University of South Carolina Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Frank Martin, has made headlines recently for the following quote about expectations of kids…
You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything.
We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed. To blame kids is a cop out.
This quote has seemed to cause quite some discussion as people consider who and what has really changed in respect to expectations of kids. While the debate is over the details, most seem to agree that things have changed.
I’d like to add to the discussion an article I wrote some time back that seems more timely today than ever.
The concept of “adolescence” is a relatively new idea, only about a century old.
A study of the history of “adolescence” certainly lends great insight into the cultural expectations and generational mindset of today’s teen culture. Nowhere in pre-twentieth century history books will you find the term “teenager” and nowhere in the Bible exists the idea of adolescence. In ancient Jewish culture, a person was either a “child” or an “adult.” (Even today in Judaism, 13 year old boys and 12 year old girls become “Bar or Bat Mitzvah”, respectively, and often have a celebration to mark this moving from childhood to adulthood.)
The concept of adolescence is widely contributed to psychologist Stanley Hall’s 1904 work in which he described a developmental stage he referred to as “adolescence”. Child labor laws and school reform laws of the early 1900s more clearly defined this concept culturally, as teens moved from being producers in society to (almost exclusively) consumers. Reader’s Digest seemed to solidify the recognition of this new sub-culture when it coined the phrase “teenager.”
The past 65 years has seen the evolution of “teenage” years and now “tween” years, that have settled between Childhood and Adulthood. With these new eras, have evolved new cultural expectations. Unfortunately, those expectations seem to be spiraling lower for each successive generation.
Although the need for an era of “adolescence” is well-debated in some fields of study (ie. Psychology), there is no doubt that the concept of adolescence has significantly affected the way society views “teenagers.”
The process of moving from childhood to adulthood in our culture seems to be taking longer and longer. “In today’s world, the assumption that the adolescent years cease and a teen becomes an adult at the age of 18 is no longer valid. New discoveries regarding the human brain, along with a host of cultural forces, like later marriage, extended college education, massive debt, living at home, and delayed maturity have fueled things like extended adolescence and emerging adulthood…”  These terms sound nice, but simply mean that our children are taking longer to grow up. I’ve even read where some think adolescence extends to the age of 30!
* Simply Youth Culture, Group Publishing, ©2011
The biggest problem with the evolution of the teenage era and the idea of extended adolescence is the fact that lower and lower expectations appear to be placed on students during “emerging adulthood.” While we have students study the lives of such great historical figures as George Washington (land surveyer for state of Virginia at 17, military major at 20) and Thomas Edison (published weekly newspaper at 15, invented light bulb), we often celebrate and reward such things as a made bed or a clean bedroom. We give shiny trophies for participation.
There is much data to be read on how our culture has lowered expectations for children/young adults in the classroom, in the home, and even in the church. As a whole, this generation is known as having an “adolescent mindset.” In his work Adolescent Culture- Where Are the Grown Ups?, John Stonestreet suggests that the marks of a culture with a dominant adolescent mindset are precisely what we have come to expect from adolescents themselves. I readily see the six characteristics he lists of our adolescent culture…
1) Demand for immediate gratification
2) Absence of long-term thinking about life and the world.
3) Motivated by feeling rather than truth
4) Wanting grown-up things without growing up.
5) Expecting bailouts rather than accepting consequences.
6) Focusing on appearance rather than depth.
Although this adolescent mindset has certainly engulfed our culture, our children do not have to be (and certainly should not be) victims of such a hopelessly situated ideology.
RAISING THE BAR
There is much we can do to raise expectations in our homes and church. We can start by being ever mindful of the following:
1) Root identity in Jesus Christ
Students: Our culture is constantly telling you who you should be, what you should wear, and how you should think. Billions of advertising dollars are spent each year with the purpose of shaping YOUR identity. You can choose to listen to the world, with its constantly changing fads, trends, and ideologies, or you can root your identity in Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Parents: The most important thing we can give our children is an identity that is rooted in Jesus Christ. So many parents work so hard to give their children things that will be meaningless in a few years. Training our children to have an identity in Jesus Christ should be THE priority in our homes. There is nothing greater you can do as a parent. What ways are you making spiritual discipleship a priority in your home? How are you fostering a love for and commitment to the church of Jesus Christ?
2) Expect the best
Students: As a follower of Jesus Christ, you have the spirit of the almighty God living in you. Although God does give us the freedom to make our own choices (and face the consequences of bad choices), He wants the very best for us. We should be ever mindful that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Parents: I agree with David Black, who in his book The Myth of Adolescence encourages parents to expect the best, not the worst from their children. “If we expect them to act like irresponsible children, they will,” Black states. “On the other hand, if we expect them to act like responsible adults, as people did for thousands of years, they will.”
3) Model High Expectations
Students: Raise your own bar. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) You be the one that encourages and challenges your peers (and your generation) to rebel against low expectations. Don’t just meet the expectations your teachers, coaches, and parents have for you… shatter them and asked that they be raised.
Parents: Change starts with us. We are not accountable for how our society is raising children. We are accountable for how we raise ours. Raising expectations in the home does not always mean being stricter. A far more effective way of raising expectations is modeling great expectations. With students, it really is true that more is “caught” than just “taught.”
4) Dream Big
Students: Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” So many students kill their future by having no vision, no dreams. Pray, and ask for a Godly vision for your life. When you have a vision, start TODAY to fulfill it. If you don’t have a clear vision for you life, put your best effort into staying in close fellowship with Christ (he will never lead you out of His will), and do all you can to prepare yourself spiritually, educationally, and physically for the time you realize that vision. Do all you can, where you are, with what you have, to fulfill what you know is his plan for your life… to make disciples. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Parents: I’ve heard many students describe their parents as “dream killers.” Never forget the power your words have with your children. Even if they are less than impressive in their work ethic and attitude now, God can take less than stellar students, and use them to change the world. Remember the rag-tag bunch of disciples that Jesus chose to start His church? Encourage your children to dream big, and constantly remind them “with God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
5) Don’t fear failure
Students: Fear of failure cripples most students (and adults too) from even trying to fulfill their dreams. However, failure is essential to success. Every time you look at a light bulb, remember that Edison failed 10,000 times before he got it right. Those who give the most to the world won’t be stopped by failure.
Parents: So many parents put their primary focus on protecting their children, and lose sight of the goal of preparing them to be disciples of Jesus Christ in this world. A big part of the preparation is allowing children to learn from failure. If children are never allowed to fail while mom and dad are there helping them learn from it, the lessons will be tougher (and carry more consequences) when parents are not there. Raising expectations, even if our children don’t initially meet them, will continue to encourage them to be all God has created them to be.
In His last words on earth, Jesus called His followers to be world-changers. Ever since then, the enemy (Satan) has done all he can to make Jesus-followers think this is impossible. Let’s remember who we serve. Let’s remember that Jesus told his followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Let’s remember His words, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b) Jesus has great expectations of us. Do we have great expectations for ourselves?
More Reading on this topic…
- The Myth of Adolescence by David Alan Black
- Raising the Bar by Alvin L. Reid
- Raising a Modern–Day Knight by Robert Lewis
- Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris
- Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ by Richard Ross
- The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West
What other resources would you recommend on this topic? Leave a comment below with any suggestions.
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