I love working with teenagers. They're fun, energetic, and quite hysterical to be around. Last night, my youth group spent time hanging out together and it was just a fun evening. Getting to laugh, play games, and just talk is one of the best parts of being a youth minister. It gives them the chance to know I'm a real person, and it reminds me the same thing about them.
It also reminds me that the world of a teenager is rapidly shrinking.
I've read a lot lately about the prolonged "adolescence" that we provide young people here in America; a recent article in the NY Times Magazine suggests that an adolescence that runs from 10-26 years old is too long, and creates more problems than it solves. The argument is simple: we baby kids too much these days, protecting them from necessary life experiences that would do much to prepare them for the real world.
On some level, I can understand. But I also see the other side.
Yes, we are protecting our kids from some things, but not everything. There are areas of the teenage life where adults have abdicated almost all responsibility and left the kids to their own devices.
(I realize I'm making a generalization, so forgive me.)
We have more education about sex, drugs and alcohol than maybe ever before, but so little discussion of it. And when it comes to how a young person is supposed to navigate the crooked path of human relationships, moral choices, or even simple things like managing money or forming a political opinion, we talk even less.
The irony is that, in trying to protect them from the world, we're exposing them to it at a much earlier age - and we're leaving them to face it alone.
We've hashed and re-hashed some of these topics in other forums, usually connected with other issues, but looking at it first-hand, from the perspective of the average teenager (as if such a thing exists) the issues seem to take on a new life.
Keep in mind, I'm not condemning any parent out there. I'm not focusing my lens on a particular family, or a specific type; more to the point, I'm focusing on myself and my relationship with my own two kids.
I took my son outside today for a quick push on the swing. The sun was bright, the birds were singing, the air was actually cool and fresh. As I pushed him higher and higher into the air, in the comfort of his little toddler swing, I couldn't help but wonder:
Am I failing you as a parent?
Am I teaching you how to live life well?
Am I loving you as much as I should, or am I loving you to the point of suffocating you?
What happens when you begin to make your own decisions? Will I have equipped you to make them well?
And to be honest, I wonder the same thing every morning as I put my daughter on the school bus.
I know I can't be there for every little thing that happens to them, and honestly, Rachel and I have tried to parent in such a way that our kids get to experience more than they are sheltered from. We want them to discover the world. We want them to ask questions (even when they ask them at a rate of 10,000,000 per minute). We want them to think for themselves.
But at the same time we want to protect them.
So the question becomes how much is too much? How little, too little? And perhaps most frightening of all, can we ever really know?
You don't really consider these questions when you think about parenthood. You tend to think (at least I did) in terms of money or time or loss of sleep; you may have the vague notion that at some point your child will no longer be your child, and you will have to let them go, but you don't fully understand the terror inherent in that notion until you have them, warm and pink and sweet-smelling, in your hands. Until you hold them and realize that love, unconditional love, exists.
And when you do understand it, you're already in process. The trick becomes not letting the terror overwhelm you.
These kids of ours are little too little. It's best to love them with all our might while we can, and then love them enough to let them go, trusting that between what we've taught and modeled for them, and their own innate intelligence, they'll choose a better life than we could ever imagine. It is the dilemma and blessing of parenthood.
Now excuse me while I go hug my kids.