Young People Ask . . .
Why Am I Developing So Quickly?
“When I was in sixth grade, I was taller than everybody. It was embarrassing for me. I had a really tiny friend and I used to envy her.”—Annie.
“Since I look sixteen or seventeen, many people, including my parents, expect me to act more mature.”—Tanya, age 12.
PUBERTY—most of us who have been through it would probably prefer to forget the whole experience. It is both wonderful and frightening. During puberty, your body undergoes rapid, dramatic, and, at times, embarrassing changes. New feelings, impulses, and desires assault you. Most youths find solace in the fact that their peers are going through the same thing. For some youths, however, puberty seems to come too early. They find themselves becoming bigger, taller, more developed, more grown-up-looking than their friends and classmates.
If this has happened to you, it may comfort you to know that there is nothing abnormal about blooming early. Everyone’s biological clock ticks at its own rate, and yours apparently runs a little faster than those of your peers. Why, the changes of puberty in a boy can begin as early as ten years of age, and in a girl, as early as eight. It’s just a matter of time before your friends will start undergoing the same changes. In the meantime you may have some problems to cope with.
The Pleasures and Pains of Being Tall
One teenage girl told Awake!: “I prefer being the tallest kid in class. People look up to you.” Studies indicate that early-maturing boys in particular enjoy a number of distinct advantages over less-developed peers. Says the book Adolescent Development, by Barbara and Philip Newman: “Early-maturing boys are taller and stronger than their age-mates. . . . Tall, strong boys are more likely to be given responsibility, to be viewed as peer leaders, and to be treated as if they were more mature intellectually as well as physically.”
However, being too tall too soon also has its down side. For one thing, you may become the butt of endless cruel jokes from your classmates. One young girl told Awake!: “I was the tallest girl in class. They called me ‘Long Legs.’” Recalls a young man named Dwayne: “The kids would call me names, like ‘Stork.’ Sometimes they’d ask, ‘How’s the weather up there?’”*
Particularly tough are the times when your lengthy limbs fail to work together harmoniously. (Compare Ephesians 4:16.) “I was gangly, thin, and clumsy,” recalls Christine of her teenage years. “I was terrible at sports,” adds Dwayne. “It seemed as if my brain would send out a command, and my limbs would receive it a week later! I was as graceful as a giraffe on roller skates.” Be assured that this awkward period is natural. It will pass in time. You may also find that a moderate amount of “bodily training is beneficial.” (1 Timothy 4:8) The more you use your body, the better coordinated you will become.
What about the name-calling and insults? It may be tempting to lash back with a few stinging retorts of your own, but the Bible says: “Do not answer anyone stupid according to his foolishness, that you yourself also may not become equal to him.” (Proverbs 26:4) Besides, in the long run, ‘returning evil for evil’ only makes a bad situation worse. (Romans 12:17) The Bible says that there is “a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) A sense of humor can get you through many an embarrassing moment.*
‘They Think I’m Older’
Sometimes the problem is, not peers, but adults who think you are older than you really are. Recalls Dwayne: “I would be singled out in the crowd as the authority, the leader. Once I was near a bunch of kids, and they started tossing things from a bridge. The police came over and started screaming at me because I was the tallest one. But I didn’t even know what was going on.”
At times, you may be flattered to be treated like a grown-up. The problem is, physical growth can outpace mental and emotional growth. In spite of how you look, you may still think and reason, not like an adult, but like someone your age. (Compare 1 Corinthians 13:11.) So when people make adult demands of you, you may have a hard time delivering.
You may need to give friends and family members gentle reminders from time to time that you are not as old as you look. “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk,” says Proverbs 15:22. So if you feel your parents are being overly demanding, politely speak up. One magazine for teenagers suggested that you might say: “I know that because I look so mature, it’s easy to expect me to act older. But inside, I’m still my real age, and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up with all you expect me to do and be.”
Don’t make the mistake of promoting the illusion of being older by putting on a more sophisticated air, or bearing, or by dressing and grooming yourself in a way that is not appropriate to your age. Why, some early-maturing youths even abandon their younger-looking childhood friends and try to fit in with an older crowd! But one who tries to hide what he really is in this regard could well end up being humiliated. (Compare Psalm 26:4.) In time others will see through your pretense. The Bible wisely says, therefore, that “wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2; Micah 6:8) A modest person knows his limitations.
Behaving modestly can also protect you from a problem that often faces early-maturing girls in particular: sexual harassment. In a startlingly rapid period of time, a little girl’s body can take on the appearance of an attractive woman. (Compare Song of Solomon 8:8, 10.) For some young girls, though, having a woman’s breasts and hips can be—well—embarrassing.
Writer Ruth Bell observes: “Growing girls become especially vulnerable to male reactions.” Explains one 12-year-old girl named Denise: “Since I’ve gotten more physically mature I get a lot of stares when I go out.” (Changing Bodies, Changing Lives) Curious classmates of both sexes may even try to touch you inappropriately. Not surprisingly, the book Adolescent Development says: “Early-maturing females may slouch, wear baggy sweat shirts, or become shy and withdrawn in order to avoid peer recognition of their changing body image.”
While you are hardly obliged to hide yourself under layers of clothing, it only makes good sense to avoid clothes and styles of grooming that are provocative or that call undue attention to you. This harmonizes with the Bible’s counsel to dress “with modesty and soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 2:9.
There may be other practical steps you can take. Back in Bible times, Ruth faced the possibility of sexual harassment when she went to work in the field of Boaz. Kindly Boaz ‘commanded the young men not to touch her.’ Even so, he cautioned her: “Do not go away to glean in another field, . . . and in that way you should keep close by my young women.” (Ruth 2:8, 9) In a similar way, some young girls have been able to stay close to other Christian girls who attend the same school. They avoid walking unescorted in areas known to be trouble spots.
Whatever the case, no one has the right to harass you—either physically or verbally. If you suffer some problems in this regard, talk things out with your parents or a trusted adult. They may have some suggestions or may offer to intervene in some way.
Even under the best of circumstances, puberty is a tough time of life. Being bigger—or smaller—than your peers can make it even tougher. Try as you may, there is not much you can do about your physical growth. But you can work hard on your spiritual growth. And if you do so, like young Samuel of Bible times, you will grow “bigger and more likable both from Jehovah’s standpoint and from that of men.”—1 Samuel 2:26.
Some of the names have been changed.
For further suggestions on dealing with teasing, see Chapter 19 of the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 25]
Tall youths are often the butt of cruel jokes