October 04, 2014
Protecting the young. Most species are inclined to shelter their young. From the individualness of tree top hawk nests and haystack mouse nests to communities of goat herds, duck flocks, and seal pods, creation cares for its young giving them their best chance to for tomorrow.
Great fear comes in protecting the young. A fair amount of can I do it and do it well settles in as bellies swell. Yet fear of letting go and allowing the young to enter life’s struggle is just as great. Whether it is mother hawk with nestling at nest edge readying for flight or mother human holding a hand waiting for first day school bus, the tension between letting go and protecting, shelves fear in the heart.
Finding the time or place to ease up on protection and allow the young to make their mistakes, and too often know hurt—intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually—are hard questions for parent, herd, and flock.
I don’t know how many times an eighteen-year-old at the farm has said, I don’t feel like an adult. As I heard a young man say it again this summer it struck me how the lack of balance between protection and letting go is damaging our young and our community—think of the injustice of an 18-year-old signing up for military service, or voting, or having a beer, who do not think of themselves as an adult. Parents and community have developed such a penchant for safety and isolating their children from fear and hurt, that too many young folk have lost the natural knowing of I am now an adult (My experience tells me this problem is much greater for young white folk than young folk of color. Parents of color who have experienced the car pulled over—for little to no reason, or watched the evening news, know they must let go and allow their child to claim the reality of adulthood the moment adulthood arrives.).
There is little time for such nonsense at the farm. Thinking of self as child or youth at sixteen may not go away anytime soon, but if a sixteen-year-old is working with a pitchfork, they best know they are accountable for their actions.
When middle and high school groups first arrive at the farm for a week of work and conversation, I quickly get to this question of adulthood. As we all stand in the gravel parking area, I look around at the young folk and their leaders, knowing one of them is likely to have a pitchfork in their hand before long, and make a comment along the line of:
From the looks of y’all, I’d say most all of you can make a baby or birth a baby. Now, if you can have a baby then you need to know you are an adult! You may not have asked for it, you may not have chosen it, but the moment your body has given you the responsibility of making babies, you have accrued the responsibility of adulthood. Folk may not treat you as an adult, and they may call you “teenager” or “youth,” but you’re much more than that and now is as good as any to grasp you are an adult.
Here’s what I’m getting at. If you’re thirteen you’re an adult. Now, you are not the same adult as a 20-year-old adult. Any more than a 20-year-old adult is the same as a 50-year-old adult. Or a 50-year-old adult is the same as an 80-year-old adult. You see age matters. With age comes life experience and along with experience comes a wisdom that cannot be taught. So know this, if you are twelve or thirteen, you are an adult and as long as you are at the farm you will be treated as an adult.
This means we will honor you for your thoughts, your words, and your actions, and you are responsible for your thoughts, your words, and your actions.
One can say whatever they like, doesn’t mean anyone hears it, understands it, or cares. It is a hard thing for folk, who have forgotten their parents or parents parent once were responsible for the support of their family during their teenage years, to recognize they are treating their teenage adults as teenage children.
Communities fail their young—in protection and honor—when they do not dignify the young’s entrance into adulthood. Protection is lost when young adults believe they have choices where they have responsibilities and options where they have obligations. Honor is lost when community treats a thirteen-year-old as a youth rather than an adult. Youthful adults are damaged when their voice and actions are treated as something other than meaningful (This treatment moves toward the realm of evil when communal law arbitrarily relocates the thirteen-year-old from youth to adult the moment they commit a crime, but that is for another time…).
There are times as community where we have to look at ourselves and say, that one got away from us. Knowing our teenagers as adults is one of those. However, we can relearn and reclaim our teenagers as adults. An excellent place to do so is in communities of faith. Catholics and Jews have the same problem as the rest of us in treating teenagers as children rather than adults, but they do have rituals that call for recognition of the teenage adult. The quinceañera, bar mitzvah, and bat mitzvah all call community to recognize the twelve or thirteen-year-old as adult. There is a great need for faith communities to recognize their ancestors knew the value of recognizing their youthful adults and step up and help their communities reclaim teenage adulthood. Though I cannot speak for all faith communities, I am willing to say Christian communities are called to re-acknowledge and adopt healthy spiritual rituals affirming what the physical body has made natural and true. Valuing youthful adulthood is critical to the health and wellbeing of our communities.
To accept our teenagers as adults is not a return to some arcane past. Rather, knowing the teenage adult is conceding our forebears nailed a way of being we have lost; yet by honoring their wisdom as we move toward tomorrow, our community might experience the harmony and dignity our ancestors hoped for us. And that is protecting the young.