April 08, 2008

Mutations, Confusion, and Transitions Part One

Written By Cary Schmidt

Helping Your Teen Through Some of Life’s Toughest Years

“Who rode their bicycle through your mouth?!” It was during my seventh grade year, and those were the first rather hurtful words I heard at Wednesday night Bible study when I arrived at church with my new “headgear!” As if braces and a retainer weren’t enough torture, my orthodontist had to wire an erector set to my jaw! And even worse, he then made me wear it—IN PUBLIC! What a devastating thing it is to walk around with a hamster-sized ferris-wheel strapped to your face!

Then I remember the day I was asked if I was wearing “water skis” for tennis shoes. I was in seventh grade and my feet had grown faster than the rest of my body, giving me that really cool “Ronald- McDonald foot- look! If I had painted them red, people would have been asking me for autographs! Then there was the “shrimp factor!” In Junior High I was really rinky-dink sized! I think I was all of five feet two inches, while every girl in my class was nearing six feet! Why did I have to go to school with the “Amazons?” I was the smallest guy in the youth group—I couldn’t even serve the volleyball over the net on a regular sized court. My legs were so skinny that people called me “chicken-legs” and I weighed ninety pounds dripping wet and bench pressed the same! Identity crisis doesn’t even begin to describe it. I didn’t think I would make it through those terrible times!

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Most adults that I talk to would rather lose a limb than have to go through that phase of life again. How easy it is, as adults, to forget just what it was like from the age of twelve to the age of twenty. So often we look into the eyes of our sixteen year old, and we see an adult, so we expect adult reasoning and adult responses. We tend to lose sight of the fact that there is a lot of change and transition going on in that teenage body and brain.

In the next few articles, I would like to share some thoughts about what changes your teenager is experiencing and how you can help in those transitions. Before we get started, I want to quantify that the purpose of this series of articles will not be to cause you to lower your expectations for your teen’s behavior or capacity to live for the Lord. I wouldn’t encourage you to lower the bar spiritually or in any other way. I would simply encourage you to be mindful of your teenager’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and to be more in tune with how to help and encourage through these tumultuous years. Praying for him, nurturing him, and viewing his life in light of all that is changing will help give you wisdom and understanding as to what is really going on in his heart.

God says in Proverbs 23:26, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.” I love how the father is asking for his son’s heart! He was seeking a relationship from which he could mentor, train, and nurture his son in the ways of the Lord. As a parent, I want to encourage you to do several things when it relates to the changing nature of the teen years. How should we approach the changes that we will study in the coming editions?

First, I believe we should seek to understand these changes. If your brain was going to be completely rewired and replaced over the next eight years, wouldn’t you like to know it? Well, as we will see, that is what is happening with your teenager, and certainly it impacts every other area of life. Perhaps you can identify with my story at the beginning of this article. If so, the chances are, your teenager probably hasn’t heard about it. Most teenagers do not feel that their parents understand them very well. While this usually is not the case, our silence is sometimes deafening. Why not spend some time reliving in your memory what those teen years were like—feel the emotions, replay the insecurities, and then seek to truly understand what your teen is dealing with and going through in life.

Second, I believe we should teach and train through these changes. While your teen probably has plenty of teachers, nothing can replace your guiding voice and gentle reasoning in his life. A teenager cannot hear positive, affirming, comforting, and nurturing words too often. I encourage you not only to understand these changes, but to make it your mission to help your teenager understand and navigate them as well. Take time to talk him through what he is dealing with and ask the Lord to give you the insight you need.

Third, I believe we should encourage and strengthen them through these changes. This may mean that you become a shoulder to cry on. It may mean you wrap your teenage son up into a big bear hug for a few moments. It may mean that you write your daughter a note telling her how great she is doing in all the right areas. It may mean that you call a time-out to life every once in a while just so they can rest, recharge, and refocus on life’s priorities. It will definitely involve prayer together on a regular basis, asking God to guide, guard, and grow His child. These changes are emotional and frustrating, and every teen needs this regular strengthening and spiritual encouragement.

In the coming articles, we will see a pretty long list of physical, emotional, and relational changes that every teenager faces. Until our next article, ask the Lord to give you wisdom to see and understand these changes, and the grace to guide your young adult through them successfully!