Adventurous, fun, high energy, independent, risk taking, friends, rebellion, I know it all and exploring, would be some words that people will use when they describe adolescence. I for one enjoy hanging around with this group and love the enthusiasm they have but many do not. Often parents, churches, schools, and colleges are fed up with this age group. According to the United Nations, “’youth’ are those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years” (Youth 2019). This group is important for India as the median age in 2015 was 26.8 years that means we are a young country. Yet youths are often neglected in the community and in our churches. In this article I will be looking at how we as a community should understand, engage, and encourage youths to be who they are, to be found in the Lord, for eternity.
The Who and What of Adolescence
Dr. Collins defines adolescence as the “period of growth to maturity” (235). A time of physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, and social change when there is a shift from being under the protection and dependence on parents to a relative independence and social productivity. A teenager’s world is changing rapidly that these immature young people are confused, not able to keep up and do not adjust efficiently. This stage can be divided into three overlapping periods: pre-, middle- and post-adolescence ranging from the age group of eleven to early twenties. This is the time when there is a significant swing towards friends, hobbies, music, sports, out of the box thinking and reasoning, interest in sexual activities, and stress. Adolescence is considered as a disruptive period of rebellion, being disturbed, irresponsible, impulsive, and “a pain in the neck.” A group that has grown up with postmodern influences, impacted with the internet and the most informationoverloaded generation. Combine all of this, and we have a mosaic of ideas, lifestyles, choices, spiritualities, possibilities and creative alternatives all seen in a “mosaic” group of young people (Collins 239). If they do not get it right during this stage of life then it becomes an ongoing struggle for them to know who they are, to understand and accept what the family, church or the society expects from them.
The Most Important Aspect of Adolescence
Considering all the facets that contribute to an adolescent, the most important one is their IDENTITY. Who they are? What defines a person? As a community we must help them establish their independent personality. This is a key aspect for a youth as this will decide who they will become. In Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial stages an adolescent goes through a stage of Identity vs. Identity confusion. To define who they are as an individual, they explore and seek to establish a healthy resolution to be both true to themselves and to others. If they can achieve this, then they will find their identity, or they will be in a confused state. Parents, teachers, church, and the community can play an active role for them to establish this.
This concept can be seen in several portions of the Bible. The best example is from the famous story of David and Goliath. When no one was willing to go against Goliath, David was and when he was presented in front of King Saul, “Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). David was a youth willing to face Goliath and one thing that motivated him to do that was the confidence he had in God. Couple of statements that are repeated in that same chapter, uttered by David are, “…For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26, 36) and “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand” (1 Sam 17:37, 46). These verses show how he was established and found his identity in the LORD, Jehovah. This confidence in God carried him through life and even though he fell many times he was called “a man after my [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22). King Solomon’s exhortation to youth is to, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come” (Ecc. 12:1). If you can find yourself in Christ now, then as you grow old and continue in your faith, you will find strength to carry on. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). It seems to be such a difficult task for a youth, but it is not impossible.
During this stage, questions will arise about their faith as it becomes more literal, real, and formative. Our role here is to be patient to answer them and not chase them away. We should not panic, be judgmental or ignore it–this is their testing phase. Encourage them to find answers, help them answer those question and share your own life examples. They are looking for a God who knows, accepts, and confirms their self. As they go through turmoil and decision making in life, if they can find their identity in Christ, they will be satisfied, and they will find solutions to a lot of their experiences. We as a community should find opportunities to train their formative years in this direction. Instead of expecting them to follow the laws and traditions of what we believe we should help them find who they are in Christ. We should not exert authority on them, rather we should INFLUENCE them. Influence is the willingness of your child to place himself under authority because he trusts you. Do we really have an influence on them? Are we coming alongside to mentor them and treat them as an adult? Help them find their identity in Christ.
Age of Change and Exploration
Adolescence is the age of change. Every child will go through physical changes that can be puzzling. Emotionally they want to be independent, have privacy and spend time on their own. Parents are often replaced by friends as their source of advice. They want to take risks, challenges and push their boundaries. Parts of the brain which are responsible for impulse control do not fully mature until the age of 25, which means they can make impulsive, emotional decisions without reasoning about the consequences.
Through all this uncertainty family support is needed. Though they rebel and act as though they do not need your help, they still need all the love, support, security, and acceptance. Parents should choose their battles, being wise in what to pick and avoid. Some battles to pick up are issues contrary to the scripture, incidents of disrespect and concerns of danger. Do not be very hard on their personal interests. Parents should give opportunities for children to make decisions, to fall, and consider their opinions. Indian parents often want to rule over their children even after their marriage. Allow them to be responsible about their choices and experience the consequences but also be there to pick them up and forgive them for what they have done. The Psalmist prays this, “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions . . . (Ps. 25:7). If God is patient and forgiving, how much more should we be?
The story of the Lost son in Luke 15 shows how the father reacted to a rebellious son who sinned against God and the father. The son decided to take the money and leave probably with his friends. But the father did not give up on him but waited for his son. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20). He did not stop there but had a party for his son. This is how our Heavenly Father’s heart is when a sinner comes back from his wrong ways. Instead of being compassionate and forgiving we are guilty of nagging, teasing, and provoking our children especially the teenagers (Eph. 6:4). We irritate them to the extent that they do not take us seriously resulting in poor parent-child relationship.
Age of Confusion
Here they are neither a child nor an adult. Often, we find them acting like children yet expecting to be treated as an adult. This is when having a strong relationship will impact their life. It is crucial to develop a relationship considering them as an adult and exploring ways to pursue that relationship. Wait for the right time to address an issue. Being sensitive to their feelings by taking them seriously because what is important for them might not be the same for us.
To avoid a lot of confusion parents must talk about the changes in their body. Fathers should speak to their sons and mothers to daughters. This talk must happen before they hit puberty or at least at the onset of puberty. If parents do not educate them then they will eventually get the needed information through friends or online sources. If parents share such intimate personal things, they will be comfortable to approach them later for other important matters in life.
Age of Autonomy
Adolescence want to be autonomous so allow them to be independent individuals under the Lord. Encourage them to develop nurturing and constructive friendships and relationships among their peers. They will have non-believing friends so watch how they are being influenced. Invite their friends’ home and build strong connections with them. Often the problem of teenagers is bad company and once they build a strong bond with these friends, it is very difficult to cut those relationships. It is proven that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33). Help them choose a career by understanding their potential, pointing out the pros and cons of that profession and how being there will honor or dishonor God. Do not push them to be what you could not because they will not be happy allowing for a blame game to go on forever.
To be autonomous will require them to start thinking in a Biblical perspective for all aspects of their life. Teaching them to have a heavenly goal (Col. 3:2) and doing all for the glory of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:31). Help them seek out for a godly group of adults who can guide them. For them to have spiritual influence, parents may have to be in a church or community where there are lot of mature mentors and peer groups. We must allow them to be involved in ministry, depending on their gifting and not according to our desires.
Entrusting Your Children to God
Lastly, we can take a lot of measure to safeguard our children, bringing them up in the fear and knowledge of Jesus Christ and doing all it takes for their best interests. Sometimes they may fall, and we would believe it was our mistake. Let us not punish ourselves instead kneel before the Lord for our children like Job. God can bring the ultimate change they need. It is like the seed that is sown and sower sleeps and “the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how” (Mk. 4:27). In the same way let us sow well and give all that is needed for the seed to grow and then sleep, allowing God to do what He should in His time. Ultimately, children belong to God and we are merely His custodians and stewards of the children that He has loaned to us.
By Godly Koshy Raju