capable (and depending on the task, they can be) and if they are interested (and they usually are) let them do “big stuff!” We don’t live on a farm, so I am not sure what our daughters will do that is “important” like breaking oxen… But, I figure there are PLENTY of adult responsibilities right under this roof they can start to take on. I’d love the help! 😉 Great post. Thanks.

  9. We have the marketing gurus to thank for this. And, no, I am not kidding or being sarcastic.

    One of the Frontline specials I saw a few years ago covered the amount of sheer $ and psychological “tricks” that many companies have used to perpetuate the idea of “adolescence” and, more specifically “tweens.” The term is actually made up for the sake of being able to market to them better. Everyone knows that the 12 and 13 years old are the PRIME consumers for many, many products, so the marketing gurus had to come up with a way to empower that age group. What better way than to separate them from their little siblings or their older ones?

    It’s a fascinating and frightening study, actually.

    I *do* believe that there are some serious hormonal things going on during the teen years, but it should not bear on responsibility or sympathy and what-not.

    Ugh. Maybe teaching kids history will subtly let them know that your brain and ability to reason and make good decisions do not disappear at the onset of hormones. ; )

  10. Kris,

    Have you read the book Do Hard THings by Alex and Brett Harris?
    I am leading a co-op class that is going through this book chapter by chapter…we are doing other things too, but that is the main thrust…
    I have really been awakened to the myth of adolesence and these students are being challenged in their thinking as well.
    THanks for the post!

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