Young People Ask . . .
Am I Developing Normally?
“I was one of the smallest kids in my class—and I weighed the least. I didn’t like my arms. I thought they were too skinny. I even mailed off for an exercise kit advertised in the back of a comic book. It didn’t work though.”—Eric.
“I’m just not tall enough. I’m 13 years old, and I’m just five feet [150 cm] tall. Everybody in my class is taller! Well, there are some boys who are shorter, but they’re probably going to grow during the summer. I just don’t like being short! I can’t see anything! I wish I could be taller right now.”—Kerri.
TOO tall! Too short! Too fat! Too skinny! These are not simply the taunts of cruel peers. Many youths judge themselves this way every time they look in a mirror. “When I was 13,” recalls a petite Hispanic woman named Mari, “I just hated my nose; it was so wide I thought I needed surgery! And I had such a blocky build! My older sister had a dress that looked good on her shapely figure. When I tried to wear it, everybody laughed.”
When you are in “the bloom of youth,” especially that tumultuous period of rapid physical and emotional change known as puberty, it is easy to feel bad about yourself. (1 Corinthians 7:36) From what you can see, your peers are blooming into tall, attractive adults. But it might look as if you are hardly blooming at all—or blooming too much. One survey revealed that an astronomical 56 percent of teenagers are not satisfied with their bodies. Researchers Jane Norman and Myron W. Harris say that many of those dissatisfied youths felt that they were “too short” or that they were “underdeveloped.”
Many youths are also concerned about the development of their intimate body parts; they wonder if they are normal. Explains the book Growing Into Love, by Kathryn Watterson Burkhart, youths’ “feelings of self-esteem, competence and personal dignity are rooted in their bodies, so it becomes extremely important that their physical selves are properly put together.” Not surprisingly, then, youths are often quite anxious in situations (such as gym class) where their bodies are exposed to scrutiny—or comparison. “I feel very uncomfortable about taking showers with the boys at school,” confessed one young boy.
Are you displeased with the way your body is developing? Well, relax! More than likely you are perfectly normal.
Puberty is a natural and healthy process. Even Jesus Christ went through it, “progressing in wisdom and in physical growth.” (Luke 2:52) Puberty involves the maturing of your reproductive organs.* However, it also involves a sudden spurt of rapid growth, often double one’s average yearly growth rate. “I started growing four inches [10 cm] a year,” recalls a young man named Danny. “By age 13 I was six feet [180 cm] tall.”
Usually, though, girls begin their growth spurt about two years ahead of boys. So at age 12, a girl may tower over her male classmates. Likely she will enjoy this height for only a short time. Within a couple of years, most of the boys will catch up in height and go on to surpass her.
Even so, rapid growth is not without its problems. Usually, the first parts that get large are your feet. For a while, then, your feet may be all out of proportion to your body size. Writer Lynda Madaras quotes one young girl as saying: “I was just a little over five feet [150 cm] tall when I was eleven, but I wore a size eight shoe. I thought, Oh, no, if my feet keep on growing, they’re gonna be gigantic! But I’m sixteen now, and I’m five feet eight inches [170 cm] tall, but my feet are still size eight.” Rapid growth of your lower legs, thighs, and trunk soon follows.
Even more distressing may be the changing image you see in the mirror. Explains writer Lynda Madaras in The What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: “As you go through puberty, your face changes. The lower part of your face lengthens and your face gets fuller.” This is true of both girls and boys. It may take a while before your face seems properly proportioned.
Because different parts of your body grow at different rates, your arms and legs may also seem embarrassingly long. “My arms seemed to go down to the floor,” recalls Christine, who later grew into an attractive adult. An often humiliating period of awkwardness may also set in before your body finally seems ‘harmoniously joined together and made to cooperate through every joint.’—Ephesians 4:16.
Puberty can be a strange thing, however. Sometimes a 12-year-old can be mistaken for a 20-year-old. But for other youths, the hormones just don’t seem to kick in on time. Laments one youngster, named Willie: “I’m one of the shortest kids in my class, and I know how it feels to be picked on.” If you find yourself having to stand on your tiptoes to look your peers in the eye, don’t panic. Usually, it simply means that your body is developing at a slower rate than those of your classmates.*
Granted, being shorter or looking younger than your peers may be hard to take. “I know I look like a little kid, and I hate it!” complains 16-year-old Allison. Can you speed up the growing process? No, but you can facilitate it. At Job 8:11, the Bible says: “Will a papyrus plant grow tall without a swampy place? Will a reed grow big without water?” Just as a plant thrives with the right environment and nourishment, so you need sufficient rest and a healthy diet. A steady diet of junk food will deprive your body of the nutrition it needs for proper growth.
Aside from commonsense health care, there is little you can do about your physical development. But in time your growth spurt will begin. In fact, you may even keep growing after your peers have reached their full height. “In eighth grade,” recalls a young man named John, “I was the second-to-the-shortest kid in the class, but over the summer, I shot up. By the time I started ninth grade, I was just about the tallest boy in the class.” We are reminded of the ancient proverb: “Expectation postponed is making the heart sick, but the thing desired is a tree of life when it does come.”—Proverbs 13:12.
Of course, there is no guarantee that you will ever be as tall as a basketball player. If you have short parents, more than likely you will be of short stature yourself. However, being shorter than your friends may create problems for you.
How to Cope
While God does not judge a person by his stature, small-minded humans often do. Studies show that youths tend to view those who develop more slowly as less attractive and less competent than more mature-looking youths. They may even ostracize former friends who no longer seem to fit in because they look so young. This may strike at the heart of your self-esteem. One study showed that long after late-blooming youths physically catch up with their schoolmates, feelings of inadequacy can linger.
How can you cope? Some youths who bloom late become quiet and withdrawn. Yet others—particularly boys—become obnoxious show-offs or daredevils in a misguided attempt to call attention to themselves. But neither course of action will win you true friends. In the long run, people are going to like you for who you are, not for how you look. If you show a genuine interest in others and cultivate kindness and generosity, most people will like you. (Proverbs 11:25; Philippians 2:4) If some continue to tease or ignore you, try talking matters out with your parents. They may have some practical suggestions to offer.
Remember too that God “sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) The Bible says that King Saul was one of the tallest and most handsome men in Israel. But he was a failure both as a king and as a man. (1 Samuel 9:2) On the other hand, the man named Zacchaeus was “small in size.” Yet he was blessed with the privilege of entertaining the Son of God. (Luke 19:2-5) Therefore it is what is inside a person that really counts. And if your body is not growing as quickly as you might like, you can take comfort in knowing that this may be perfectly normal. “For everything there is an appointed time,” and eventually your body will respond to the call of puberty. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Oddly enough, many youths complain that their bodies are developing too quickly. Their plight will be the subject of the next article in this series.
See the “Young People Ask . . .” articles appearing in the January 22 and February 8, 1990, issues of Awake!
Some experts recommend that if an adolescent has not experienced any of the changes of puberty by age 15, he or she should be examined by a physician so as to rule out any serious health disorders.
[Picture on page 23]
Girls usually begin their growth spurt about two years ahead of boys. However, most boys quickly catch up and eventually surpass girls in height