Adolescence—Preparing for Adulthood
IMAGINE that you have just traveled from a tropical island to the Arctic Circle. As soon as you step off the plane, you realize that you are in an icy climate. Can you adapt? Yes, but you will need to make a few adjustments.
A similar situation confronts you when your children become adolescents. Overnight, it seems, the climate has changed. The boy who once would not leave your side now prefers the company of his peers. The girl who once could not wait to tell you about her day now gives only clipped replies.
“How was school?” you ask.
“Fine,” she replies.
“What’s on your mind?” you ask.
“Nothing,” she replies.
What has happened? Not long ago, “it was like you had a backstage pass to your children’s lives,” says the book Breaking the Code. “Now the best you can hope for is a seat out in the audience, and it probably won’t even be a very good seat.”
Must you resign yourself to such an icy distance? No, not at all. You can stay close to your children as they go through adolescence. First, though, you need to understand just what is happening during this fascinating yet sometimes turbulent stage of growth.
Moving From Childhood to Adulthood
Researchers once thought that a child’s brain was almost fully developed by age five. Now they believe that while the size of the brain changes little after that age, the same cannot be said of its function. When they enter puberty, young people begin a hormonal revolution that changes the way they think. For instance, while small children usually view things in concrete, black-and-white terms, adolescents tend to think abstractly, weighing the underlying issues of a matter. (1 Corinthians 13:11) They develop convictions, and they are not shy about expressing them.
Paolo, from Italy, noticed that change in his adolescent. “When I look at my teenage son,” he says, “I feel as if I have a little man in front of me, not a boy anymore. It’s not just the physical changes. What amazes me most is how he thinks. He’s not afraid to express his views and defend them!”
Have you observed something similar in your adolescent? Perhaps as a child, he simply followed orders. “Because I said so” was all the explanation he needed. Now, as an adolescent, he wants reasons, and perhaps he even questions the values by which the family lives. Sometimes his assertiveness looks like rebellion.
But do not conclude that your adolescent is out to overturn your values. He may just be struggling to make your values his own, to find a place for them in his life. To illustrate, imagine that you are moving from one home to another and that you are taking your furniture with you. Will it be easy to find a place for each piece in the new home? Likely not. But one thing is certain, you will not throw away any item that you view as precious.
Your adolescent faces a similar situation as he prepares for the time when he will “leave his father and his mother.” (Genesis 2:24) True, that day may be a long way off; your adolescent is not yet an adult. In a sense, though, he is already packing. Throughout the teen years, he is examining the values he has been raised with, and he is deciding which ones he will take with him into adulthood.*
The idea of your child making such decisions may frighten you. You can be sure, though, that when he moves into adulthood, he will retain only the values that he views as precious. Therefore, now—while your adolescent is still at home—is the time for him to investigate thoroughly the principles by which he will live.—Acts 17:11.
Really, it is beneficial for your adolescent to do that. After all, if he accepts your standards without question now, he may later accept the standards of others naively. (Exodus 23:2) The Bible describes such a youth as being easily seduced because he is “in want of heart”—a phrase that means to lack discernment, among other things. (Proverbs 7:7) A young person without convictions can be “tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men.”—Ephesians 4:14.
How can you prevent that from happening to your child? Make sure that he has the following three assets:
1 PERCEPTIVE POWERS
The apostle Paul wrote that “mature people . . . have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) ‘But I taught my child right from wrong years ago,’ you might say. And, no doubt, that training benefited him at the time and prepared him for this next stage of growth. (2 Timothy 3:14) Still, Paul said that people need to have their perceptive powers trained. While small children may acquire a knowledge of right and wrong, adolescents need to “become full-grown in powers of understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:20; Proverbs 1:4; 2:11) You want your adolescent, not to obey blindly, but to use solid reasoning skills. (Romans 12:1, 2) How can you help him do that?
One way is to let him express himself. Do not interrupt, and try your best not to overreact—even if he says something that you do not want to hear. The Bible says: “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13) Furthermore, Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) If you listen, you will be able to find out what really concerns your adolescent.
When you do speak, try to use questions rather than blunt statements. Jesus sometimes asked, “What do you think?” to draw out not only his disciples but also those who were obstinate. (Matthew 21:23, 28) You can do something similar with your adolescent, even when he expresses a view that is contrary to yours. For example:
If your adolescent says: “I’m not sure that I believe in God.”
Rather than respond: “We taught you better than that—of course you believe in God!”
You could say: “What makes you feel that way?”
Why draw out your adolescent? Because although you already hear what he is saying, you need to find out what he is thinking. (Proverbs 20:5) The issue may have more to do with God’s standards than God’s existence.
For example, a youth who feels pressured to disobey God’s moral laws may try to make it acceptable by removing God from the picture. (Psalm 14:1) ‘If God doesn’t exist,’ he could reason, ‘then I don’t have to live in accord with Bible standards.’
If your adolescent seems to be thinking that way, he may need to reason on the question, Do I really believe that God’s standards are for my good? (Isaiah 48:17, 18) If he believes that they are for his good, encourage him to see that his well-being is worth standing up for.—Galatians 5:1.
If your adolescent says: “This may be your religion, but that doesn’t mean it’s mine.”
Rather than respond: “It’s our religion, you are our child, and you will believe what we tell you to believe.”
You could say: “That’s quite a strong statement. If you reject my beliefs, though, you must have something to replace them with. So, what are your beliefs? What code of conduct do you think it’s right to live by?”
Why draw out your adolescent? Because reasoning with him in this way can help him examine his thinking. He might be surprised to discover that his beliefs are the same as yours but that what concerns him is really something else altogether.
For example, perhaps your adolescent does not know how to explain his beliefs to others. (Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15) Or he might be attracted to someone of the opposite sex who does not share his faith. Get to the root of the problem, and help your adolescent do so as well. The more he uses his perceptive powers, the better prepared he will be for adulthood.
2 ADULT GUIDANCE
In some cultures today, there is little or no evidence of the “storm and stress” that some psychologists claim is to be expected during the teen years. Researchers have found that in those societies youths are assimilated into adult life at an early age. They work with adults, socialize with adults, and are entrusted with adult responsibilities. Terms such as “youth culture,” “juvenile delinquency,” and even “adolescence” do not exist.
In contrast, consider the experience of youths in many lands who are herded into overcrowded schools where the only meaningful association they have is with other youths. When they come home, the house is empty. Dad and Mom both work. Relatives live far away. The group they have easiest access to is made up of their peers.* Do you see the danger? It is not just a matter of falling in with the wrong crowd. Researchers have found that even exemplary youths tend to succumb to irresponsible behavior if they are isolated from the world of adults.
One society that did not isolate youths from adults was that of ancient Israel.* For example, the Bible tells of Uzziah, who became king of Judah while still a teenager. What helped Uzziah handle that weighty responsibility? Evidently, at least in part, it was the influence of an adult named Zechariah, whom the Bible describes as an “instructor in the fear of the true God.”—2 Chronicles 26:5.
Does your adolescent have one or more adult mentors who share your values? Do not feel jealous of such helpful influences. Having them can help your adolescent do what is right. A Bible proverb states: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.”—Proverbs 13:20.
3 SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
In some lands, the law prohibits young people from being employed more than a certain number of hours a week or from doing certain types of work. Such restrictions were put in place to protect children from hazardous work conditions—a by-product of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries.
While child labor laws protect youths from danger and abuse, some experts claim that these restrictions also shield them from responsibility. As a result, says the book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, many teens have developed “a sense of surly entitlement, of almost deserving to have things presented to them without having to struggle to earn them.” The authors note that this attitude “seems a natural response to living in a world that’s been far more geared to entertaining teens than to expecting anything from them.”
In contrast, the Bible tells of youths who took on weighty responsibilities at an early age. Consider Timothy, who likely was just a teenager when he met the apostle Paul—a man who had a powerful influence on him. At one point, Paul told Timothy: “Stir up like a fire the gift of God which is in you.” (2 Timothy 1:6) While perhaps in his late teens or early 20’s, Timothy left home and traveled with the apostle Paul, helping to establish congregations and build up the brotherhood. After about a decade of working with Timothy, Paul was able to tell the Christians in Philippi: “I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you.”—Philippians 2:20.
Often, adolescents are eager to take on responsibility, especially when they sense that doing so involves meaningful work that makes a difference. Not only does this train them to become responsible adults in the future but it also brings out their best right now.
Adapting to a New “Climate”
As mentioned at the outset of this article, if you are the parent of an adolescent, you probably sense that you are in a different “climate” from the one you were in just a few years ago. Be assured that you can adapt, just as you have during your child’s other stages of growth.
View your child’s teenage years as an opportunity for you (1) to help him cultivate his perceptive powers, (2) to provide adult guidance, and (3) to instill in him a sense of responsibility. By doing so, you will be preparing your adolescent for adulthood.
One reference work aptly refers to adolescence as “one long goodbye.” For more information, see The Watchtower of May 1, 2009, pages 10-12, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Entertainment geared to teenagers capitalizes on their inclination to be with their peers, perpetuating the idea that youths have their own subculture that adults can neither understand nor penetrate.
The terms “adolescent” and “teenager” are not found in the Bible. Evidently, youths among God’s people in both the pre-Christian and Christian eras were assimilated into adult life at an earlier age than is common in many cultures today.
[Box/Picture on page 20]
“I COULDN’T IMAGINE HAVING BETTER PARENTS”
By word and by example, parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their children to live in accord with Bible principles. (Ephesians 6:4) However, they do not force them to do so. Witness parents realize that each son or daughter, on coming of age, must decide by which values he or she will live.
Aislyn, 18, has adopted the values with which she was raised. “For me,” she says, “my religion isn’t something I do just one day out of the week. It is my way of life. It affects everything I do and every decision I make—from the friends I have to the classes I take and the books I read.”
Aislyn greatly appreciates the upbringing her Christian parents have given her. “I couldn’t imagine having better parents,” she says, “and I’m fortunate that they have instilled in me a desire to be and to remain one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My parents will be a guiding force in my life for as long as I live.”
[Picture on page 17]
Let your adolescent talk
[Picture on page 18]
An adult mentor can have a good influence on your child
[Picture on page 19]
Meaningful work helps adolescents become responsible adults