GROWING UP OUGHTA BE EASIER!
STEPHEN M. CROTTS
Allow me to introduce you to the pituitary gland. It is a pea-sized organ located in the center of your brain. A master organ, it controls others, sending out hormones that tell your body to grow.
Remember the advertisement, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens!”? When the pituitary gland whispers, one’s body listens.
Somewhere between the age of 11 to 14 or so the pituitary gland screams and the human physique begins an incredible growth process we call puberty. The human body begins to prepare itself for adulthood.
Hair begins to grow in new places. The voice begins to change, to get deeper. There come the first stirrings of sexual arousal. One gets bigger, stronger, more coordinated.
Parents may recognize that their child gets louder, moodier, more confused. Since their body will likely double in size, a child eats more. Rebellion can be a problem. And fatigue! Why, a teenager has been known to sleep until the crack of noon!
“What’s happening to me?” the child inwardly asks. Life begins to seem so complex. It is during this process that a child outgrows his parents’ faith and values and begins to develop his own. In short, he becomes his own person.
“Am I pretty or handsome?” he asks socially. “Am I normal?” “Am I smart?” “Am I well dressed?” “Am I cool?”
This time of spurting growth can become a real pressure cooker for a teenager. Fear, insecurity, loneliness, anger, yearning, and even rebellion are a daily portion for many youths experiencing these wonder years.
We call these years of life “adolescence,” the years that lie between childhood and adulthood.
Jesus Christ was aware of puberty. He went through it Himself. And He told a story about a young man held tightly in the clutches of his overactive pituitary gland—the parable of the prodigal son. It’s all about a good father, a farm and hard work. And it’s about a young man whose hormones were screaming at him! “Sleep late!” “Money is all that matters!” “The city is where you belong!” “Wine, women and song!” “Your father is a drag!” “This farm is the pits!” “Run away!” “Party, dudes!”
And he did. And this young man ended up making himself and his entire family miserable. But through it all the love of God and his family was enough to straighten it all out. And, my young friends, my worried fathers and mothers, in the Lord there is still enough wherewithal to make it today, as well!
The key I want you to see today is that understanding goes a long way in successfully negotiating this rite of passage we call adolescence. “Forewarned is forearmed,” we say. “We either prepare or repair,” writes Dr. James Dobson. “Destiny aids and helps along those who recognize her, the blind she drags,” to quote Rousseau. The point is this; we can either go into adolescence with our eyes open or stumble into it blindly and grope our way along.
A father said to me recently, “One of life’s great consolations for me will be to see my children have teenagers of their own! My kids used to be so cute. Now they are squeaky-voiced hulks who sleep until 10 AM, can eat a gallon of ice cream at one sitting, play this obnoxious and loud music, sass their mom, slam doors, dent my car, and tell me what a louse I am.
“The live-in-their-room-like-it-was-a-cave, and they-only-come-out-when-they-want-food-or-money- or-the-carkeys. About the only things they’re good for are growing zits and bills and my ulcers!”
I explained to this father that his children weren’t doing all these things intentionally. They were simply following God’s plan and growing up, progressing through adolescence. And some serious study and understanding and helpfulness on his part could go a long way toward resolving things in a positive way.
The man shot me a look that said, “I’m a businessman. I can’t be bothered with such trivia.” Then he said, “I know how to be a father. It’s just that my sons don’t know how to be sons!”
Today, lets you and me be bothered. And let’s study how to be parent and child during this adolescent crisis of opportunity.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING PUBERTY?
First of all, consider what happens during puberty. Adolescence is that time when there are pulls in many directions. A person has one foot in childhood and another in adulthood. The child in you wants to ride a bike and skip rope. The emerging adult wants to race a car. The child wants to curl up in dad’s lap and cuddle. The adult wants to snarl, “Yes, I am old enough to go to the beach alone!” The child wants to chew gum or play with dolls. The adult wants to sneak a smoke and experiment with sex.
And it’s not just growing pains between childhood and adulthood that one experiences during puberty. There is also the tension between knowns and unknowns.
A child lives in a small world of family, church, and play friends. The emerging teen’s world expands rapidly to high school, the city, first jobs, an automobile, and perhaps college. The child is only concerned with pleasing mom and dad. The teenager explores the unknowns of how to please boyfriend or girlfriend.
Then there is the adolescent tug of war between security and insecurity. During childhood, Mom dressed you. You never cared how you looked. And Osh-Kosh-By-Gosh was always in style. During adolescence you begin dressing yourself according to the fickle dress codes of shifting teenage fashion. “You buy your jeans at K-Mart? Your shirt isn’t even a Polo!” The teen becomes
very conscious of how he looks, what he has on, what others say. And where once he got his security from a snuggle blanket, now he must prove his worth by being elected co-captain or cheer leader. It used to only matter what Mother thought. Now it matters what the entire school thinks.
So, during adolescence there is all of this tug of war going on. Childhood tries to pull you back. Hormones pull you forward into the adult world. Knowns try to nail your feet to the floor. The unknowns of sex, career and freedom shove you forward. The securities of family and home and childhood whisper, “Stay put!” The insecurities of a broader world keep jerking on your leash.
All of this and there is a tyranny of silence about what is going on. Mom and dad have never studied puberty. They do not understand the situation. So, they yell a lot. The kids at school are as confused as you are. The television is no help with its constant blather of sexual enticement, misinformation and shallowness. And a teenager goes to church and finds them talking about Emmanuel Kant and the deontological categorical imperative and other polysyllabic profundities.
So, a child is adrift in a confusing and rapidly expanding world. Transition is written large on everything. He is whispered to by his fears, screamed at by his passions, and smothered by insecurity.
Someone once asked frontiersman Daniel Boone if he’d ever been lost. Boone replied, “Lost? Never! But I have been a mile bewildered a time or two!” And it is this way or worse with both parents and teenagers during adolescence.
HOW WE MISHANDLE IT
That, something of what goes on during the adolescent rite of passage. Now, this, how our culture has come to mishandle puberty.
Some history is in order. In 1840, the average age of puberty was 17. In 1960, the average had dropped to 13.5. Today, the age is lower still—sometimes as early as 10.
Many explanations are give for this earlier development. Better nutrition, more effective health care, even radiation.
In 1840, the United States was mostly a farm-centered society. The family was typically strong. Divorce was unheard of. Not only were both parents in the home, grandparents also lived nearby.
Boys remained a strong identification with their father. They labored side by side on the farm, talked openly. Girls shared chores with their mothers, bonded firmly with clear role models.
Somewhere around age 12, a child was initiated into adulthood by such rites of passage as the Jewish bar mitzvah or the Christian confirmation. By the time one began to sexually develop he was being treated like an adult with full responsibilities and privileges. He was out of school, he knew how to farm, could take a wife, have children, go to war, vote, drink, and provide for his parents in old age. In short, there was simply no such thing as adolescence, just a smooth, quick transition from infancy to childhood to puberty to adulthood.
Today, we no longer live in a farm community. Instead, ours is a highly mobile and complex industrialized society. Children experience puberty at 12 or 13—earlier than ever before. Yet the average age of marriage is 23—later than ever before. The result is a sort of adolescent parenthesis lasting 10 or 11 years in which a youngster is old enough to want work, sex, freedom and responsibility, but not mature enough to have any of it. Hence, unfulfilled longings.
Meanwhile, we allow television, movies, and magazines to use sexual erotica to sell everything from cars to toothpaste. Poor bonding is the norm in the average home. And what with so much divorce today, nearly 60% of kids will grow up in a single parent home. Few, if any, strong role models exist, so trial and error is the means of achieving a sexual identity. So we’ve come awash in experimentation—androgyny, bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality.
Add to this the fact that parent and child no longer work together. Dad gets into his car and drives off to do who-knows-what. The lawn is cared for by an expert. The car is professionally washed and waxed. The child is simply handed money when he asks for it. And his only labor is making his bed.
So you’ve got a sexually developed child who can’t work, can’t wed, can’t vote, can’r drink, can’t go to war, can’t drive, can’t go out on his own, and can’t have sex. Why? Because society is so complex. Because education is a must if you’re going to get the right job with the right salary so you can live in the right house and drive the right car.
The word for all this is deferred gratification. A better word is frustration, life lived in a 10 year parenthesis between childhood and adulthood, between longing and fulfillment.
THE MISERY INDEX And just look at the misery such a social parenthesis is causing.
By age 16, 70% of boys have had sex. Of girls age 18, 53% have had sex. Last year over 1,200,000 teenage girls got pregnant. 70% quit school. In the surrounding countries 26-40% of all pregnancies ended in an abortion.
Then there is child abuse—now, the number two killer of children ages birth to five.
24% of teenagers will experiment with drugs and alcohol. One in five Americans now has a sexually transmitted disease. Homosexuality is “out of the closet.” So are herpes and AIDS.
All this and the media keeps up a constant barrage of erotic stimuli guaranteed to keep a teenager’s hormones boiling. And children enjoy (?) more freedom and less parental supervision than ever before with both parents working outside the home. And suicide is now the #2 or #3 killer of adolescents.
Back in the ’60’s Ray Hildebrand wrote a song called “Be Kind Trying.” The words go,
“What’s happening to all these kids today?
What’s happening to this present generation and all their aspirations? Why don’t they appreciate a single thing anymore!
What they can’t buy they steal or stomp on the floor or slam the door. It’s just, ‘Pop a pill. What a thrill!’
Or ‘Who cares if you pass on a hill?’
Yes, It’s too much have a good time,
And not enough be kind trying.”
“Well, here’s my answer to that, being a kid! What’s happening to Mom and Dad today? What’s happening to that old love and respect, That old hug around the neck?
They don’t have time for us kids anymore. It’s always ‘Go outside and play!’
Or ‘You’re in the way.’”
It’s not, ‘I love you, honey!’
But, ‘Here! Take some money!’
Well, it’s too much let’s take a drink! Let’s get a little more money in the bank! It’s too much gone all the time.
And not enough be kind trying.”
My friends, it’s time we stand up to this sick society we live in and live the healing of Jesus Christ. It’s time we say to the high standard of living: “You’re not high. You’re no standard. And you’re certainly not living!”
It’s time wee say to hell with the materialistic rat race, no to the fortune 500 company that wants to move us every three years, no to longer hours, no to the television set that’s turned the family into a semi-circle, and no to the worthless trivia that keeps us from Christ, from family and church.
It’s time we open the books and study—not the latest word from Hollywood, but the eternal word from God’s Holy Word. It’s time to find time again for side porches, family nights, prayer meetings, chores, mealtime and long walks.
It’s time we take seriously the last verse in the Old Testament, “He shall turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to their children.”
TWO PRACTICAL EXERCISES
A newborn baby has been delivered as an alimentary canal with a noisemaker on one end and no discipline on the other. A teenager is described as a vampire. They sleep all day, stay up all night, and they suck the life from you!
Actually, teenagers were put on earth to keep adults from wasting time on the telephone. Teens are God’s gift to teach us patience, hope, fortitude, self-control and a lot of other things we wouldn’t need to know if we’d have stayed single!
You know you’re getting old when you walk into a record store and all the music you like has been marked down to $1.99.
Seriously, to help you and your child prepare for the adolescent opportunity, I encourage you to read Dr. James Dobson’s book, Preparing for Adolescence. Then, get his tape series by the same title and make an appointment with your child to listen and learn and discuss things together. This will create a pool of common knowledge , abounding of understanding and an attitude of “I care about you! We’re going to meet this opportunity together successfully!”
And might I also encourage you to begin what I call, “The Covenant of the Ring”? When my children turn 12 I invite them out to supper in the restaurant of their choice. I remind them what a privilege it’s been to be their father, explain that their best years lie ahead through adolescence in adulthood, and that I’ll be there to help them each step of the way. Then I offer them the gift of a ring symbolizing my unending love for them along with God’s. I ask them to receive it and wear it as a covenant symbol of their faith in Christ, of their sexual purity, and of their intention to walk obediently in the faith. I also ask them to agree not to discuss marriage with anyone else before they first get my blessing.
Such a ring creates one more bonding, one more memory, one more commitment reminder. It is just one more link in the parent-child dialogue that is so vital during the adolescent parenthesis.
Lord, teach me that I might understand. Love me that I might love. Forgive me that I might forgive others. Help me that I might care for others. Cause me to grow that I might build a home that is nourishing. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
Stephen M. Crotts, Fall 1990