The Growth of Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Reformation and the Reformers in preparation for the 05SR. Of course, one of the Reformation’s biggest characters (in every sense of the word) was Martin Luther. Here is a quote of his that I think is appropriate as we continue our series on adolescence. Luther said:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.

Obviously the myth of adolescence was not in Luther’s thinking when he made that statement, but I do think his assertion is extremely applicable for us. There is a battle today, even though it is largely invisible and of which most people are unaware, over who teenagers are and what they are capable of. There is an attack on the biblical idea of young adulthood, and we must be prepared to fight for the glory of Christ even in His work in the lives of students.

Everyone has some belief about teenagers that they take for granted. Especially those of us in the church need to diagnose why we think what we think about adolescence and measure that thinking against the truth in God’s Word.

It is my job to help this process. It is my happy duty to feed and guide and protect the flock from false ideas, whatever disguises they may wear. Paul’s description of the responsibility of an elder in Titus 1:7-9 reminds us that:

an overseer, as God’s steward, … must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

In previous blogs I have described the birth and naming of adolescence. Remember, by the name “adolescence” we are not simply referring to the biological changes that take place in a person (i.e., puberty). The word has come to represent much more than just a catalog of the days, months, and years of being a teen. When we are talking about adolescence we are talking about a mindset; the attitudes and behaviors of teenagers, especially seen toward their parents and others in authority.

It is assumed by many and argued by professionals that this mindset in teenagers is biologically, chemically, or hormonally determined. And you know the end of the argument: if this teenage mindset is biologically determined then they can’t reasonably be held responsible for it. If a teenager can’t control their hormones then they certainly don’t deserve to be rebuked or reproved it. You shouldn’t punish someone who is incapable. It is unfair to do so.

Since we’re talking about terms, you may find it interesting that in history the terms “adolescent” and “adult” are closely related. The Latin term “adolescent” originally referred to a “growing one” and generally related to the sudden growth spurt at the age of puberty (around twelve or thirteen years of age). The word “adult” meant “grown one” and referred to a person who had passed his or her growth spurt. In essence, then, an adult was a person who was able to have children. So throughout history puberty was the beginning of adulthood itself, not the beginning of a stage between childhood and adulthood.

This is the key. Rather than viewing the transition as a relatively short one, adolescence indefinitely extends the period of time between being a child and being an adult. There is a great article by David Bakan entitled, “Adolescence in America: From Idea to Social Fact.” In that article he says:

The idea of adolescence as an intermediary period of life starting at puberty…is the product of modern times….[I]t developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century…to prolong the years of childhood.

So exactly how did adolescence become a “social fact”? How has it made such a deep and thorough impression on us, most of which we don’t even suspect to be dangerous? Having already looked at the beginning or ‘birth’ of adolescence, we’re now going to consider the growth and development of adolescence; the ingredients that have helped the myth of adolescence to become so widely believed.

As you can imagine it is difficult to summarize even just a century’s worth of history, and I don’t want to oversimplify the development of adolescence. But there are some distinct and recognizable elements that can be identified.

Over the next week or so I want to consider Eight Ingredients in the Growth of Adolescence, in order that we might better recognize and fight false ideas. Hopefully I will be able to expand on each ingredient a little more than time allowed during my message on Sunday morning.