Changing from Boyhood to Manhood
Helpful facts that young people want to know
THE change from boyhood to manhood is a gradual process. No young boy goes to bed one night to wake up the next morning and find he is now a man. The transition takes years. It is not the easiest time in a young person’s life, but it is a very, very important period. This transitional period is a proving ground for your future responsibilities.
This transition period from childhood to adulthood is marked by the onset of “puberty,” a term that comes from a Latin word meaning “adult.” In boys, this stage of life begins around the age of fourteen or thereabouts, and “adolescence,” or the maturing process, generally continues until somewhere between the ages of twenty and twenty-three.
PROBLEMS OF PUBERTY
What are some of the problems you can expect in this stage of puberty? For one thing, you probably will go through a time when you seem to be rather awkward, even clumsy. You may incline to stumble, trip over furniture, knock over glasses on the table. This can be embarrassing. Why does it happen?
It is because your body is getting taller (and probably broader at the shoulders and chest). Your bones lengthen and the muscles have to stretch along with them. But, in this expansion some parts of the body seem to progress rapidly, while others may lag. This can create some lack of coordination. So, for the first part of this transition a youth may have some clumsiness. But this passes and is no cause for great concern—though extra care is certainly worth while, as it could save you from possible harm through some accident. It is not a time for taking risks. Nor is the period of awkwardness the best time for one to learn to drive an automobile, as a lack of coordination at a critical moment could bring disaster.
Among the body parts that are stretching out are the vocal cords. The extra length makes the voice deepen. But during the lengthening process your voice may often “crack,” suddenly hitting a high note when you least expect it. Again, this is part of the “growing pains” of adolescence. So, when it happens and others are amused, just smile along with them and any embarrassment will fade.
At the root of these body changes are your glands, including the thyroid, the adrenals and the gonads (sex glands). They produce yet other changes. One of them is the growth of pubic hair—around the organs of procreation, also under your armpits and on your chest. The amount varies from person to person and is no indicator whatsoever of how ‘manly’ you are. Hair also begins to appear on the face, usually beginning with your upper lip. Yes, though as yet there is but a mere “fuzz,” your encounter with the experience of shaving is steadily drawing near.
Frequently the oil glands serving the facial skin fail to function as well as they should during adolescence. That is why you may go through some unpleasantness due to complexion problems. Skin blemishes may seem to you to destroy your appearance and you may be painfully aware of them. But you should realize that others do not pay nearly as much attention to them as you do and, realizing the stage of life you are going through, they will probably incline to take them pretty much for granted. The best way to care for these complexion problems is (1) to have a balanced diet, including ample quantities of vegetables and fruits, along with lots of drinking water, (2) use plenty of soap and water—not just for your face but for keeping your whole head and body clean, and then (3) keep your hands off, not squeezing or picking at your face. That should at least keep the problems within bounds. If not, then you may need to seek the advice of a doctor.
Perhaps the change that most often is a source of disturbance for boys growing toward manhood is that involving the organs of procreation, the genitals. During puberty these not only attain their full size but also begin to function. The Bible, at Leviticus 15:16, 17, refers to ‘emissions of semen.’ If his parents have thoughtlessly failed to discuss the matter with him beforehand, a youth’s first seminal emission may be an upsetting experience. What causes such emission?
A young man’s body, on reaching puberty, begins to produce sperm cells and also a fluid that serves to transport these outside the body. More or less periodically the body relieves itself of such sperm cells or semen, an emission taking place while the person sleeps and is dreaming.
What does all this mean? It means that your body is now capable of fathering children. This is the Creator’s arrangement and is to be exercised, of course, in his provided way, by honorable marriage.
A point may here be noted, however. While such emissions are normal, to some extent you can control the frequency of their occurrence. What you think about, particularly your thoughts prior to going off to sleep, can affect this considerably. If you let your thoughts dwell on sexual matters, this will likely reflect itself in your dreams and lead to frequent emissions, perhaps several in the course of a month. By exercising self-control you can turn your thoughts away from sensual things and thus go for a considerable period of time without having your sleep interrupted by such an emission and the measure of discomfort that naturally follows it. (Ps. 119:9; Phil. 4:8) Incidentally, while the requirement of the Mosaic law that a man should bathe after any such emission is not in force religiously for Christians, it is still a good hygienic practice to wash oneself as soon as practical.
HOW WILL YOU REACT?
The fact that your body is developing in this way may create in you a certain feeling of wonderment and also curiosity. How should you satisfy that curiosity? By experimenting with your sexual organs? Or by questioning other boys of your own age or somewhat older? Many take such a course, but very often with undesirable results. Why?
Well, what they do reminds one of a small child who is given as a gift some rather complex article, such as a watch. Curious, the boy wants to know what makes the watch tick, what makes the hands move. So he pries off the back and starts tinkering. What is the result? A damaged watch, for, while he may be able to figure out how to open it up or even to take it apart, he does not have the necessary knowledge to put it back together again. Nor is another child of his age likely to know either.
Even though you may bring no actual physical damage to yourself by experimenting, you certainly could get yourself mentally, emotionally and physically upset. Worse, you could get into bad habits that could take you years to break and that could damage your future happiness. And, even though initial excitement at feeling the effects of these body changes can make you feel an urge to talk with other boys and compare experiences, it is good to realize that these discussions can easily lead to engaging in unwholesome acts, to masturbation, or even to homosexual practices.—Rom. 1:27, 28.
The best way to get satisfying answers to your questions about sexual development is to ask your parents, particularly your father. You, and other boys in your age group, are just beginning to reach the state of being a fully formed man. But your father has already gone through everything you have and lots more. Also, whereas other boys might give you information that is only half right—a little bit of facts and a lot of wild ideas—your father can be approached with the confidence that he will give you good information, facts that will help you and work for your happiness. If your father is not in a position to give you information or counsel based on God’s Word, it would be valuable for you to know what God’s Word says. You will find that any of the elders in a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses will be glad to be of help to you.—Prov. 4:1; 13:20; Matt. 7:9, 10.
PROVING YOURSELF RESPONSIBLE
Your Creator has endowed you with a wonderful gift in giving you the capacity to become a father. But it is now up to you to care for that gift in a responsible way, not like a child that cannot be trusted with something precious. And this is true of many other things. As you approach manhood it is natural that you feel a desire for self-identity—to feel you are a distinct person—and also a desire for a measure of independence. Your parents will likely begin preparing you for the time when you can be independent. How? By gradually giving you more responsibility and the privilege of sharing in making certain decisions as to things you will do. They may invite you to express your preference as to certain subjects you will take at school or let you take on a part-time job. You may be allowed to do your own buying of some of your personal items. But whatever your parents see fit to do in this regard, it will then be up to you to show you merit that responsibility. If you act in a childish way or get “bigheaded,” then they may have to reduce your privileges again until you show yourself more of a man.
This desire for greater self-identity and a measure of independence is accompanied by other natural desires. You will feel a need to be appreciated by others for what you are and what you can do. If these desires are not directed properly, they lead to the forming of “gangs,” where many boys satisfy their desire to have a ‘sense of belonging.’ But such gangs generally form their own code of conduct, and the facts show that this almost always leads to wrongdoing, at times even to serious crimes. Probably more than any other single factor, bad companionship is to be found at the root of the problem when young men get into trouble.—1 Cor. 15:33.
During this period of life you begin to get some idea of what you are going to look like physically as a grown man. But you should also start thinking more and more about what you are going to be like inside, what the Bible calls “the secret person of the heart.” (1 Pet. 3:4) This stage of your life is not the time to let a desire for increased independence somehow divide you off from your parents and the rest of the family. The changes you are experiencing during puberty, and the new urges you feel and have to learn to control, actually increase your need for their love and steadying influence. Instead of drawing away from your parents and letting a gap develop, draw closer to them and learn all you can from them as you now approach adulthood. You will never regret this and you will bring them real happiness too, making them proud to have you as their son. (Prov. 23:24, 25) Then, too, the sensation of ‘belonging’ can be satisfied not only by sharing in family activities, recreation and trips but also by association with genuine Christians, congregating with them and offering your growing abilities and strength to perform needed services within the congregation. Thus you will be growing and developing not only physically, but also spiritually, and your sense of personal worth will grow accordingly.