Every age and intelligence should be treated in a suitable manner.
What is age?
I have been wrestling with this chapter for over a week now (hence why I’m late in publishing it!) and I remain slightly stumped by it. It’s not that I don’t understand it nor is it because it is particularly challenging for me, personally but rather it is due to the clarity of which it reads. It is what it is in a sense. What commentary is there to offer on a chapter which says don’t treat ‘youths’ in the same way as adults…
It is in that statement that I suspect that we can pause for a moment: ‘don’t treat youths in the same way as adults’.
Our culture increasingly sees little distinction between ‘youths’ and adults. Age is arbitrary in this respect. What I mean by that is, a person’s age is based solely on an event they had no control over. Aside from that they have developed at a different pace and in a different way to a person born at exactly the same time elsewhere. Age can never be a marker for understanding, intelligence or maturity.
I watched a TV programme last week on child geniuses and saw in this aspect of a child’s life they can be progressed through education quicker if a parent or mentor desires to do so; it’s a lot of hard work but it is possible. Education does not rely on genetics (or at least in some cases) and so a child can be differed through it.
So what is age and why do we have laws that differentiate between ‘youths’ and ‘adults’?
I think the complication when looking at someone’s age and identifying them by it is that our culture, with its excessively heightened individualism, has changed our children or, rather, has changed how we oversee the childhood of the next generation. There is a shift in parenting which now grants more freedom to children whilst, at the same time, there is a reaction against this which puts increased pressure on children to be disciplined. There is, due to technological advances, less direct engagement with child development due to the lack of understanding on adults’ part as to how to use the technology now available to children and therefore policing the content of such activities.
The freedom now given to children is down to a plethora of reasons and, as a non-parent, I do not want to be seen as placing myself in the judgement seat over parents. There is the increased social pressure on adults to work in order to be more economically active and this takes time, time otherwise spent with children. The costs of child care is an expense some parents don’t prioritise or can’t prioritise and, with the advance in technology, no longer seem to need to prioritise. It is easier, for some, to put on the TV, IPad or any other electronic device and almost switch the child off; although they are not switched off they are being shaped and impacted by what they watch.
I know of a child who is given an iPad to watch, on YouTube, their favourite superhero cartoons. This child, like many others, is techno-savvy and knows how to access other videos on YouTube despite being less than 5. This means that without their parent sitting and engaging with them this infant is able to access not only his favourite superhero cartoon but also the more violent adult version of it. I have caught the child watching 15 rated movie clips when they are less than 5! Are we, therefore, surprised when children seem to have knowledge of things way above their experience and years?
Add to the advances in technology and some of our over-reliance on it to develop our children granting us the time to earn or consume more we also have a cultural development which had led us to a peculiar place. After two world wars, which devastated the traditional family unit, there was an attempt at returning to normality. After a decade or so we, as a culture, discovered that that was not possible. Money was tight and, with the single parent family beginning to emerge as a norm, the bond between parents and children was impacted due to parents need to work longer hours to feed the family. Extended families became more important and new family units were formed with the parental roles being moved outside the nuclear family. When these children grew up they revolted and the 60’s/70’s saw the birth of the ‘freedom generation’. Sexual freedom, gender equality and alternative living all became political currency. These, in themselves are not bad things and there was a great need, I feel, for the conversation to be had, however, the passion and force behind these revolutions may well have been created due to the breakdown of traditional structures on children. These structures were in place like scaffolding around freshly budding trees to protect and nurture. If you have not been contained and primed, when you have not had to wait to mature you develop reactionary tendencies and freedom becomes a dangerous tool not just to other people but to yourself.
After the explosion of ‘freedom’ came the children of the revolution and we have my generation who were parented by those ‘hippies’. We knew no difference and grew up being told to do what we like. Our parents didn’t want to put on the straight jacket of tradition and we were encouraged to find our own way. This is still around as I talk with potential baptism families; many of them say they don’t want to force religion on children and they see it as oppressive (or some less aggressive phrases for the same thing). So they want to get their child baptised (for what reason, they do not know) and then they will let them work it out themselves, “Baptism gives them that option.” I don’t want to go into what’s wrong with this thought process but Christianity is an option which is available to this child but, unfortunately, splashing them with water when they are a couple of months old will not impact their consciousness and inform a decision. Christianity is not being made available to them just because they got wet in church before they were able to walk.
This encouragement of self discovery from birth, the non-pressured approach to parenting and the added freedom from responsibility due to technology has led to our children believing they can do what they want, be who they want and act however they like. Again, not all of these things are bad intentions but there is an underlying problem: how do they make informed decisions? how do they develop wisdom? how do we pass on culture and virtues? It is in this context that we have grown into a culture with no shared ideals, highly individualised who raise passion above wisdom and the personal over the social. Age, in this culture, becomes nothing more than a number which restricts personal development towards self fulfilling ‘happiness’. No wonder the age of consent, sexual awakening, experimentation with substance abuse is either being dropped or wanting to be dropped. Young people don’t want to be children, they want to be adults. They want they privileges of being an adult without the tools to take on the responsibilities. We have a generation of young adults who have not been taught the balance between power and responsibility and they cannot pass that wisdom to their children. This does not do our public discussions and politics any favours and can only see social problems increase.
I didn’t expect myself to sound like such a cynical, Conservative scaremonger and I don’t mean to be. I want to stress that I’m merely making broad sweeps of observations on trends to encourage you, my dear reader, to pause and reflect. What is behind our current culture? Do we want it to continue on this trajectory. What is the cost to our seemingly ‘good’ intentions?
Being in discussion over emergent/emerging culture this topic is highly divisive. Some, more liberal-minded people, want to continue to push forward to complete freedom, whilst others on the other side of the spectrum want to clamp down. This is the out-working of Gove’s educational policy (personal reflection). Of course most of us sit in the middle of these two extremes but I see more of us sliding towards that liberal end. The rise in UKIP and other culturally branded ‘fascist’ parties is a dramatic reaction against the increasing liberal basis of our culture in all its aspects.
Where is the space for tradition and connection with history? Our identity as agnation is eroding due to our lack of understanding and inherited wisdom. Adolescence is always about rebelling against parental boundaries but if we grant them the freedom they think they want then they will not learn the joy of true happiness within the safety of communal life.
Loving Father, as your child I cry out for your tender compassion and guidance. I’m sorry for the times I have rebelled against your good laws and felt the sharp pain of consequence of my self-fulfilment. Help us, your people, to enjoy childhood, the wonder and discovery within the safety of familial life. Help us to instruct and protect the vulnerable as they grow into maturity, knowing both power and responsibility.
Come, Lord Jesus