What Does It Really Mean to be a Teen?

What does it mean to be a teen?

Today’s teenagers are fed a steady mantra. “You’re just teens, what can you do?” “That’s too ambitious, why don’t you aim a little lower?” Personally, I’m sick of hearing it, whether from those close to me or even people that hardly know me. For some reason, we are classified as children with the bodies of adults.

Actually, that classification isn’t far off.

Recently, I’ve been reading Brett and Alex Harris’ book “Do Hard Things”. The book is, as expected, phenomenal, and within, the two brothers give a cry that resonates with many teens even today: step up and do it. For the guys, I’d echo it as “Step up and be men.” Yet, in a day and age in which even the “men” act as boys, who can we look up to as a role model? How do we know what to do? And what does it really mean to be a teen?

Let’s begin with the classification. To fully understand this, we need to fully understand where the word “teen” has come from and how it has transitioned.

The actual word was invented in 1944, and although the true origins of the word are disputed, one thing is quite clear: upon its creation, things began to change. As a stereotype of the “rebellious, lazy teen” was created, teens began filling it, further emphasizing its point.

Today, this has become a travesty. Teens are having to be threatened just to make their beds in the morning, and I am no exception. We hardly even know what the meaning of the word “hard” is, since we look for the easy way out of everything.

This is where the Harris brothers’ book comes in. It challenges teens to step up and take hard projects, and it reminds us that we are far more capable than we think.

One example provided in the book is a guy named George.

“George was born in northern Virginia in 1732 to a middle-class family. When he was eleven years old, he lost his father. Even though his peers never considered him very bright, he applied himself to his studies and mastered geometry, trigonometry, and surveying (think algebra and calculus) by the time he was sixteen.

At seventeen years old, George had the chance to put his studies to use at his first job. Talk about a job! Official surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. This wasn’t a boy’s job, and it certainly wasn’t office work. For the next three years, George endured the hardships of frontier life as he measured and recorded previously unmapped territories. His measuring tools were heavy logs and chains. George was a man at seventeen.”

Alex and Brett Harris, “Do Hard Things”

You’ve probably heard of George. His last name is Washington. I find it more than stunning that a seventeen-year-old was the head surveyor for an entire county. Today, that would be like a seventeen-year-old being the head running back coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When compared with today’s teens, George’s achievements become even more eye-popping. Today, as teens, we have almost no responsibilities. We are labeled as lazy and irresponsible, small children with the bodies and experience of adults.

And that label is almost entirely correct.

We have taken this stereotype and gone with it. We accept our laziness as “part of who we are”. We have our emotional waves, natural to those our age, labeled as “bipolar” or “depression”, and we are given medication. We have no filter to our tongues, especially online, no decent sense of morality to guide us, and we refuse to listen to the only source of common sense- our parents.

This so-called “transition” into adult life has become a stage in which we can do whatever we want, and nobody even thinks twice about it. In 2017, over half of the teens between the ages of 13 and 18 had lost their virginity (CDC). In 2017, 60% of the teens had drunk alcohol (more than just a few sips) before the age of 18 (Renzoni, Phytila).

What has our teen generation come to? This once-transition phase has turned into a stage in which we think lawlessness is ok. This is actually detrimental to the actual “growing up” part of the transition, because teens become comfortable doing things they will be unable to do as adults. Instead of “getting it all out before they’re adults”, it now becomes “learning immorality at the youngest stage possible.”

What has our teen generation come to? This once-transition phase has turned into a stage in which we think lawlessness is ok.

The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t see a difference in age, and it doesn’t create a transition. It says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (English Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 13:11).

To Paul, there was clearly no long transition between child and adult. To him, it was something of a line. When you crossed it, you left your childhood behind and became a man. There was no transition, no seven years to integrate into adult life.

So when do we cross the line?

Clearly there is a line we must all cross at some point. For the girls, it means becoming a woman. For the guys, the line crossed takes us into manhood. There is preparation for both sides, but not a transition as we once thought. And since we, as teens, have gotten soft, we need to learn 1) when we become adults and 2) how we can prepare.

Thankfully, we don’t need to go far to find out when we become adults. Paul puts it right in that verse. “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” This is possibly the largest piece to transitioning into adulthood, since “putting away childish things” encompasses many features of childhood, and they apply to both men and women. Here are a few examples.

  • Taking full responsibility for yourself and your actions.
  • Seeing the value of work and refusing to be intimidated by the idea of having a job.
  • Carrying yourself in dignity.
  • Responding in patience and love to others.
  • Using true wisdom before you act.
  • Taking the counsel of your peers and those above you.

There are a lot of factors involved in “dropping childhood”, but these are the easiest to understand.

But what do these have to do with teens, and when do I become an adult?

Well, there isn’t a clearly-cut age for this. The government will tell you you’re an adult at 18. Your peers will tell you you’re an adult at 21, when you can drink. Your parents will tell you you’re an adult whenever you get a job and start earning income.

None of these are completely true.

There are aspects to growing up in all of those, of course. One doesn’t just wake up one day, discard all childish practices, and become an adult within the span of six seconds. There is a process to growing up. It is not, however, a transition. There is no transitioning into adulthood. Instead, you accept a commitment to yourself and your adult life, and you begin to grow up. These aren’t warm up years, in which you can do stupid things and the adults laugh it off as “just a teenage thing.”


That’s wrong. Once you’re ready to take responsibility for yourself and actually grow up, you’ll make that commitment to yourself, and begin to grow up. The process is actually quite fast. I’ve seen guys go from boys to men within the span of five months, and it’s often stunning.

There are, to be clear, differences between growing into manhood and growing into womanhood. I’m not a woman, so I wouldn’t know. All I can say is that Beth Moore has some fantastic resources on womanhood, found here.

For the men, there are several aspects of manhood, listed within the Bible and given to us by our teachers. Here are the ones I have grown up under. These are the aspects of a real man.

  • He takes full responsibility for his actions.
  • He loves those around him with an unconditional love.
  • He invests in eternity.
  • He takes the initiative.
  • He accepts and embraces leadership.
  • He gives himself and his possessions without a second thought.
  • He is willing to serve wherever he may be needed.
  • He is committed to growth and learning.

Pastor John Piper preached a small, 8-minute sermon that perfectly captured the heart and complementation of Biblical manhood and womanhood. He speaks on full, Godly manhood better than I ever could, and so I highly recommend that the men reading this watch the small piece by clicking here.

But at the end of the day, there isn’t a checklist of features to a man. We can’t begin checking items off the box as we complete them. No, that’s not how we grow up. It all comes down to the heart. When the heart is set on becoming an adult with a focus on Christ, it doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through, what you believe theologically, or what those around you think. The only thing that matters is your heart.

A teenager with a heart set on Christ is a beautiful thing to watch. They don’t have the work or stress of an adult, and so they seem to shine even brighter than some of the adults around them. They can be some of the most selfless, Godly, caring people in the world. Why? Because God is with them.

Secular men and women will discard what I have said, claiming I force my morality upon others. My answer is simple: God doesn’t force morality, and neither do I. It’s a choice to accept Christ, one that nobody forces you into. Once that decision is made, you begin to change. Slowly but surely, your heart transforms and you are made into the man or woman God wants you to be. And isn’t that what matters most? That God approves of who you’ve grown up to be?

Absolutely. Be who God tells you to be.

Be who God tells you to be.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

-Elisha McFarland

All Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version.

“Over Half of U.S. Teens Have Had Sexual Intercourse by Age 18, New Report Shows”. CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2017/201706_NSFG.htm

Renzoni, Camille and Pyhtila, Jessica. “Teenage Drinking Facts and Statistics.” The Recovery Village, 15 January 2020, https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/teen-addiction/alcohol/teen-drinking-stats/#gref

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67 thoughts on “What Does It Really Mean to be a Teen?

  1. landonfor30

    Good insight. Today in high school we flex our manliness by showing off, seeing who benches more, fighting, or playing girls. Way too often I do the same thing. This post could really help a lot of people get back on track

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, this is fantastic. All excellent points, and very well-written. I’m sick and tired of how despicably the vast majority of teenagers behave nowadays, how adults loop any teenager into that stereotype, and how those adults just laugh it off. And those aspects of manhood are spot-on, especially in an age like today where true masculinity is getting rarer and rarer and teenagers have less men that are good role-models. Hmm, that makes me want to write a sort of ‘second part’ to this, except for teenage girls like me growing into women. Goodness knows that, just like guys, more and more women are losing true femininity, and don’t even know what it is anymore…

    Also, I love your take on that verse in Corinthians. I’d never looked at it that way, but it’s true, there shouldn’t be a time of ‘teenage-hood’ where you basically act like an over-grown toddler and do whatever you feel like doing, whenever.

    Again, this was a great post, Elisha. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please, write the feminine counterpart! I’d be more then happy to include a link here.
      And yeah, thanks! I seriously appreciate that, and I completely agree- today’s teens have a lot of word to do. Thanks for reading!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Timoth

    I agree with everything you said. Excellent post. One thing I think you may have added is giving the younger men around us opportunities to become men. Such as calling on them to help or giving them tasks to accomplish. At our young age, it would be more of the former and transition to more of the latter as we gain more responsibilities. That part about thinking before I act and my actions having consequences on OTHER PEOPLE is hard for me. I guess I need to work on putting others first a little.

    Women the article Elisha referenced would be good or you to listen to as well (I think not a woman so I don’t know 100% but I am pretty certain) because it gives some insight into what to look for in a man.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. mimerific

    I’ve been reading Do Hard Things for a few weeks now. I saw the title to this post in my inbox and I was like, “Hey, Elisha’s sounding like Do Hard Things.” Then I went back to it to actually read it and you opened with, “So, I’ve been reading this book called Do Hard Things…” and I was like, “Oh,”
    Nice post, good summary. But it would also be great for every single person on this planet who sees me writing this to read Do Hard Things for themselves. I wish I’d read it when I was thirteen, rather than seventeen, but I hope it’s insights can still strongly guide me through my life. I’ve begun to force myself out of my comfort zone in some situations in order to do hard things myself, like making conversation with people I don’t know or digging in the Ugandan gardens.

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      1. Thank YOU for posting this!
        Though, I am slightly confused about something you said in the post:
        “We have our emotional waves, natural to those our age, labeled as “bipolar” or “depression”, and we are given medication”
        What were you trying to say there exactly? Were you saying that it’s not actually depression? I’m a little confused.


      2. I’d follow that up by saying that 90% of what “doctors” classify as depression is simply old-fashioned hormones. I’ve been through it; the feeling of, well, not knowing WHAT you’re feeling.
        Make sense?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, it makes sense.
        I would LOVE it to be the case with me, but considering that I’ve been battling this and some resulting mental issues as well since an EXTREMELY early age, I’m sad to say it’s probably not simply hormones with me *sigh*
        Wish it was, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Very true.
        Yes, He certainly is, no matter how much it seems otherwise 🙂 Thank you for the reminder and hope you have a really good day/night/whatever time it is where you are.


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  29. Joseph Wright

    I’ve been reading the same book and agree whole heartedly. I had thought that I could just continue childish things and get away with it because I’m still a teenager. But now I’m trying to take more responsibility, focus on the needs of others, and find a purpose for my life. It’s been so much greater than focusing on myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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