“So, when do *I* get to decide if I go to church?”

“Not a single Sparrow can fall to the ground without the Father knowing it.” Matthew 10:29

I work with an age group that begins asking the question “When am I going to do the things that I see my older peers doing?” This includes questions like “How old do I have to be to date?” “When can I get my driver’s license?” “How late can I stay out with my friends?” and, the dreaded “When can I decide to sleep in on Sundays instead of church like my friends do?”

These questions are part of the process tweens go through, it’s *learning to think for themselves* and make their own decisions. It’s difficult and awkward, but an important process. It can be especially infuriating as attempts at “independence” seem to look exactly like conformity to friends and trends. But each question in this process is an opportunity.

Most of these questions are about The Law, and it’s easy to give a simple lawful answer. ( “When you’re 16.” — that seems far enough away, right?) But we must not miss this opportunity to talk about the spirit behind the law instead.

“How old do I need to be to date?” could be answered with an arbitrary legal restriction, or it could be a discussion about what is the purpose of dating. “Well, the whole point of dating is to spend time getting to know a person and his family so you can decide if you want to marry him. When do you think you’re old enough to decide if you want to marry a certain person?” This can lead to an ongoing discussion of what makes a good spouse, healthy dating habits vs. the drama secular dating creates, resisting peer pressure, etc.

Similarly, with a question about mandatory church attendance. It could be a discussion about the spirit behind weekly worship. “How do people, in general, decide what is important to spend their time doing? If you were deciding right now about going to church or not, what would help you decide? Would you first need to know what that church teaches and why? When you look back on how you spent these years, what do you think will have been the most important to you? to becoming the person you want to be?”

Once “kids” start asking questions about boundaries, they are already moving past the stage where they simply accept laws as given. Here is our chance to gide them toward good decision making habits. At this early stage of negotiating boundaries, if we do not begin guiding intelligent self-management and modeling the process of making good choices, we miss our chance.

“What?? I’ve fulfilled the requirements. You set only one expectation, that I wait until I’m 16. Now I’m 16. So, I can do it, and you can’t tell me there’s more to it than that.”  It’s easy for a teen to be a pharisee. They just wait until that birthday comes or that lawful requirement is fulfilled, and it is often too late to influence decisions through discussion after. That is why I choose to work with tweens– I want to have those discussions, if they’re open to them, before they are actually making the decisions.

I learned today, secondhand, that one of my teens decided to leave the church on her 14th birthday last month. She didn’t even say goodbye, just disappeared. I have no idea what her reasons for leaving are, and I suspect she doesn’t know either (other than being “old enough” now).  It’s hard being a teacher.

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