Etymologists tell us that the word teenager was first coined in 1941. Thus, the notion that human beings are in one of three stages—children, teenagers or adults—is a very recent development. Throughout history people were classified as children or adults. The Apostle Paul himself only spoke of two phases in his life:
One of the most harmful realities for our young people today has been society’s unwillingness to accept them as full adults. We call them teens, and exercise our authority over them as if they were still children. It is no wonder that our youth have so many problems with maturing emotionally and socially. They are rarely entrusted with life responsibilities commensurate with their physical and mental ability.
Over the years, Karen and I have noticed a strange phenomenon with parents. Most parents make two great mistakes in life: they under-discipline their children when they are young, and they over-discipline their children when they are older. They are reluctant to spank their kids when they deserve it as young children, and they are reluctant to release their children after puberty to try out adult life on their own.
I suppose these mistakes have been made by all of us. I certainly made this mistake. Starting about twelve years old, my oldest daughter began arguing with me about various topics and rules I had laid down. I ignored this for a few years, and even when she was 14 and 15, I was still managing her life as if she were a child. Yet physically, she was clearly a young woman, not a little girl. One day Karen arrested my attention with the question, “Why is it, Chris, that you and Janelle have become such opponents? What happened to your good friendship from before?”
I spent several days praying about this, and looking at God’s word. I discovered an amazing thing. The same mistake I made had been made by Mary and Joseph concerning their twelve-year-old. Let me read to you the story…(see Luke 2:41-51)
Now what was going on here? What was happening in Jesus’ mind, that while his parents were returning home, he felt it necessary to stay behind in Jerusalem and meet with his father daily in the temple?
First of all, let’s consider the biological changes that were taking place in the brain of Jesus. In the last ten years scientists have been learning some new things about the brain development of adolescent children.
Dr. Jay Giedd, researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, says the following:
“By age six, the brain is already 95 percent of its adult size. But the gray matter, or thinking part of the brain, continues to thicken throughout childhood as the brain cells get extra connections…In the frontal part of the brain, the part of the brain involved in judgment, organization, planning, strategizing — those very skills that teens get better and better at — this process of thickening of the gray matter peaks at about age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, roughly about the same time as puberty…
I think the exuberant growth during the pre-puberty years gives the brain enormous potential…. The frontal lobe is often called the CEO, or the executive of the brain. It’s involved in things like planning and strategizing and organizing, initiating attention and stopping and starting and shifting attention. (It) allows us to conduct philosophy and… to think about our place in the universe.”
So imagine with me what was going on in Jesus’ mind. He was twelve years old, the age when Jewish tradition grants a person the rights and responsibilities of manhood. His brain had developed to a point in which, as Dr. Giedd explained, he was beginning to organize his thoughts, he was beginning to make his own judgments, he was beginning to plan his life and strategize his future ministry. He was developing his philosophy of life, and he began to think about his place in the universe. Is it any wonder that he felt the need to be in the temple area and discuss the law of God with the teachers at that time? He was an adult – he was no longer thinking as a child.
Two times Luke records the reactions of those around him. First, the teachers of the law were amazed at his knowledge. And second, his mother was astonished at his behavior. Clearly, something had changed within him that created waves publicly and privately.
Now there is something I don’t want you to miss here. Luke tells us that Jesus submitted to his earthly parents, and in fact delayed his public ministry for another eighteen years. So here is my question: when Jesus and his mother had their first clash, who was wrong, and who was right? If Jesus, the only perfect teenager who ever lived, stayed in Jerusalem while his parents returned home, then shouldn’t we also consider giving our teenagers the opportunity to separate themselves from us – to think on their own, to plan their future and decide their life philosophy, to consider their place in the universe?
After recognizing the tensions that had mounted between my oldest daughter and myself, I decided to sit down with Janelle and Tiffany, my second daughter, and have a talk. I asked them to do two things. “First, tell me the things you appreciate about your dad.” They kind of looked at each other, and then mentioned a few things I did for the family. That part took about two minutes. Then I said, “Ok, now tell me the things about me that you wish were different.”
The conversation lasted a few hours. Janelle brought up several rules that I had laid down for the family, saying that they seemed a bit arbitrary. “Like the rule that we can only watch one hour of television every day. Normally that is fine, but some days there is a really good movie on TV, and we can only watch half of it. Couldn’t you be a little more flexible?”
“And then”, Tiffany added, “we don’t like it when you tease us in public, or use us as a sermon illustration without our permission.”
Wow! Another good point.
To my surprise, as we finished our conversation and I looked over all their complaints about me, 80% of them were, well, they were quite legitimate. I took their suggestions seriously; I got rid of the arbitrary rules, and began showing them more respect in public and private. As a gesture of new freedom, I offered to double their monthly allowance if they would be willing to buy all their own clothes. They immediately accepted the offer.
In the following two years there was a noticeable change in our family climate. No longer were Janelle and I arguing so much, and the kids were particularly excited about shopping on their own, finding the best bargains and showing us what they were able to purchase with their money. Karen and I were impressed. They came home with jeans and T-shirts that were a fraction of what we had spent before. They had been given a generous dose of adulthood, and they were thriving in it. But along with the changes going on with my teenage girls, there were new ideas going on in me as well. I began evaluating my own role as their dad. I found myself acting less and less like a commander and more and more like a coach.
Let me explain this change by looking at the Apostle Paul’s father role… (This part continues on full document)
On December 31, 1999, we had a very special family gathering. When the kids were younger I used to discipline them by spanking them with my hand. But sometimes, for serious offenses, I used a ping-pong paddle. So on this day we took the ping-pong paddle, and had each of our four daughters write their name on it. Then the youngest one, Bethany, placed the ping-pong paddle in the fireplace, where we watched it slowly burn into ashes.
I made a promise to the children that day. “From now on I will never again give any of you a command, nor will I ever punish you. I will only give you my counsel and warning, and celebrate your successes. But life has a way of giving you consequences that are far more painful than my spankings. From now on you stand before God as young women, and Karen and I are your cheerleaders – your fans.”
And so it was that our family shifted. Karen and I concerned ourselves less and less with correcting all their mistakes, and we enjoyed more and more commending them for their wisdom and good choices. Sometimes, when one of our daughters faced a moral decision, they would ask me, “Daddy, will you let me do this?” My response was, “you can do whatever you want. You have to take responsibility for your decision – not me. You know my counsel already on this issue. Now you need to make your own decision and live with it.”
One day, one of my daughters asked me, “Daddy, what will you do if I were to marry a non-Christian? Would you attend the wedding?” That was a good question. After thinking about it I answered her the following:
“If you were to date a non-Christian, I would warn you during your entire relationship that you were going down a wrong path, and that this man should not be your husband. Then I would attend the wedding to bear witness of your vows to your husband. After that day, the tables will turn. Then you will be the one to regret your decision, when you see your husband looking at other women, and he begins to lose interest in you. You will have to endure life with a man who does not love God, and who places himself above others. Then, you will come to us and say, “I don’t want him to be my husband anymore. Then we will say, ‘It’s too late now. You gave your vows, and promised to live with him the rest of your life. We accept him as your husband, and he’s our son-in-law. We will not help you divorce him. You need to live with the decision you have made.”
My daughters never brought up the topic again.
2 1 Corinthians 13:11
 from the PBS website, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/giedd.html