This week on “BreakPoint,” we have been talking about teens and the particular challenges facing them. But did you know that the word teenager did not even exist until the twentieth century? That’s what teenage authors Alex and Brett Harris share in their new book called Do Hard Things, which they wrote for their fellow teenagers.
Apparently, the first documented use of the word occurred in an issue of Reader’s Digest in 1941. David Barnhart and Allan Metcalf in the book America in So Many Words, tell us that before the twentieth century, “we had thought of people in just two stages: children and adults. And while childhood might have its tender moments, the goal of the child was to grow up as promptly as possible. . . .”
When child-labor laws rightly created restrictions to protect the physical well-being of children, and mandatory education was extended through high school, an unintended by-product was the creation of a new sub-category: the teenager.
Since then, our expectations for adolescents have plummeted, while their disposable income has soared. While Madison Avenue figures out ways to harness teenage buying power, the teen years have come to be seen as a “vacation from responsibility,” say Alex and Brett. They go on to point out, “Society doesn’t expect much from young people during their teen years-except trouble. And it certainly doesn’t expect competence, maturity or productivity.”
We have already looked this week at how technology and media create unique challenges for teens, and how teens suffer from a lack of involvement with adults and lack of training in biblical worldview. Perhaps underlying all of these other issues are the low expectations society has set for teenagers. As Alex and Brett write, we live in a society where a teen who makes his or her bed has done an act of valor.
That is one reason why I think the book Do Hard Things is so important. It is challenging teenagers to rebel against the low expectations placed on them, not the least of which are low spiritual expectations. And the voices that are asking teens to rise to meet this challenge are voices from their own generation. That thrills me. But we adults should be setting higher standards, as well.
It thrills me even more to see two young men like Brett and Alex living out what they are calling others to do. At 16, they served as the youngest Supreme Court interns on record in the state of Alabama. At 17, they launched http://www.therebelution.com/, now one of the most trafficked Christian teen websites on the Internet. At 18, they began touring the country talking to teens. And at 19, they became published authors when their book Do Hard Things hit the stores.
If you’ve got a teenager in your house-or if you have one who is a grandson or granddaughter-I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of Do Hard Things. It would make a great graduation present or summer reading.
And don’t just give them the book; make a point to ramp up your interaction with the teens God has put in your life. Become a spiritual mentor to your teens and help them rebel against low expectations. Help them become rebels with a good cause, seeking more out of life than mindless channel-surfing.