Sunday, July 13, 2008

NBC’s new reality show, “The Baby Borrowers” puts teenagers who think they are ready for adulthood and parenthood through the paces to see if they can handle the real challenges of crying infants, screaming toddlers, pre-teens with attitudes and senior citizens who need care. In addition, they must have one parent work outside the home and be under the constant eye of the television cameras and the parents (by remote camera) of the children in their care. The teens have three weeks to experience their new ‘adult life’ and the real parents are allowed to step in at any time if they feel their child is not being cared for properly. A professional nanny also shadows each couple in the home so that each child’s safety is carefully monitored.
The new show addresses a common desire for many teenagers – to be grown up and be the ones making the rules instead of having to live by them. In the same way that many older adults may glorify youth, teens often idealize adulthood seeing only the benefits and not the struggles. In our image driven culture, the media we consume only adds to the stereotypes, portraying the ‘glamour’ of living the adult life with cars, homes, money, time and friends at their disposal without any of the real worries of jobs, child rearing, or financial stability.
But seeing the realities of adulthood is only half of the equation. We also have to understand why teens want to skip ahead in the first place. It is normal for children and youth to want to be grown up, to make the rules, be in charge, and to feel a sense of control over their lives. Often when teens express a desire at a young age to just be an adult, it is a reaction to feeling like they are not being given enough control over their own lives. Growing up becomes an, “I’ll show you” kind of threat that teens feel confident they can prove because they know so much more about life than their parents. Going through adolescence is extremely difficult. Everything is changing – bodies and brains are still developing; relationships are changing, and the ‘black and white’ world of their childhood is fading to shades of grey where they face one uncertainty after another. Add to that the peer pressures, the self-consciousness, the educational pressures, the media images, the changing expectations of parents, and the almost constant roller-coaster changes in friendships and relationships, and it is no wonder why some teens would prefer to just escape!
The problem is that many teens, even if they see the difficult realities of adulthood, will still feel that they are specially equipped to handle it. Some teens feel that their age even gives them an edge over adults who are working and raising families, making the argument that they tire less easily and may be in better physical condition than adults. Interestingly enough, the official website for the show asked the poll question: “When are couples best prepared to become parents?” Just before the first episode aired, 65% had responded that teens were best prepared. At the time of this publication, those numbers have changed drastically with only 26% responding ‘teens’, 31% responding those in their ‘20’s’, and a whopping 40% responding those in their ‘30’s’.
Is this show changing the teen’s minds about fast-forwarding to adulthood? The episodes will continue to reveal what they learn, and it is likely that some teens and tweens watching will also gain some new insights. Maybe more importantly this is an opportunity for dialogue between adults and teens about what we each go through.
For Christians, the theme is not new and has its Biblical counterparts. The story of Jacob and Esau with Jacob stealing his brother’s blessing and birthright has an element of being the first to grow up. David was called as a young shepherd boy to grow up quickly and learn to be a king, but his story reflects how he faltered along the way or may have been immature in some ways. We often focus on the wonderful parts of Mary’s story – being pregnant with God’s son while forgetting how scary and difficult it must have been for her to be seen pregnant but unmarried; or how difficult the long journey was to Bethlehem while being so uncomfortably pregnant; or how awful it must have felt to be a new mother with no help and constantly being on the run from King Herod; or how painful it was to know that your child was being hunted. And of course we have Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son who wants to escape his life at home, grow up and receive his inheritance, and strike out on his own. But, as we know that didn’t work out so well for him either.
One of the best things we can offer youth is honest dialogue about the hardships and blessings of each stage of life. As caring adults we can empathize with the pain of adolescence as teens share how hard it is for them now. We can also point out some of the joys of living as youth and help students embrace this part of the life and faith journey while moving on to the next. Finally, we can be honest about the fact that just because we may be living an adult life with adult privileges does not mean that we do not also face difficult challenges and pressures too. Sharing our struggles and our joys honestly is what being the body of Christ is all about.