String of school shootings rooted in ‘adolescent myth,’ author

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--The massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School is the latest fallout in a whirlwind of juvenile violence stemming from a popular social theory that has served only “to prolong the irresponsible years of childhood,” according to a Southern Baptist seminary professor and author.

“We have created a monster in our culture that we do not know how to control,” said David Alan Black, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C. “That monster is called adolescence.”

In his newly released book, “The Myth of Adolescence -- Raising Responsible Children in an Irresponsible Society,” published by Davidson Press, Yorba Linda, Calif., Black describes the modern idea of adolescence as “an irresponsible and topsy-turvy ‘time-out’ between childhood and adulthood.”

Fifteen people were killed and more than 20 others injured April 20 when two gun- and bomb-wielding youth clad in black trench coats invaded the Littleton, Colo., high school. Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed themselves after killing 12 other students and a teacher.

Since the 1997 slaying of two students in Pearl, Miss., several other communities have fallen victim to school shootings including West Pacucah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Springfield, Ore., and on April 28, a school in Canada.

Black said the post-World War II baby boomer generation’s egalitarian philosophy on parenting is the slippery slope from which the violent chaos has descended on school campuses across the country.

“As a result, we have in our society children who are self-centered, self-indulgent, spoiled, sassy and out of control, and it’s our fault as parents,” Black said. “Juvenile crime is out of control and it’s because we as a society have been too tolerant. We have felt that they needed to be protected from adult responsibility.”

Black contends in his book there is nothing biblical about the concept of adolescence. He points to the accounts of the lives of Jesus, Moses, Paul and John as biblical examples of maturity from childhood to adulthood.

Presenting Jesus as the model for human development, Black traces Jesus’ maturity in three phases: Childhood/Pre-adulthood (ages 1 to 12); Emerging Adulthood (ages 12 to 30); and Senior Adulthood (ages 30 to death).

Black centers his biblical time line on human development and maturity based on the Jewish milestone in a young man’s life at age 12 when a child officially assumes personal, moral and religious responsibility and accountability. Black said that while Jesus was a teenager at one time, he was never an adolescent.

The Jewish “bar mitzvah” for males and “bat mitzvah” for females is still recognized today as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood whereby children are expected to behave like responsible adults as they continue to mature physically and psychologically.

With the advent of the adolescence theory in the early 20th century, Black said, a teenager’s rite of passage from childhood to adulthood remains undefined and ambiguous. “They are looking for a responsible role in society,” Black said.

“If we tell teenagers that they are entering a topsy-turvy time-out between childhood and adulthood that’s [filled with] fun and games, irresponsibility, rebelliousness [and] anti-authoritarianism, that’s how they will act because that’s self-fulfilling prophecy” Black said.

Consequently, Black said, many teenagers today feel as though society has no place for them. “They have to create their own identities and so they go through self-defining rituals of adulthood -- for example, having sexual intercourse, joining a gang, committing a crime or joining a church youth group.”

Black said parents must teach their children the biblical virtues of respect, responsibility and resourcefulness. “That’s not what we are teaching our young people today,” he said. “Parents have abdicated that responsibility sometimes to the church, but more often to the school.”

Calling for a return to common sense, Black said parents should challenge their children with adult expectations during the teenage years and hold them accountable for “not only what they do but how they do it.”

“Ultimately this comes back to one issue, and that’s the sin issue,” Black said. “The human heart is depraved and therefore the ultimate solution is the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Black said local church youth ministries need a reformation that focuses on mentoring and biblically based apprenticeship programs. “The last thing we need to do is to segregate young people from mature adults, and that is what we do,” he said.

Black said he believes the release of his book on April 1 is more than coincidental in the wake of the Littleton schoolyard massacre. Black has had several opportunities to share his biblical perspective on the youth culture crisis on “talk radio” throughout the country. He spoke April 29 on a Denver radio station and the day before on an Atlanta station. Other engagements include radio audiences in California, Alabama, Idaho, New York and Missouri.

Information about Black’s book may be obtained by calling Davidson Press toll-free at 1-877-478-2425 or at the publisher’s Internet site, davidsonpress.com.

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