Nine to Fifteen-Year-Olds

Teaching Self-control

Around the age of nine to ten (on average), our children begin a dramatic series of changes that take them from childhood to adulthood. The precise ages that these changes begin to vary from child to child. The order of the changes also varies by the sex of the child and with each individual child. I will present the typical order of changes, but your child may not change in this order.

The reproductive organs begin to mature beginning at the age of nine on average. Since the changes are internal, most girls do not notice the initial changes. The first indication that something is happening is a rapid growth spurt. All girls grow at an average rate of 1 inch per year, but during adolescent, this growth accelerates to 2 inches or more per year. Around the age of 11, pubic hair begins to grow around the genitals and under the arms. Most girls experience their first menstrual period around the age of 13. The start of the monthly period indicates that the reproductive system is functioning, although the girl's body continues to develop. The breasts begin to form around the age of 11 and come to full shape by the age of 16. These ages are averages. Some girls start earlier and others much later. The vast majority of girls reach puberty between the ages of 8 and 15. If a girl begins to develop before the age of 8 or after the age of 15, it is generally wise to have her checked out by a physician. Early and late development can be an indication of a disease, such as cancer. Generally a daughter will begin to develop at the same age as her mother entered puberty.

Since girls have their growth spurts earlier than boys, it makes them appear to mature sooner than boys, but boys too begin to develop around the age of nine. Though some of their reproductive organs are external, the early changes are so subtle and gradual that most boys do not begin to notice the changes until two years later when pubic hair begins to grow or they experience their first full erection. This is what leads to the common belief that boys develop two years after girls. The order of change in a boy is different from those of a girl. Pubic hair begins to grow around the age of 12. The male growth spurt begins on average around the age of 14. Facial hair begins to grow around the age of 16. Muscular development and the broadening of the shoulders are noticeable around the age of 17. Chest hair begins to grow around the age of 18. Complete maturation does not end until near age 21 and even then mental changes continue up until the age of 25. A boy can begin puberty as early as age nine or as late as age 16. Earlier or later development is not unheard of, but if your son begins before nine or after 16, it is best to have him examined by a physician to make sure there is no disease involved.

These physical changes are triggered by hormones released by the reproductive organs. Girls release large quantities of estrogens and boys release large quantities of androgens. These sudden increases in hormone levels have other side effects than just physical development. Adolescent children experience large mood swings. A happy child becomes very happy; an angered child becomes very angry, and a depressed child will drown in sorrow. During the rapid growth phase, your well-coordinated child will suddenly become very clumsy. Growth starts from the outer extremities (hands and feet) and works it's way inwards. The clumsiness is due to the fact that the limbs are now longer than before. Imagine how you would walk if you put on a pair of shoes two sizes too big. In a very real sense, your adolescent child must learn how to walk all over again. Boys also experience difficulties due to their sudden muscular development. Something that once took all their effort to hold onto is now easily shattered in their hands. All this growing uses up a lot of energy. Your child's appetite increases dramatically during adolescence, especially with boys. The average adult male consumes about 3000 calories a day. The average adult female consumes about 2400 calories a day. However, the average adolescent boy will consume about 5000 calories a day without gaining fat. The rapid use of energy during growth also contributes to your children's sleepiness. Where before they would get up at the crack of dawn, you will find it hard to drag your adolescent child out of bed before noon.

As your child approaches puberty, you will notice a sudden shyness about their bodies. A four or five-year-old child thinks nothing of running around the house buck naked after a bath. However, as puberty approaches, children suddenly don't want anyone to see them without clothing. A part of this is due to an awakening of sexual desires. The child, at first, has no idea what these desires are; after all, they have never experienced them before. However, these desires contribute to a growing awareness of people of the opposite sex. No longer do girls and boys find each other to be "the enemy."

The sexual development of our child brings a new set of dangers that parents must deal with. Parents are often caught unawares by puberty. As your child progresses through the earlier stages, you and the child fall into a comfortable routine. But puberty requires training in a new area. Suddenly your child has new abilities and desires that he has not developed control over. You must keep in mind the wise words that a person with no self-control is defenseless (Proverbs 25:28). The mood swings due to the hormones mean a child must put in extra effort to control his own temperament. A child cannot blame losing his cool on his hormones. They may arise from them, but it just means he must learn to exercise greater control over his emotions. Due to extremes in depression, many teenagers harbor thoughts of suicide. The parent must be watchful because a child is defenseless at first.

Just as you had to be extremely watchful over a child who is just learning to crawl and to walk, you must be watchful over your children in adolescence. No, there isn't much of a danger of their sticking a finger in a wall outlet, but there is a danger of their experimenting with their sexual desires. Too many parents become used to their child's independence and are too laid back in their approach to adolescents. Just because a child gains the capability to have sex doesn't imply he has gained control over his desires with the ability. It is not an accident that Solomon describes the man, lured by the prostitute, as young (Proverbs 7:6-10,21-23). Given the loose moral standards of our current society, parents need to be even more watchful. The CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, dated March 24, 1995, reports that 68% of all high school seniors claim to be engaging in sexual intercourse. The 1993 Janus Report on Sexual Behavior states that 19% of all men reported having had sexual intercourse before the age of 14! The percentage rises to 74% of all men reported having had sexual intercourse before the age of 18! Until a child develops control over his own body, the parents must be his conscience.

Adolescent children face heavy peer pressure. Few people, teenagers especially, want to be different from those around them. Solomon warned his son not to be enticed to follow the crowd (Proverbs 1:10-19). It is during the adolescent years that drug use, wild clothing, and unusual haircuts begin to appear. The child is trying to define himself as different from his parents but the same as the crowd with whom he is associating. Paul warns Christians to be careful of our associations (Ephesians 5:11-12; I Corinthians 15:33). Good friends can encourage a person to be better, but wicked friends can much more easily persuade a person to do wrong.

In September 2004, Pediatrics published a study linking viewing television programs containing sexual content with teenage sexual activity. Those watching programs that either displayed sexual activity or merely discussed sexual activity were encouraged to engage in sexual activity. The study found that the ten percent who watched the most television with sexual content were twice as likely to engage in sexual intercourse in one year than the ten percent watching the least television with sexual content. As Paul warned, "Evil company corrupts good habits" (I Corinthians 15:33).

Obviously, parents have a full workload laid out for them when it comes to raising teenagers. The most important lesson to teach is self-control. Among Peter's list of characteristics that every Christian is to develop is self-control (II Peter 1:5-7). It is a problem that every Christian must face. Even the apostle Paul spoke of the struggle he had to maintain control over his own body (I Corinthians 9:24-27). We need to teach our children how to control their anger (James 1:19-21). We need to instruct our children how to keep a reign over our tongue (James 3:2). Children need to develop the ability to not rile against a false accusation (Matthew 27:11-14). While Saul is not the greatest example in the Bible, he could endure taunts (I Samuel 10:27).

Parents should also teach their children self-control in their spending habits. A child who gets anything he wants will find himself in financial difficulties when he reaches adulthood. Every person has a limited income and each person must exercise restraint to live within that income. A clever way to teach your child money management is to put them in charge of a portion of the household's budget. Pick an area that your child has a strong interest, such as the family's entertainment. Give the child a fixed amount of funds and then ask them to spend it wisely to benefit the family as a whole. For example, suppose you figure that you spend $50 per month on entertainment (movies, rentals, dining, etc.). You give your child $50 at the beginning of each month and tell them this is all they have to entertain the family. They can spend it as they see fit, but it needs to make the family happy or he will be "fired" from his position. Hence, your child learns that money is limited, that things have a cost, that current wants must be balanced with future needs, and that he must think about other people and not his own desires.

Even more obviously, if we are to teach self-control to our children, then we must have control over ourselves. Self-control is learned from God. God teaches us to live properly in this world (Titus 2:11-12). It is a by-product produced when we strive to live the Christian life (Galatians 5:22-23). David refrained from striking Saul, who was seeking to end his life, because of his strong desire to do God's will (I Samuel 24).

Our teenagers need to learn how to avoid temptation (I Thessalonians 5:22). Satan will always put us into tempting situations, but teenagers need to learn how to recognize those situations. For example, you should have a house rule that they should not have guests of the opposite sex over at your house when the parents are not around. Similarly, teenagers should not visit a friend of the opposite sex if the friend's parents are not at home. If your teenager asks, "Don't you trust me?" The answer is quite simple, "No. You don't have the experience to resist Satan on your own." Did you know that 60% of all teenage sexual activity happens at home?

Your children also need instruction on the influence of their friends. If you asked, most kids think that they are completely independent. However, their idea of independence is separation from their parents. They remain very dependent on their peers. Teenagers need to see this situation clearly, so they can realize where the pressures for immoral behavior are coming from.

Being a faithful Christian is not just the ability to avoid sinful behavior. A Christian must fill his life with so much righteousness that there is no room for sinful activity (Romans 13:14). Keep your teenagers busy doing righteous things. Idleness gives Satan an opportunity to try to get his hooks into your child's soul.

By the time a child has reached adolescence, they usually realize they need to be obedient to the Lord. They have become aware of their own inadequacies in facing temptation. They see the need for help that can only come from the Lord. Paul said he could do all things through Christ, who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). But help only comes when we join our lives with God's life. There is a mighty battle taking place between God and Satan. It is so big that there are no sidelines where we can watch as independent observers. The war is taking place all around us. If we fight independently, the enemy is so great that we will soon be overwhelmed. Yet we can join God's side and have his aid, but we must first make the choice. Will you be on the Lord's side?

Mary Had a Little Boy

Mary had a little boy, his soul was white as snow;
He never went to Sunday School, 'cause Mary wouldn't go.
He never heard the truth of Christ that thrilled the childish mind;
While other children went to class, this child was left behind.And as he grew from babe to youth, she saw to her dismay,
A soul that once was snowy white became a dingy gray.
Realizing he was lost she tried to win him back,
But now the soul that once was white had turned an ugly black.

She even started back to church and Bible study too.
She begged the preacher, "Isn't there a thing that you can do?"
The preacher tried -- failed and said, "We're just too far behind.
I tried to tell you years ago, but you would pay no mind."

And so another soul is lost, that once was white as snow.
Sunday School could have helped, but Mary wouldn't go.

Author Unknown


Additional Material

Detailed studies about growth and sexual responsibility are available on companion websites. See Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Boys and Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Girls.

Age Appropriate Tasks

Below are some suggested tasks that would be appropriate to begin introducing your child to doing. Every child will not be able all these tasks at this age. Some judgment is required on your part as to when your child is mature enough to handle these particular chores.

  • Arrange for own haircuts
  • Purchase toiletries
  • Wash and dry clothing
  • Clean out lint traps and filters
  • Shop for clothing
  • Remove basic spots from clothing
  • Iron clothing
  • Sew on a button and do simple mending to clothing
  • Mow the lawn
  • Load the dishwasher and run it
  • Vacuum upholstery and draperies
  • Wash car
  • Change bed linens
  • Replace a light bulb
  • Clean out the fireplace
  • Polish silverware
  • Reset breakers or replace a fuse
  • Oil door hinges
  • Change vacuum cleaner bags
  • Trim trees and shrubs
  • Polish furniture
  • Wash windows
  • Make phone calls
  • Scrub walls
  • Wax and polish floors
  • Clean bathroom tile
  • Purchase items at a store
  • Do simple baking (cake, pancakes, deserts)
  • Make a salad
  • Plan a balanced meal
  • Make hot beverages
  • Make a simple budget
  • Wash and polish car
  • Hang pictures on a wall
  • Repair small damages to a wall

Your Questions

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