Monday, February 11, 2008

The Four Levels of Maturity: Adolescence, Part 2

Last week we concluded the characteristics of teenagers were:

  • Learning through experimentation,
  • Increased freedom, especially from immediate parental oversight, and
  • “The sky is the limit” mentality.

As I stated in that post, none of those characteristics are wrong, but both are healthy and necessary. But even healthy characteristics can be taken to dangerous extremes, both in life and in fiction.

The Dangers

Probably the biggest temptation that teenagers, both physical and spiritual, face is the it-doesn’t-matter attitude. They know enough to be dangerous, but lack the wisdom that comes from experimentation; and their belief that anything is possible can make them think they’re invincible.

This manifests itself in fiction in the opposite extreme that children face: you can read or watch whatever you want. What fiction you absorb doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any effect.

This is like saying you can drive a 100 miles per hour down the highway. Sure, you can do it. Yes, you may not get caught or hurt the first or the second or even the tenth time. But that still doesn’t mean this is a safe or wise way to drive.

Likewise, watching R-rated movies or reading erotica as a consistent diet (for an extreme example) may not immediately have consequences. But that doesn’t mean the practice of this is healthy.

In truth, fiction acts more like a drug. A single dose won’t usually kill and may not even have any negative side effects. But the more you take, the more the drug infects the body, increasing the potential for addiction and impairment. Fiction affects the thoughts, attitudes, and heart much in the same way.

The Safeguards

With freedom must come responsibility. So while teens may no longer be restricted as much by parents/mentors, they still need accountability.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed choices or the ability to sample a variety of fiction. However, we all have personal boundaries, places we shouldn’t cross into. But teens are often unaware or defiant of these restrictions.

So an accountability partner is the best safeguard at this vital age when tastes are being developed. Not someone to say what’s right or wrong, like the mentors of infancy and childhood. Rather, someone who allows them freedom to try and make up their mind while pointing out the personal boundaries and say, “Careful! You’re delving into dark places. You’re developing dangerous habits.” For while anything may be “permissible,” not everything is beneficial.

Sound restrictive? Perhaps, but it’s also common sense—we all have blind spots, and it’s better to have someone say, “Don’t take that road” than to drive off a cliff. And any teen not mature enough to accept such help isn’t mature enough to handle the freedom of choosing what fiction they absorb.

No comments: