We protect children and teenagers because they are a gift from God and a blessing to the world. As they grow, however, they are vulnerable because of their size and stages of development. Children and teens need adults to care for and protect them as they grow.
Not all societies have placed a high value on young life and the importance of protecting them. Even in the United States, child labor laws had to be enacted to protect children and young teens from being exploited. We also make sure children and teens get a basic education, that young ones are safely secured in vehicles, that children are treated properly by parents, and that no adult is allowed to be involved sexually with someone under age 17.
While not all cultures protect children and teens in the way the current American society does, Scripture sets forth the high value God places on young people. (The Bible was written in a time and place when children were seen as "coming of age" at 13; in our society, with its growing complexity, that age is more generally seen as about 17 or 18, and various laws reflect that increase.)
Children/teens are from God.
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him (Psalm 127:3, NIV).
For it was you [God] who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, CSB).
This is the word of the Lord your Maker, the one who formed you from the womb: He will help you (Isaiah 44:2a, CSB).
Children/teens are a source of joy.
He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah! (Psalm 113:9, CSB).
[Jesus:] “When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world” (John 16:21, CSB).
Children/teens are to be valued.
He [Jesus] took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me” (Mark 9:36-37, CSB).
[Jesus:] “See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:10-14, CSB).
Children/teens need protection.
Children and teens are from God, a source of joy, and to be value, but they also are in a relatively weak position in relation to others, especially adults. Both the Old and New testaments affirm the importance of taking care of the weak and vulnerable.
[God:] “Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and needy; save them from the power of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4, CSB).
Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9, CSB).
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27, CSB).
In Matthew 25, Jesus does not mention the issue of protecting children and teens but he says God’s people take care of those who are in vulnerable situations -- the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned (vv. 35-36). Jesus said that when we take care of the vulnerable it is as if we are caring for Him (v. 40).
God’s people are called sheep in Jesus’ story, and they take care of the vulnerable. Those who do not care for the vulnerable are called goats; they are not God’s people and will receive eternal punishment.
Children and teens are among the most vulnerable people. Not only are they often physically smaller than those who are older, but they have less understanding of what is good and appropriate behavior. They need adult guidance in becoming the adult persons God has created them to be, and they also need adults to protect them from those who would harm them.
We live in a world of sheep and goats. The people of God, the sheep, always are stepping up to protect the vulnerable from those who would do them harm.