Helping Kids Grow Up

by James Rudy Gray

Helping Kids Grow Up

Growing up is more difficult than it seems. Adolescence can be more critical than we imagined.

Adolescence is not specifically referred to in the Bible, does not exist in most countries of the world, and is a culturally-based concept. It is a right of passage or a transition time. It starts at puberty and ends hopefully when the young man or woman has established a personal identity and achieved independence.

Boys on average stop growing taller around 18 and girls around 16. Growth spurts occur for most girls between ages 10 and 12 while boys have rapid growth usually between 12 and 14. There are four general categories of development among teenagers:

1- Early-maturing boy (tallest and biggest). This young man may be given too much responsibility too soon.

2- Early-maturing girl (more developed, taller, older looking). She may receive too much attention from older boys for sexual reasons. She needs the closeness, encouragement, and reassurance from her family during this critical time.

3- Late-maturing boy (smallest, etc.). He can be damaged the most of the four types and may have self-concept problems that can affect him for years if his parents do not encourage, support, listen, and reassure him of his worth in concrete ways.

4- Late-maturing girl ("cute"). She may feel inadequate for a while and struggle with self-esteem. Honest feedback and loving support from the family will help prevent possible difficulties.

Adolescence is a time of change in many ways. It can be overwhelming for both parents and teens. An adolescent should be seen as an adult in the first stage of adulthood rather than a child in the last stage of childhood. The challenge for parents is to help their teens develop emotional control, social skills and healthy social acceptance, moral character, and economic independence. Some psychologists believe a person's adolescence does not really end until they establish economic independence.

Adolescence is a critical and even dangerous time of life. A few years ago, circuit judge Julius Baggett, in pronouncing a life-sentence for a 19-year-old man guilty of murder, told jurors, "I have learned that the most dangerous animal in the world is a man between the ages of 17 and 25."

But adolescence can also be a time of tremendous positive growth and development. Adult care-givers are needed for helping with that task. The peer group will not be able to adequately or appropriately provide it.

Adolescents often engage in risky behavior. Counselors have defined this as the "personal fable," in which teens convince themselves that they can do something without suffering consequences. Parents can dispel that myth from their kids' thinking by teaching biblical principles like sowing and reaping, etc. The truth is that all human behavior has consequences and the Bible has more than enough instruction to reinforce that principle.

Decision-making is an acquired skill. It is a process that involves some trial and error. Teens learn from watching their parents. They also learn from experience. In the final analysis, kids who are fortunate enough to come from intact homes will likely become adults who reflect in significant ways the values, morals, attitudes, and even the habits of their parents.

While adolescence presents a very important challenge, the basis for negotiating these waters rests with God's unerring truth. His Word must be seen in parents' lives, and in their teaching, to be the basis for values, attitudes, and behavior. Most teenagers will grow up to reflect who their parents really are.

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.