by James Rudy Gray
Adolescence has been called the "flu of life." It is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood that has been increasing in length in developed countries. Today, we seem to be facing more and more seriously-affected and alienated teenagers. This is a difficult challenge for pastors, youth workers, and counselors.
There seem to be more intensity and loneliness present in many adolescents now than in previous years. One of the common complaints heard from teens in the counselor's office or pastor's study is that no one cares and no one listens to them. There may be a deeper degree of skepticism than before among adolescents.
Adolescence has also become longer in duration. According to Chapman R. Clark, writing in Marriage and Family: a Christian Journal, the timing of adolescence began to change around 1960. By 1970, adolescence was "recognized as a unique five-year phase of the life span." Today, puberty is beginning earlier and earlier—often by age 11.
Combined with an earlier onset is a longer period before some assume their role as adults in society. Some psychologists are bold enough to say that we know when adolescence begins but are not sure when it concludes. Lengthening from a 5-year period, adolescence today is seen as roughly a 15-year period, and sometimes even longer. One measure of determining when adolescence has concluded is when the young person has achieved economic independence.
Adolescence is a transition time. According to Clark, it is like walking a tightrope from childhood to adulthood. He observes: "While there may be several people offering to assist an adolescent on the journey, no one else can be on the tightrope with him or her, because the process itself is by definition a journey young persons must navigate by themselves."
For some time it has been acknowledged that perhaps the major task of adolescence is to achieve independence and establish an individual identity. However, that theory may not go quite far enough. Independence and identity are important, but learning to operate as an interdependent person and having the right identity are essential.
There is reason to believe that teens as a whole today are lonely and distrustful. They usually work to create their own subculture and often feel that most or even all of the adults in their lives have not been looking out for them.
When young persons travel through this rite of passage, they need adult companionship. They need accountability and boundaries. They need parents and other adults who genuinely love them and care for them. But the most helpful relationship of all for a teen to establish is one with Christ. Insecurity is often one of the big issues for adolescents. Through a growing relationship with Christ, they can actually have the security they long for. That security and sense of belonging is the best foundation for navigating the turbulent journey of adolescence. With that genuine relationship with Christ, a young person can see things differently. And people such as parents, relatives, youth workers, pastors, etc., can be effective tools in God's hands.
Adolescents need Christ and they need to see Christ in adults. They are often skeptical, lonely, and insecure. In perhaps most cases, they perceive they have been hurt by an adult. They are not adults yet, but neither are they children. They need the presence of adult Christians who are loving and real in their lives.
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