For decades now, we have been perplexed about crime and delinquency of teenagers. Is there something fundamentally chaotic about this age of the human being, or is there something about the way we treat them which triggers this rebellion? Let’s look at the most basic unit of society: the family. Adult divorce is through the roof (about 1/3 of US marriages, though varying geographically). We know fatherlessness in the home plays a large role in adolescent delinquency. We know non-biological parents have more struggles with their children (more said on this later in the article). Further we know many teens’ source of frustration is desire for a permanent romantic relationship which society forbids until they have reached a higher age. Perhaps these puzzle pieces can come together to paint an image of peace and family if we put them together in the right way. If we allow and even encourage the young person to marry, their satisfaction will generate positive feelings toward society, it has given then the hope of their dreams: the spouse of their choosing. This appreciation for society combined with the natural consequence of less out of wedlock births (currently about 40%) will result in more homes with children raised by their biological parents. Children whom are reared by their biological parents outdo children reared in other methods on every standard.
A key reason why I’m writing in favor of teenage marriage and childbearing is its help toward children creating 2 biological parent situations. Some say that children having their parents be the two-biological people who created them is not important. It’s easy to see where they get this idea, perhaps from the APA itself. Recently the American Psychological Association declared that children of same sex parents do as well as children of biological parents. However, in their studies they only compared same sex parented children with children of divorced biological parents. They did this because most if not all same sex parented children come from divorced or never married parents. What the APA is not telling you is that children reared by their biological parents outdo children reared by non-biological parents on every measure. This is true of foster, adoptive, same sex, single parent, and other non-biological types of marriage. This idea of starting a permanent family below the age of what we currently call “adult” is unpopular and foreign. It brings many concerns like consent, maturity, biological and psychological readiness for adult roles, availability of education, child labor, and preparation for parenthood. We conclude that biological parenting is critical, and we seek ways to make that happen more regularly.
Like any other question, we will look at what history says about it. Is this a new idea? Is this a pop-social theory which will merely add to the divorce and other epidemics? Researching historic marriage, I’ve discovered that marriage at the age of puberty, usually early teens, is quite common worldwide. It seems that only in the past 100 years have there been such dramatic restraints on age in the organization and creation of families. Researchers across the board will tell you that for healthy development, we want people to be in families, and stay there. Other species do well after 1 year, but humans require about a decade minimum before independence (though several have age seven as the marriable age). Perhaps the biggest argument against teen marriage are the current statistics showing higher divorce rates for those who marry before the age of 18. I won’t argue against those! The way our society is currently arranged, indeed our young people need some extra years to prepare for marriage. One can’t help but wonder though: if our youth were taught a trade and other forms of responsible living at a younger age, could they indeed manage the weight and joys of family life? Our youth are often in homes in their teenage years, so one might argue that they already experience family life; however, we so often see the teens petitioning to leave home, ready, in their hearts at least, to take on the world! They know the joy and dignity of creating something is greater than that of merely receiving! To summarize the old scripture, ‘their spirits are willing, but their flesh is weak.’
A big argument for divorce today is that the couple ‘chose wrong’. They didn’t get the ‘soul mate’ they thought, so naturally, a divorce will best serve both: a separation remediating a faulty union. Well, marriage therapists are saying now that the chief cause of divorce isn’t choosing the wrong person, but not maintaining the marriage. Why do I bring this up? I’ve been thinking about what makes a person ‘ready’ for marriage. Even if our young people are taught a trade and given ‘life skills’ training, can they handle the difficult task of maintaining a marriage? How about rearing children of their own? A common argument among neurologists psychologists and biologists is that the teenage brain simply isn’t formed all the way, which justifies the delaying of adult roles and low expectations. In fact, today its even popular to live by the maxim that ‘the later the marriage, the steadier the carriage’. This might not hold water as well as we think. It’s been recently discovered in social science that at a certain point, later marriage causes more divorce. Current social science shows that early and mid-20’s are ages for marriage resulting in least divorce. So here we are back where we started: When on earth should we marry? Well, it seems the culture has a lot to do with it. We can’t be too quick to give traditional naturally based science the end authority on such a social matter. While we love to crown empiricism as king of epistemology, we cannot neglect its other fountains such as experience, tradition, intuition, reason, or other forms of authority as basis for obtaining knowledge. We focus on puberty and brain development, but what about personal maturity? Surely such a measure varies case to case. How did historical societies manage to get men of 14 years to operate a farm, and women of 12 to rear healthy children? Surely this seems strange to us and hard to comprehend, yet there it stands, and we watch in wonder at what on earth they were up to. Their young people were off the streets, satisfied in their relationships, and all this at what we would call a very young age. It seems that these young people are so satisfied by being allowed to follow the romance of their youth that they are increasingly committed to resolving the issues which inevitably arise in all marriages. One can’t help but wonder what dear Romeo would have been willing to do to maintain a family with Juliet. Would Romeo have, in the name of love for his wife, been willing to work while going to college? To live in a small apartment while getting his career started? To work long hours to pay the bills? Would Juliet have been willing to rear children for Romeo? How about multiple children? All these things seem to be the natural consequence of true love: sacrifice. Unfortunately this ‘young’ love was denied, and now we’ll never know. Not everyone is a Romeo or a Juliet, but perhaps we should give those who are a fighting chance! A study of the lives of successful millionaires in America will show that most them were self-made. It seems that the very thing that enabled their obtaining and maintaining a fortune was the work ethic they learned in their youth. What was the motivation? Necessity. Perhaps the most powerful motivator indeed. It seems that marriage is something you grow into, not something reserved for experts (the same goes for parenting; studies show that children need firm yet loving parents, the rest is auxiliary)!
I can’t help but wonder if part of the rebellion of our teenagers is from their frustration in the prohibition toward their relationships. If these relationships were allowed fruition, perhaps our young people wouldn’t feel like they had to hide their feelings from parents and other authority figures. Perhaps they wouldn’t go underground into the world of misogyny and prostitution to find expression to their frustrated emotions. To the extent which our laws and culture forbid people in these regards, they could be hindering rather than helping. Let us look at what allowing people to choose for themselves in age of marriage might look like. America has prospered for several centuries now based on the idea of free market capitalism – the premise that by exchange and diligence, companies can benefit each other and society at large more than a controlled government market ever could. The ‘invisible hand’ of Locke seems to really exist! How else can we explain such a 200-year-old nation being the world power? Would it be a stretch to apply these free market ideas to our social structure in some areas? Perhaps we already have, and the marital age question merely lingers. Without forcing our youth to one direction or the other, the magic flurry inside them can help them dictate their own lives. How much more motivated are you on projects of your own choosing? For me, that’s when work ceases to be work, and I’ll go through anything on earth or hell to see the project to fruition. The government will have police to protect the young families in their own pursuit of happiness, just like it has for everyone else in theirs. Beyond that, government will give them space to follow their dreams. Truly the founding fathers of this free and powerful nation envisioned a limited government with enumerated powers which gives space for people to follow their own conscious and their own genius without the government getting too much in their way. We will need to protect children from being forced to marry and enter the workforce, but in our efforts to protect them we don’t want to restrain their free will on this account which others before them have proven a plausible option. Can this delicate balance of protection and choice be found? I don’t think we’ve found it yet, but that doesn’t mean I have no hope for a better solution in the future. One can only wonder what the utopian society consists of, but don’t our hearts cry for the disappointments of young people who legitimately could succeed if we give them a chance? At least from where I stand, it seems that the utopian society would have a greater level of liberty for conscience in these matters.
Perhaps I could finish up our analysis by offering a few practical steps toward enabling our young friends in their relational aspirations, potentially alleviating societies major family based issues. A big issue staring us in the face is vocational/educational. Would they have a fighting chance in these areas? The statistics can’t be denied, we are all aware that our very young (under 18) marriages are struggling more to get along with each other and society. This is the reason we have laws and discourage young marriage. As I’ve mentioned before, teenage marriage and childbearing rarely works if thrown upon our current social configuration (sending them to school till age 18 then calling them adults). Some new methods offering vocational training would be a minimal requirement in making responsible younger adults. This would not sap their childhood, but merely be one of many aspects of their lives. We recall the generational/family-based societies where the father teaches the son a trade in his youth, and the mother teaches the daughter homemaking or some other skillset. A main reason this doesn’t work as well today is that homes don’t have fathers and mothers anymore, not to mention childlessness (often a result of postponed marriage as well). Social programs do wonders, but historically the success of teaching trades to young persons has been in the home. This is a tall order in a society which calls for supplanting parental rights with social programs. I f we do want to try social programs (like continuing mandatory public school), I conjure that something could be arranged by persons wiser than myself which could suit the youth for a trade early on. Education could be focused on basic arithmetic, literacy, and skills for a chosen trade. Those who choose to further their education could do so, but at least they would be prepared to productively participate in society and provide for a family if such were an aspect of their chosen calling. What we don’t want are 18-year-old high school graduates who know nothing of the world of work. These young industrialists, working while obtaining their university education, would certainly not be the first to tread that path. As we mentioned earlier, many or most of our best have come from backgrounds of independent rising. The opportunity to elect one’s course is fundamental to what America stands for. With young people already suited for their vocation, we could change our view of higher education from being only for a job, to be a lifelong activity. Our schools are bursting at the seams with business majors, and begging anyone and everyone to look at the humanities. This lack of study of the humanities results ironically in societal poverty and frustration. We are stifling otherwise beautiful minds by forcing them to use the age of their 20’s worrying about qualifying themselves for a job during university years. Perhaps our current school program seeks to teach arts before vocation, but a man without vocation can hardly be mature enough to be interested in the arts. We would have many more lifelong students of the arts and sciences if we helped them obtain vocational training when young. A person with a job and family can indeed obtain higher education, and that throughout the course of all of life. I have high hopes in the genius of online schooling to make this a reality.
Many details remain to be sorted out to make this a reality. I don’t have all the answers about teenage delinquency, but from what I’ve seen and researched, putting the creature we call “teenager” into an independent family situation could not only be what it wants, but what it needs, and what we need as a society.
PS – We hear many advocate postponing marriage as it will make life easier. But are we here to have things be easy? Marriage, not singleness, will bring the labors of maturity. With a wise upbringing, children can become adults and create their own families without waiting decades to do so, and they can become all the wiser for so doing.