I have two dear little friends who call me “Aunt Sheila”. On Facebook I’m listed as their aunt (not in my main account, which many of you are on, but on my personal account where I only have all my teenage friends from church and my children, who I don’t want seeing all the links to all the sex posts here on Wifey Wednesday 🙂 ).
Anyway, these two girls are sisters, the third born and fifth born of fourteen children. They are lovely, and good friends with my own girls.
A few weeks ago they took off to South Dakota to attend the marriage of one of their best friends, who, at the time, was only 17 (it was just a few weeks before her eighteenth birthday). She was marrying someone she had known all her life. They had only been courting for a few months, but they were sure that they should marry. And so marry they did.
This whole thing caused a great deal of discussion in my household. Is it okay to marry at 17? She hasn’t even seen the world! What if she doesn’t want that kind of life, but only discovers it when she’s 25?
I don’t know the girl, I don’t know her circumstances, and I really don’t want to judge. But my initial reaction (which most of you will rebel against, so be forewarned), is that I don’t think it’s that bad.
Here’s a girl who loves God, and a man who loves God (he’s in his early twenties). They know each other well. They’ve lived in ranch country their whole life, and want to have a ranch themselves. He has a house for them. He has a steady job. And that’s the life she wants.
But that’s not the only reason I think it’s all right. It mostly boils down to this: She has been doing the work of an adult since she was 12 or 13. She’s one of the oldest in a very large family which has adopted a ton of kids. She has learned how to manage a farm. She has learned how to feed a ton of people at a time. She knows how to clean a house. She has organized chores, looked after money, budgeted, and cared for children.
But it’s not that she’s ready BECAUSE she knows how to be a housewife. I didn’t know how to cook and clean well when I married, and I figured it out afterwards. That’s not the important part. It’s that she’s been treated like an adult since she was quite young, and she’s matured faster than most teens today.
My own girls, for instance, will probably not be ready for marriage at 17 (oh, please, don’t let them even think about it, Lord!). They haven’t led the kind of life this girl has. And they want more out of life than to stick to the confines of their family. But when one is treated like an adult from an early age, I think one acts like an adult.
Once again, I’m not saying I absolutely approve of this marriage; I don’t know the girl, and I don’t know the guy, and I don’t know the circumstances beyond what I’ve shared, so please, let’s not get into a debate about this particular marriage, because that could be hurtful to the parties. I’m just saying that I think it’s POSSIBLE for a 17-year-old to be an adult, if they are treated like an adult. After all, two centuries ago girls were routinely marrying at 17 or 18. Even a few decades ago it was happening. It’s only been in the last fifty years that we have extended adolescence into the early twenties, or even late twenties.
I read an interesting article in Newsweek recently that addressed this issue. Po Bronson, writing about Joe Allen’s book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, says this:
As Allen writes, “We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.” And we wonder why it’s taking so long for them to mature.
He goes on to address the issue that teen brains are not the same as adult brains with this:
But Allen speculates that our parenting style may indeed be causing their brains to be this way. Brains of teens a hundred years ago might have been far more mature. Without painful real-life experiences, modern teens’ brains never learn to tell the difference between what they should fear and what they shouldn’t. Without real consequences and real rewards, teens never learn to distinguish between good risks they should take and bad risks they shouldn’t. “We park kids on the sidelines, thinking their brains will develop if we just wait, let time pass, as if all they need is more prep courses, lessons, and enrichment courses. They need real stress and challenges.”
Perhaps we are hampering our kids from growing up appropriately because we don’t treat them like adults.
One thing my children can do is navigate airports. We’ve been in so many, including third world ones from our missions trips, that they can go up to any counter and demand service, ask for a change in flight, ask just about anything. They’re good at airports. And I take every opportunity, when we’re out and need to figure out something, to have them go and ask. I want them to feel mastery of their own world.
But that’s such a small thing. The big things are the things Allen talked about: taking risks, being productive, having meaning, having real work. Most kids do not have this. And it’s no wonder, then, that they don’t grow up.
I know many of you reading this blog don’t have teenagers as I do. You’re still in the baby years of parenting. But if I could offer you any important advice, it would be this: do not be afraid of demanding from your children everything they are capable of. And they are capable of far more than we think.
We are not put on earth to coddle our children or to give them a great life. We are put on this earth to equip them for a life they are to lead FOR GOD. We are not equipping them if we keep them from maturing, and much of life conspires to do that, from the media, to school, to recreational activities. Do not leave it to the schools or the church to help your child mature. You do it. Give them chores from an early age. Teach them to manage money. Teach them to be comfortable talking to adults by giving them lots of opportunities to meet interesting people. Teach them to cook and clean so they feel independent and capable.
Start when they’re young. A 3-year-old can put his/her toys away. A 5-year-old can handle an allowance. An 11-year-old can make spaghetti and baby-sit siblings. A 14-year-old can have a part-time job or figure out a business to start for the summer. Make sure your children act as maturely as they can at each stage of their development, and for this they will require you steering them in the right direction. As you do that, their brains will develop. They will think on more mature lines. And it might just be that they are ready for far more than is commonly expected when they are 18, 19, 22, or 23.
Even if they don’t get married at 17! (And I do hope the vast majority of them don’t even think about it!)