What is it about 4?

There must be something about “4”.

Age four. In unscientific observations, the age four seems to me to be a particular vulnerable time for molestation and abuse. Most of the adults I have “counseled” in a pastoral setting, tell me there were crises and events at age four.

Fourth grade. Stephen Mansfield reported in his podcast that prison authorities research fourth grade records for trends and social situations to determine what prison facilities will be needed in 15-20 years. Executive mentor Bobb Biehl says fourth grade (typically Age 9) is “The Single Most Shaping Year of a Person’s Existence.”

Fourteen. Most of the men and young men I have visited in jail and prison and have had across the table conversations tell me the trouble began or the critical event happened when they were fourteen.

Forty. This is the stereotypical time for the mid-life crisis. Some face it earlier, some later, but forty is about the median age.

Several years ago, I read Bobb Biehl’s book Mentoring. It is one of the most impacting books I have read. In the book, he has a small section on fourth graders which set me on a search. Ten years ago, a school friend sent me two pictures of our fourth grade class. The boys gathered in one and the girls in the other. Each person was identified. There was some confusion about which kid was me. I could be one or other of two standing side by side. No one knew, including some in my family of origin. The two boys are opposites in physical appearance and emotional expression. I concluded that I was absent from school that day and was not in the picture. Before I read Biehl I was plagued by the question: what happened to those kids?

If we only had the statement—“Fourth grade (typically Age 9) is The Single Most Shaping Year of a Person’s Existence”—should that be motivating and challenging?

Several years ago, I talked to a couple of school administrators about that phrase and we spend our time together discussing whether it was the fourth year in school—which would be third grade and not fourth. It was a nice conversation that determined nothing and developed into nothing.

After hearing Mansfield’s statement about the prison system planning, I was in touch in Bobb Biehl. The book Mentoring (Aylen Publishing) was first written in 1996–now updated. His DVD on 4th grade has a few years on it. Think how kids mature physically so much faster in 2016 than in 2002. That change has been attributed to a wide range of causes from hormones in cows’ milk to the influence of living in a highly sexualized culture.

A friend who has two daughters teaching fourth grade in different schools said Mansfield’s remarks fit the observations of the teachers. My friend’s tone was sad. So I asked Biehl if he stood by his statement:

“Yes. I believe 4th grade…actually age 9—typically the 4th grade…is a physical development issue…more than a cultural development issue.” (Bobb Biehl)

“The Single Most Shaping Year of a Person’s Existence”—

If that statement is anywhere close to being true, should we not be organizing youth ministry around 4th graders? I have never heard of a church that focused ministry on 4th grade. Why not? Okay. Most of us grandparents and most parents, acknowledge that today’s 4th grader is a whole lot different than we were in 4th grade. But, is first grade the new fourth grade? So, let’s give it some space and say 3rd or 4th grade is…. How come more churches do not market their ministry to the most shaping year…? I do not have statistics in front of me, but based on memory, most kids come to Christ at ages 8-9-10. Grades 3-4-5.

In my book, “When Whales Sing,” a man and his child psychologist daughter are standing in front of an orchard. The question is “What do we plant?” The child psychologist answers “Depends on what we expect to harvest.” If we want to reap at 14, 24 or 40 a specific harvest, then we will be intentional what we plant at 4 and 4th grade and how the seed is nurtured.

In my work in process–The Carafe Business–you will meet Lance. He is 9–at least he thinks he is nine and he is self-named and a run-away. He was abandoned by his parents and given up on by the state.  What do we pour into him if we want him to be a productive citizen at 40  and healing at 24?  How do we minister to anyone at 24 or 40 who did not fare well in fourth grade?

© 2016 D. Dean Benton           writer & wonderer           bentonministries.com

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