Friday, March 14, 2008

Coming of Age

Earlier this week I saw two headlines side by side that are worth noting. First is that 1 in 4 teenaged girls carries a sexually transmitted disease. The other is that 17 percent of 6th graders have tried alcohol. Meanwhile, tonight on 20/20, there's doing a special called "The Age of Consent" to look at the sexual activity of our youth and our culture's influence and reaction.

The headlines and this show should shock you but probably don't. All you have to do is look around to see that our children are growing up too fast. But are they really?

Our culture sends mixed messages when it comes to this subject. One of the several articles accompanying the 20/20 special points that out. But I want to point out a few specific examples myself. A few months ago, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a parental consent abortion law was unconstitutional because it violated youth's "reproductive freedom." At the same time, birth control is being made available at middle schools even though the legal age of consent isn't until high school in most states. Jamie Lynn Spears, Brittany's 16 year old sister and the star of a "tween" show on Nickelodeon, is pregnant and only faces the wrath of the celebrity media while Genarlow Wilson was in prison for three out of the ten years sentenced for having underage consensual sex and a 13 year old was suspended from school for giving a hug.

Our Christian practice is inconsistant too. I would expect that all Christians would agree on a doctrinal basis, even if they don't practice it, that sex should wait until marriage. But is there an age that we expect marriage to wait until? Think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was likely in her early teens when she was pledged to be married to Joseph. And that wasn't uncommon for the time. There's a reason puberty hits when it does, I believe. I really think our society has screwed up what God has created. I believe he created us to have a sexual drive as teenagers, arguably when we are most attractive and physically fit, because that's when we're supposed to marry. And I also don't think it's coincidence that men peak sexually in their late-teens to early twenties while women peak in their thirties, because sex in marriage is a gift from God and should continue throughout marriage. Yet despite our biology, our society says that you're not an adult until you're 18.

But what do our churches say? Most churches that don't practice infant baptism teach what is called the "age of accountability." This is when we are mature enough to make our own decision to follow Christ. But it is also when we're mature enough to understand sin and its consequences and therefore are subject to judgment. What age do most churches consider a child to be accountable to our Lord? Most use 13, based on the definition of adulthood carried over from Jewish tradition. Interestingly, the Mormon Church says 8 and other churches use 7 based on English Common Law--when a child is legally responsible for their actions. While looking this up, I found an interesting argument that the age of accountability should be 20 since that was the cutoff age while the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years.

What does this all mean and what does it have to do with what I posted earlier? Well, if we consider our children to be responsible enough to claim Jesus as their savior, then they should be responsible enough to make decisions about sex and their reproductive freedom. The problem is that subject is taboo for all too many. The biggest argument against parental consent for abortions is that girls would fear punishment from their parents and would therefore not seek an abortion and instead abort their unborn child themselves, risking their lives in the process. And I'm sorry, but if you're a parent and your child is too afraid to talk about the subject of sex with you then you're not doing your job. You're willing to punish your child for having sex yet you allow them to wear what they wear (look around the next time you go to a mall!), watch what they watch (MTV, Gossip Girls, The OC, etc), and listen to what they listen to. Parents need to take an active roll in their children's sexuality. Be open to communication. Be understanding. Relate. Have compassion. And don’t rely on society to define either morality or adulthood for you. If we’re going to expect our children to behave like adults spiritually, we need to treat them like adults when it comes to these mature subjects.

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