Like clockwork, teen participation in any extra-curricular activity produces the inevitable question: “Who else is going?” It is the battle that age-segregation has produced. At a time where cultural activities & Church attendance necessarily demand you send your child or teen away from you, adolescents are forced to find solidarity in their peers since they can know longer find it in adults (see Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0). We must look beyond our generation to understand what is happening. This sort of “need” for friends to be present is not universal or historical. It is the product of our modern social structure. Therefore, we must be careful not to assume it is an innocent phenomenon without any spiritual implications or ramifications. If we remain unreflective, we will merely assume it to be normal and never consider the real warfare that is taking place in our children’s hearts.
The primary danger of our modern thinking on this issue as believers is that we will default to a secularist understanding of what is going on. In an age where every education system or psychological institution is undergirded by rationalist thinking, we are inundated with every opinion about how to socialize children without any perspective from a biblical worldview. Here’s what this means: the base assumptions dictating how we understand the developmental issues our children face come to us without reference to God. Like a sailor without a map or compass we are left navigating the seas of child-rearing without a point of reference by which we may know our present location or the path ahead. God has no intentions of giving us an understanding of ourselves that does not first begin with an understanding of him. All this to say that any proper diagnosis of what is happening with our children when they are adamant on having friends present must begin with God himself. So what does God say?
Remember this is a question of Lordship
Keep in mind that nowhere does God’s word suggest kids need other kids. I’m not saying that this idea is completely unhelpful but if we truly believe God designed the universe and His word is sufficient for producing godliness (2 Timothy 3:15-17), then it is quite clear on the value of peer-segmentation when God decided not to include any such command for us. In fact, it says just about everything to the contrary. So what does it tell us about this peer co-dependence that is so prevalent among teens?
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God” -John 5:44
In this text, Jesus is calling out the unbelief of the religious leaders. They thought they loved God but Christ makes it clear, in the larger context, that they do not. And why don’t they believe? Because they were in love with the opinions of their peers. The love of what others think of us directly prohibits the worship of God. Paul says it explicitly in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In other words, it is the love of what people think of us that has replaced our concern for what God thinks. And how does Paul describe these two loves? As mutually exclusive. In other words, when obedience to Jesus is sacrificed on the altar of a concern for peers, we aren’t merely meddling in some issue of social development. We are on the front lines of eternal warfare. Are we examining their behavior in light of these texts or have we fallen prey to the pseudo-diagnoses of naturalistic thinking? We must come to grips with the unbelief in our children. We must lead and disciple them to see how to understand this behavior in light of God’s Word.
They Need People
Inevitably, this diagnosis will seem cold. It will seem that I am calling for children to constantly be forced into circumstances where they do not know one another well. That is not the solution. The solution is this: we must stop expecting peers to bear the weight of walking through life with our teens. Why are teens so obsessed with needing peers to be there? Because they know who probably won’t be there: parents. They are used to being dropped off. They are used to having to cling to one another. Instead of hopping from activity to activity on the basis of whether or not our children will be accepted socially by the other kids there, we as parents must disciple them by walking through those battles with them. We shouldn’t expect our kids to go to youth ministry without knowing someone else. But we shouldn’t expect them to value going to a ministry we do not value ourselves by our own involvement.
Remember the goal of youth ministry is not a fun peer group but holiness through participation in a local Church. How does Scripture promise growth in holiness? Proverbs 13:20 says “He who walks with wise men will be wise but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Paul Washer says it bluntly, “Youth are to be with adults so that they stop acting like naive fools and join adulthood and put away foolishness which leads to destruction.” So, this is not a call to forcing adolescents into isolating loneliness. I am trying to point out that it is their isolation from adults that is forcing them to seek solidarity in their peers. The solution is not to encourage this but to revert back to the relationships that are meant to fuel holiness, older believers (beginning with parents).
I want to end with the simple reminder that this is discipleship. Jesus did not stay in heaven to bring about holiness in us. He came and walked among us. That is our model for our teens. If we are not willing to walk through this battle of peer co-dependence with them, we should not expect them to succeed by our second-hand assistance. Most importantly, we must remember that they are not really “our teens” but Christ’s disciples (or wayward children). They have a much higher identity that we are responsible for shepherding than just being our biological offspring. As hard as this task is, our hope is not in ourselves but that God would call and sanctify his children as we seek to honor Him in the way we disciple them. When they cry out for peers, let us lead them to Christ.