Got any prodigals in your family?

People in  my age bracket have a number of advantages over younger folk. For example, we know a lot more about illnesses, because we, or a friend, have had everything going. We know much more about history because we have lived through so much of it. 

One of the big generational gaps relates to how we look at teens. As older folks, we just know that teenagers cause far more trouble today than teens of past generations. Daily we hear of teenage shootings in Toronto, of teen vandalism in our own community, of widespread teen sex, and of young people from stable homes joining groups such as Al Qaeda and getting involved in terrorism. We hear Dr. Phil and other experts telling the world that youthful brains don’t develop decision-making skills until the early 20s.

No one believed that in my day. Well, now that I think back, I do remember the police making occasional visits to our community for reasons not always discussed. With some embarrassment, I recall setting off a firecracker in a grain elevator. The manager had allowed us access to take pictures. The highly explosive grain dust could have killed us and destroyed the elevator. Oh yes, I also recall some huddles in the boy’s cloak room as the class roue discussed the previous night’s misadventure. And believe it or not, right in the midst of the cold war, my best friend won a debate by arguing for communism. Maybe our generation experienced more teen angst than I care to remember.

When I move up to the next generation of teens, my four boys, I know they outclassed today’s youth by far. We didn’t have any problems. Well maybe one or two. One boy managed to set the vacant lot on fire. I remember also the broken windows in the neighbour’s greenhouse; he didn’t confess to that for ten years. I shouldn’t forget the shoplifting or “borrowed” car incidents either. Well, okay, I consider one problem child out of four a pretty good record. And not one joined the Communist Party or Al Qaeda.

The next move takes me to the modern generation of teens. I claim to have personal knowledge here as well because I have eight grandchildren. But at this point my whole argument about the degeneration of teenagers falls apart, because I consider my grandkids 99 per cent perfect.

My argument took a further beating recently when I heard a sermon on the prodigal son. You will remember the biblical story of the son who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. He took it and moved far from home where he squandered everything with wild living. He came to his senses when he found himself tending pigs and sharing their food. He returned home to a father who welcomed him with outstretched arms. The commonly accepted application of this story says that God will welcome home a repentant sinner. I see nothing wrong with that application, but it occurred to me the story has another truth.

Suddenly it struck me: the prodigal was a teenager. Based on that, I must believe the defective decision making skills of teens has been around for millennia. It did not begin with recent generations. When we look at it in that light another powerful lesson emerges from the parable: even the most rebellious teenagers can return to the family fold if the parents will receive them back.

So what can we do about troublesome teenagers today? Do what the prodigal’s Dad did: love them and stand at the front door watching for their return.


Ray Wiseman