The Myth of Adolescence

I heard about Newt’s comments on an episode of The Way of the Master (at the end around 40:00), they have some good commentary on it. Phil Hammond comments that today’s youth are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today and should be treated as such. He supports children attending the main service and interacting with everyone, rather than compartmentalizing them into their specific age groups.

Monergism Books is selling a new version of Calvin’s Institutes and I was once again struck by the fact that Calvin wrote his masterpiece when he was 26.

It seems to me that there is a natural division between children and adults, and that is puberty. Leviticus 27 and Numbers 1 seem to imply that there is a division at about 20 years old, but the context is manual labor and war.

Newt’s source appears to be a book called The Case Against Adolescence that apparently addresses this issue. You can read an interview with the author here: Trashing Teens. The author says:

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways.


Everyone who has looked at the issue has found that teens can experience the love that adults experience. The only difference is that they change partners more, because they are warehoused together, told it’s puppy love and not real, and are unable to marry without permission. The assumption is they are not capable.


The “friends with benefits” phenomenon is a by-product of isolating adolescents, warehousing them together, and delivering messages that they are incapable of long-term relationships. Obviously they have strong sexual urges and act on them in ways that are irresponsible. We can change that by letting them know they are capable of having more than a hookup.

Compare this with Martin Luther’s words from The Estate of Marriage:

In the third place, from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19 [:12], “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these three categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise it is simply impossible for you to remain righteous. For the Word of God which created you and said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” abides and rules within you; you can by no means ignore it, or you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end.

Here are a couple other blogs about the book (oddly enough both from libertarian blogs):
The Case Against Adolescence (Laissez Faire Books)
The Case Against Adolescence (Marginal Revolution)

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “The Myth of Adolescence

  1. DC3

    I agree with the concept that adolescence is a myth. It’s interesting to note that the 20 year division is seen again in Numbers 14 (a possible argument for an ‘age of accountability’), and a vague pubescent division may be alluded to by the fact that Jesus was preaching in the temple at age 12 (see Luke 2).
    We see our society marred by boys and girls well into their 20s and 30s, that refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Few Fathers and Mothers are secure in their adulthood, and go through necessary steps to affirm their own children’s transition from childhood into adulthood, further weakening the confidence and understanding all of us has in what true manhood and womanhood should be. It’s terrible…
    We coddle our children rather than nudging them out of the nest, which I think is really selfishness on the part of parents who don’t want to let their children go.
    This is a really good post. Thanks for raising the issue.


  2. Pingback: Is "age segregated" Sunday School unbiblical? - The PuritanBoard

  3. Pingback: The Myth of Adolescence - The PuritanBoard

  4. Michael

    I also agree with the concept that adolescence is a myth and that it is an invention of the late 19th-century. Most theologians agree that the Virgin Mary was no more then 14 years of age when she bore our beloved Savior and Lord into the World. It was very common for the Ancient world for marriage to be arranged at the age of 14 and remained common even up to the Protestant Reformation. In the 1500s during the Protestant Reformation Theologian Giant John Calvin of the Reformed Church described a woman’s marriageable years as between 12 and 20. Theologian Giant John Knox of the Scottish Reformed Church John Knox married twice: first, at age 38; then, after his wife passed away, again, at age 50, to a young woman age 16! What does the scripture say? Read Ezekiel 16:6-8.. Scripture puts adulthood at or around the age of 14 to 16 years of age.. At Puberty. Are we more holier then Scriptures… As for age disparity of Knox, Puritan William Gouge addresses age disparity in his work on Of Domestical Duties. As far as moral disgust goes, we in the West wait so long for marriage and we keep pushing that age later and later. I have heard people now talk that it is crazy to get married under 30 years of age. We also believe that we must keep also-called children “children” as long as possible and I believe to the point of damage to society. Does it sound strange? Of course to our so-called Post Enlightened minds that believe we know better then those that came before us. Let the scriptures speak for themselves and let us try not to be self-righteous.


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