This is a guest post from my good friend Bruce Humphrey who is about to become the lead pastor of Mosaic Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. You can read about he and his family by clicking here, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
I wish my students were like my truck, but they are not. Students are not like my truck because there are many gauges on the truck to let me know if there is something wrong with it. Then I can take it to someone who is knowledgeable about vehicles to help me out.
Unfortunately, when emotional needs of a teenager get out of whack, their gauges usually flash warnings through inappropriate behavior– often-destructive behavior. Sometimes their gauges will indicate that there is something wrong through silence or withdrawal.
The truth is, no matter our age, we all have physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. However, when we mix in everyday growing-up with the developmental needs of teenagers, suddenly we face an overwhelming need. How do we meet the needs of a growing teenager? I am reviewing a book I once read by Rodney Gage called, “Why Your Kids Do What They Do.”
Gage writes about four developmental needs of a student. I’ve condensed his chapters into four short paragraphs. All the information comes from his book; I encourage you to read it.
Physical Growth: Teenagers’ bodies change drastically.
This creates awkward, uncoordinated, embarrassed, confused, and moody KIDS!! Physical development can be irregular, quick, uneven, and often painful. Hearts and lungs double in capacity and stomachs grow almost one-third larger since adolescence began. The grocery bill goes through the roof! Pimples! Sleep!! Irritableness!! I often hear from parents as they discuss their kids: “I have no idea who this kid is and I want my other one back.”
Sexual Growth: Teenagers are one big walking HORMONE
The development of sexual growth stirs guilt to amazement. Yes, I am about to talk about sexuality. Guys think about sex. Girls think about love (fantasy). Guys deal with squeaky voices and muscular bodies. Girls become like flowers. They start to bud. Hormones not only relate to sexual development but also influence ricocheting emotions (BAD MOOD swings) and curious behavior.
Often teenagers experience exaggerated feelings and it becomes an emotional rollercoaster ride. A simple “good morning!” can bring a flood of tears or a tongue lashing about how there is nothing good in this world. The greatest joy can be quickly followed by anger.
Social Growth: Friends are everything
In social development the teenager moves from the same-sex, best friend relationships of younger youth to a circle of friends where the teenager interacts with both sexes. The development of their personality deepens. One thing I have learned is this: they constantly worry about what others say about them, how others see them, and what others think about them. This self-centeredness of younger youth gradually gives way to awareness of others, as the teenager gets older. I believe that “friends become their god”.
Mental Growth: Critical Thinking
Certainly this involves the amount of information a teenager learns, but also the way that information is processed. They move from a more concrete understanding of black or white (seeing life in basic terms) to processing everything abstractly. In other words, the transition from concrete thoughts, where everything is one way or the other moves to abstract thoughts, where nothing is known for sure. Teenagers face doubt and indecision.
- Concrete operations (ages 7-11)–As physical experience accumulates, the child starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects.
- Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15)–By this point, the child’s cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning.
Spiritual Growth: Loving God and Loving Others
A younger student who has been exposed to healthy living through home and church might begin to question those beliefs and values as he’s exposed to secular humanism and moral relativism at school. Social relationships certainly play a vital role in their spiritual development. They are struggling to find their personal faith.
Often they treat their youth group as an extra-curricular club. It becomes a supplement to enhance them rather than a lifestyle choice that develops qualities like meekness, humility, and service.
Working with students is a process. Understanding these growth patterns will help you guide and direct them toward a deeper understanding of God and his Word. This is what we want: we want all students to deepen their faith in God. We want students to know God’s Word and God’s Word to know them.
Question: Are you raising teenagers right now? How have you navigated some of the growth areas listed above? Leave a comment in the comment section…