It was born on October 12, 1944. For over 100 years, the phenomenon had evolved in gestational form. But the thing was born on October 12, 1944, when 30,000 frenzied, teenie-bopping girls descended upon Times Square to meet their new idol – Frank Sinatra! Writer Bruce Blevin described the scene as “a phenomenon of mass hysteria that is only seen two or three times in history.” It was The Teenager. In his book, Teenage, The Creation of Youth Culture, social commentator, Jon Savage chronicles this remarkable facet of modern culture, a paradigmatic anomaly very much unparalleled in prior human history.
In retrospect, it seems that this was a necessary element of life in the new industrialized, bureaucratized city of the modern. Men like J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde glorified the image of eternal youth, and the life of leisure always comes as the highest virtue to most if not all developing empires. Attending this new cultural milieu, came the obligatory dishonor of parents, generational severance, family disintegration, child labor laws, family fragmenting corporations, public schools, sexual assertion on the part of girls, pop culture icons, immodesty, dating, and teen fornication. The connections in this social network are inextricably linked. I doubt that Almanzo Wilder’s sisters would have ever shown up at New York Times Square in 1875. Unless there had been 70 years of age-segregated, public school education between 1875 and 1944, Frank Sinatra would never have met 30,000 screaming women on October 12th.
If you minimize or remove the necessary components of a biblical social system in your society, and you construct educational and socio-economic institutions to accommodate big government socialism, you will produce dysfunctional families and “the teenager.” The consequent social system was no accident. It was carefully produced by social planners who designed education, economics, and government systems to undermine the family and replace it with the socialist statism of the 21st century. The teenager is one of the products of this socio-economic system. He fashions himself as independent of the family, but he is institutionally-defined, and socially-programmed to be a teenager. His rebellion is corporate-designed, mass-marketed pop culture.
But how do we speak to this culture? Where do we begin? Is it as easy as eliminating Youth Groups and age-segregated activities from our schools and churches?
Personally, I think the best place to begin is with the 5th commandment. If we are about the business of teaching men to observe every one of Christ’s commandments (which is what you’re supposed to do if you support Jesus’ “Great Commission”), it is important to know the culture. If you are ministering to 19th century South Sea islanders, you teach cannibals not to eat each other. But if you happen to be in America, you need to dust off an old commandment found in Ephesians 6:1-2: “Honor your father and mother.” If you walk into a society like ours that has institutionalized the dishonor of parents for 150 years, you have to start here. Add a lesson on how materialism has trumped relationships vertically AND horizontally. Throw in the evils of socialism and institutionalized stealing, and remind people it’s wrong to kill their babies. Point out that people love dry wall more than relationships, in a place where the birth rate was cut in half while the square footage of the average home doubled in size (from 1900-2000). Suggest that parents don’t love their children enough in a nation where they have killed 120 million of them in abortion clinics and with abortifacient birth control since 1973. Teach parents to love their children more, and teach children to honor their parents more. It’s really that simple!
The book of Proverbs speaks of honor. When the father in the Proverbs disciples his son, he calls the boy to bind his commandments around his neck, and tie his mother’s law around his wrist. These instructions seem strange to us. But for one who has committed to the full implications of the 5th commandment, this is nothing less than the Christian life. When a mother reminds her son to tuck in his shirt, or to answer with a “Yes Ma’am,” or to look her in the eye when he speaks, she is giving him her commands. Now, a young man well-versed in his Biblical arguments will gently remind his mother that none of these commands are to be found in Scripture! After all, Jesus never tucked in his shirt! Yet, mothers are tasked with training their sons in the best ways to apply the idea of respect and honor. She takes her best shot at the commandments of God, and trains her son in these applications. So when a son reminds his mother that he is honoring her in his heart, but he just doesn’t want to express that honor by means of his facial expressions, his manners, his dress, his musical expressions, etc. in the forms that his mother teaches him, his “honor” dies the death of a thousand qualifications. In consequence, he perpetuates the dishonor of parents that has been destroying culture from generation to generation since the 1880s. This is how we get from “My Grandfather’s Clock,” as the #1 song in the nation in the 1880s to Eminem referring to his own mother as a female dog in 2010.
What we have today is the remnants of a civilization where the pop culture mentors the teens, and the teens mentor their peers, and the culture is hardly developed by parents or pastors mentoring in families and churches anymore. The pastors or shepherds of the culture are the pop icons, and the youth pastors run hard to keep up with the cultural standards set by the icons. Is it any surprise that 70% of young men are not grown up by 30 years of age (up from 30% in 1970), per Newsweek magazine, or that 80% of Christian children not discipled by their parents “leave the faith” after leaving home?
If we will rebuild culture, we must begin with the fifth commandment, and a willingness on the part of parents to disciple their children in the commandments of Jesus. If this happens, we will begin to see culture reconstructed on the wreckage of the 20th century. Hopefully, the next generation will be more mature than we were in their incarnations of love and honor and discipleship of the succeeding generation; but only because they stand on the shoulders of their own parents who discipled them.