Friday, August 6, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 8)

Are teens capable of love?

In chapter 8 of Teen 2.0, Epstein states, "no one, to my knowledge, has ever come up with a legitimate way of differentiating the kind of romantic love teens experience from the kind of romantic love adults experience (pg 206)."

To me, it's a difficult statement to either defend or refute; trying to give compelling scientific evidence for love somehow feels...well...off. "Scientifically-proven love" sounds like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, Epstein points out in this chapter that psychological research reveals that teens are capable of mature love. We have to differentiate "love" from "sex" here, as research (and personal experience) reveals that teens are more than hormone-driven lust monsters. Even more than sex, teens long for intimacy and belonging.

Marriage is a key factor for this topic, especially the age at which one marries. In America, the average age for marriage is steadily increasing, now somewhere in the mid-20s. The divorce rate is also increasing, with a 50% divorce rate for first marriages, and more than 60% for second marriages. This is a far cry from 100 years ago when young people--especially women--married in their early teens, some as early as 14. While this is another case of "correlation doesn't mean causation," there is a curiously strong similarity in the graphed curves that describe the divorce rate and the median age, both of which are steadily rising at almost the same rate since 1960.

I have wondered this before: wouldn't an earlier marriage, like right around the onset of puberty, basically draw an end to Christian abstinence programs? I wonder what our culture would be like if a young couples' sexual identity--not to mention spiritual identity--was formed in the context of a marriage relationship. Instead of delaying sex and identity formation until their mid-20s, mounting in sexual frustration and identity confusion, they would have the support of one another and form their entire sexual history around one person, just as God intended and Scripture reveals. Perhaps all of our issues with divorce, sexual promiscuity, and identity formation would lessen or cease. It would certainly mean drastic changes in our societal norms, not to mention how our families and communities were involved in young marriages. (Note: I'm not at all advocating that teens start getting married at age 13, I'm just wondering out loud.)

Epstein cites three individual stories to help make his point, but I wonder if the stories themselves don't backfire on him. One story involves a sexual relationship and marriage between a 23-year-old wrestling teacher and a 14-year-old student. Another is the Mary Kay Letourneau story, one I'm quite familiar with, having grown up in Washington state in the same region as Letourneau. The final is a story where a 13-year-old girl runs away from her parents with her 21-year-old boyfriend she met on the Internet. Epstein argues that while society objects to these types of relationships, that each showed maturity and genuine love. It's nearly impossible for me to agree that these relationships exhibit healthy, redemptive, Godly love. Perhaps Epstein and I have very different definitions of what love is. (You can read my definition in 1 John and 1 Corinthians.). If anything, these stories reveal the impulsivity of young people, not their maturity.

Epstein rightly points out that many of the laws about teen sex and marriage are inconsistent. He also rightly reveals that teens are capable of mature feelings of love, longing for intimacy and a sense of belonging. But he never gives a clear definition of what love is, nor do many of his examples help his point. He ends this chapter with me convinced that teens are capable of strong emotions of love, but not of the commitments, judgment, and emotional wherewithal to have true love endure without the guidance of loving adults in their lives.

How would our society have to change if teen marriage were the norm? Are teens just as capable as adults of sacrificial love? Of making healthy sexual choices?

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