April 08, 2008

Mutations, Confusion, and Transitions Part Two

Written By Cary Schmidt

Helping Your Teen Through Some of Life’s Toughest Years

In the last issue I introduced a series of articles that will highlight the changes that a teenager faces between the ages of 12 and 20, and how we as adults, youth workers, and parents should understand and respond to those changes. I want to reiterate, these changes are not an excuse for bad behavior or an attempt to rationalize sin, but rather a look at reality so that we can better apply patience and scriptural principles as we nurture young lives to maturity.

The first area of dramatic change during the teen years is physical change! Have you noticed how much your teenager is physically changing day-to-day and month-to-month? More importantly, have you considered the impact of those changes in all of life? As our boys crossed over that thirteen-year mark, I remember commenting to Dana how radically they would change in the coming years. I was trying to prepare us both mentally and emotionally for the fact that these boys were about to quickly emerge into men. Never do teen boys change more quickly and radically than between ages fourteen and seventeen. The same is true with girls. Recently a friend who hadn’t seen one of our boys for a couple of years was literally astounded at the change.

Sometimes we fail to see these changes (that often seem more like mutations) and to consider how they impact the world that our teens live in. Teens grow fast, that’s a given. But have you considered the physical energy that is consumed to produce that change? Have you considered the emotional impact of such physical drain? Have you connected the dots on the awkwardness, fatigue, hunger, and insecurity that accompanies this radical physical growth?

No wonder your teen eats so much, sleeps so much, and seems to fumble around physically at times. No wonder they worry about what their friends think of them—they can barely keep up with the change themselves! There are several challenges that radically impact your teenager because of this fast physical growth.

Awkward Coordination – most young people go through at least a year or two of real challenge to accommodate the coordination of their growing feet and figure. What we see as immaturity or even clumsiness might simply be a fast-growing body where the mind and reflexes are still trying to catch up!

Clothing Doesn’t Fit Right – clothing or shoes that fit well last week suddenly feel tight or cramped. I’m not saying to give in to every style-conscious insecurity—but please be sensitive to meet needs for clothing and shoes when the ones you bought three days ago don’t fit anymore!

Physical Features Stand Out – teens generally walk around all day feeling “weird”—feeling like they stand out, stick out, or generally don’t “fit in.” The more you can affirm them and encourage them through these insecure days, the sooner they will learn that this feeling doesn’t represent reality.

Personal Hygiene becomes an Issue – have you taught your teenager how to begin the basic hygiene habits that adult bodies require? Well, it’s time. If you don’t, you are risking that your teen’s peers will ridicule and hurt them for something easily taken care of. Teenagers are ruthless on each other when it comes to smells and hygiene habits. Make sure your child is ready for these changes!

Sensitivity to Appearance – have you ever had a bad hair day? A bad pimple day? Do you remember “not liking” the way you looked? Do you remember how frustrated you were at times? Bear this in mind on those irritable mornings when the whole attitude seems like a train wreck.

Adult Sexual Desires become Real – this is the time when child-ish minds occupy adult-ish bodies and they don’t understand, value, or know how to manage these desires. It takes one-on-one, parental, biblical training to nurture and protect them through these critical changes. Most parents are uninvolved—they avoid this subject all together. Just bear in mind that friends, TV, music, and the internet don’t ignore these areas. If you do, you are most likely condemning your teen to failure.

What does all of this mean? Well I want to encourage you to respond carefully in the following ways:

Be patient in your spirit. All of this change should cause us adults to display a bit more longsuffering and tenderness. Work them through it with patient training rather than rushed demands.

Be understanding in your heart. When is the last time you sat down and just encouraged your teen through these changes? Have you ever done this? If not, it’s time. Let your teenager know that you really do understand these changes and that you are there when they need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.

Be biblical in your training. Schedule time to sit down and biblically encourage and instruct you children through these times. Help them to understand the changes and instruct them from God’s Word on growing and managing the changes. Be the initiator of these talks and have them frequently.

Be balanced in your family schedule. Teenagers need about 10 hours of sleep each night! That’s not a preference; it’s just a medical fact. The amount of change in their body requires a good night’s rest. You would be surprised how often a rebellious or antagonistic spirit can change with a good, long night’s sleep. So often we miss the signals as parents. Ask the Lord to help you understand the difference between a spirit of rebellion and an exhausted state of fatigue. The first requires discipline, the second merely a soft pillow and an uninterrupted night.

Physical changes are real and they are massive! They impact the spirit, the heart, and the whole world of your teenager. Don’t miss them. Don’t forget about them. Be aware, be understanding, and ask God for daily wisdom to discern the difference between callousness and clumsiness, rebellion and fatigue, a bad attitude and a bad pimple! May God grant you the right heart to pour out His tender compassion on the heart of your teenager when it is most needed!