Keith Hunt - Child-rearing and Personality Development - Page Fourteen   Restitution of All Things

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Child-rearing and Personality development

Mid- and Late Adolesence


by Paul D. Meier, M.D.

Mid- and Late Adolescence

     Most of the problems discussed in the chapter on early
adolescence also apply to mid-and late adolescence, and vice
versa, especially since there is so much variability from
individual to individual in the age of onset of adolescence and
the rate of maturation.

A.   Developmental adaptations of mid-and late adolescence.

     Before he enters adolescence, a child's allegiance is to his
parents. He wants very much for his parents to love him, so he  
does a fairly good job of staying in line with their wishes. But 
in adolescence, especially in mid-and late adolescence, his alle-
giance is switched from his parents to his peers. To some ext-
ent, his peers' morals become his own. However, if the parents
have brought him up right so far, he will almost always choose
peers who believe the things he does. Whom he chooses for his
associates is very important, because in craving popularity and
social acceptance, he conforms to his peer-group ideologies,
loyalties, and standards. This is often difficult for parents,
because parents have little or no control over the friends their
children choose to associate with away from the house. All
parents can do is dictate who is allowed in the home, and tell
their teenagers whom they shouldn't associate with, hoping they
will obey. That's just one more reason why its important to keep
the lines of communication open - so that when you give your
teenager guidance he will respect your opinion. The interpersonal
relationships he develops during adolescence are more important,
in my opinion, than what he learns scholastically. B. E. Segal,
after reviewing the literature on adolescent socialization, made
the comment that "every major social psychiatry study in the past
decade has called attention to the probability that an absence of
satisfying interpersonal relationships is a cause, and not just a
result, of emotional disturbance."

     Mid-and late adolescence is also a time when girls
increasingly give up their tomboy habits to accept a more
feminine role. I don't know as yet how much the Women's
Liberation Movement will change this. The girl's menstrual cycle
also becomes more and more regular, with estrogen predominating
the first two weeks of the cycle, influencing her to want to
share her love with others. During the next two weeks, when
progesterone predominates, she is less secure and needs to know
that others love her. Then come the two days before menses starts
again. At this time she will probably be more irritable, moody,
and hard to get along with? But it's best not to pamper her too
much, even during those two days. If she learns to endure them in
adolescence, it'll be much easier for her the rest of her life.

(This "two day" before menses is NOT TRUE in MANY females. While
the monthly period CAN effect SOME females, there are MANY that
are not effected at all, and are pretty emotionally "normal"
shall we say, all the month, and every month - Keith Hunt)

     In males, androgens reach their peak level at about age
seventeen or eighteen, so that's when the sex drive is greatest.
In women, the sex drive is greatest at about the age of thirty.
According to the Kinsey reports, about 90 percent of males and
about 50 percent of females have experimented with sexual
intercourse by age twenty-one. The social acceptability of it in
American society today makes it even harder for Christian young
people to save themselves for marriage, as God commanded them to.
     Children should know the facts of life by the time they are
ten years old, but continued discussions front time to time, with
the parent of the same sex, will help the Christian teenager
maintain his determination to live up to God's sexual standards.
And that will be best for him and his future marriage, also. But
don't force these discussions on your teenager - wait for him to
bring up the subject. If the teenager never brings it up, look
for opportunities to get into a discussion on this important
aspect of life.

     There are three major ways in which parents view their
teenage son or daughter. Some parents use projection, meaning
that they project their own sinful impulses onto their teenager,
suspecting him of doing things he's not guilty of. Other parents
use identification, meaning that they automatically assume that
their teenager is an extension of themselves in his way of
thinking. This is also unrealistic. The third (and the healthy)
way is for parents to empathize with their teenager, accepting
him as a separate individual, and trying to understand him and
his struggles. So in discussing sexual matters with your
teenager, be sure you are not projecting unwarranted suspicion,
or assuming that he thinks exactly the same way as you do.
     I'll share with you a few of my views on dating for
teenagers, but I think you should set up your own rules according
to whatever you feel is right, whether you agree with me or not.
     In Proverbs 30, Agur (some theologians think Agur was the
childhood name of Solomon) was inspired by God to describe four
activities of nature that are extremely beautiful. Agur calls
them "too wonderful for me." One of them is "the way of a man
with a maid" (Prov.30:19). Today, nearly three thousand years
later, the same holds true. The majority of songs, books, and
movies are about the love relationships between a male and a
female. Dating is an important time in anyone's life. A person
should date as many members of the opposite sex as possible in
order to evaluate what type of mate would suit him best. But
Christians should keep in mind Paul's instructions: "Be ye not
unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor.6:14). A
teenage boy doesn't have to date a girl of loose morals in order
to decide whether or not he would want to marry one. A good rule
is to limit dating to those who might be considered as a
potential mate. I don't think Christian teenagers should be
allowed to date until they have reviewed the Scriptures and
written out a personal list of dating rules that are in agreement
with Scripture. They should then determine in their hearts that
they will never violate these rules for any reason, even if it
means losing some dates. Teenagers frequently fail to realize
that every individual they date will some day be someone else's
mate - or maybe even their own. What a teenager does or doesn't
do during his dating years can significantly influence his future
husband-wife relationships.

     Parents frequently ask me at what age I think a teenager is
old enough to date. I'll tell you what I tell them. It all
depends upon his emotional and spiritual maturity. If your
teenager is of average or above average maturity for his age, a
fairly good rule of thumb is that he will probably be ready for  
group dating at age thirteen or fourteen, double dating at age
fifteen, and single dating at age sixteen. By group dating, I
mean activities like a young people's party at church, where some
of the boys and girls may pair off after they arrive to sit
together or participate in game together. In early adolescence,
boys and girls are primarily trying to figure out what the
opposite sex is all about, but as they mature in late
adolescence, genuine love for someone of the opposite sex becomes
possible in mature individuals.

     In the sexual area, and in other areas as well, mid-and late
adolescence is also a time for a process known as delimitation-
setting limits.In early adolescence the limits individuals set
for themselves are vague and sometimes bendable. But toward the
end of adolescence, the individual is searching for
self-identity, and this includes his moral identity, so he begins
to fix or mark his limits. If he sticks to these limits, he will
like himself. If he doesn't, he will experience guilt and a
lowering of his self-esteem.

     Late adolescence is a time when many individuals are ready
emotionally to make meaningful commitments to Jesus Christ, and
to call upon God's help to free them from the bondage of sin so
that they can stay within those limits they have set for
themselves. Late adolescence is also a time when young men begin
thinking very seriously about what career they want to go into,
and what they hope to accomplish in their lifetime. Girls think
more about what type of man they want to spend the rest of their
life with, and how they can develop their own God-given talents.
     Many late adolescents become quite critical of their
parents. This is because their self goals, which are frequently
idealistic and unattainable, are projected onto and expected of
others - such as their parrents. The teenager therefore becomes
critical of his parents because they are not living up to the
expectations he hopes to attain some day. The older, and wiser he
gets, lire more accepting he will become of his Parents.

     Many other aspects of his outlook on life also mature in
late adolescence. He becomes less introspective and more
goal-oriented. At least, this was true in the past. William
Glasser, the author of the book "Reality Therapy," talked about
this at a seminar I attended in California. He said the youth
today are much less goal-oriented than the youth of a generation
ago. The youth of today are generally more pleasure - and
experience - oriented, living each day for the fun of that day. I
have also found this to be true in my own experience with
teenagers. When I ask most young people - especially
non-Christian young people - what they are living for, they
either have a blank look, as though they had never thought about
that before, or else they say, "Myself, of course!" 
     But there's a real difference in the healthy evangelical
community. Those young people generally have godly ideals, and
are willing to sacrifice themselves in many cases for the
furtherance of the gospel. Another difference between evangelical
and non-evangelical youth is that evangelical Christian young
people are more likely to see themselves as pilgrims for a short
time on a small piece of earth that will some day be destroyed by
God, when He creates a new heaven and a new earth. The
non-evangelical youth in his late teens is likely to have a
smaller view of the world, thinking for all practical purposes
that his own lifespan must be half of history, and that the
United States is at least half of the world.

B.   Special problems of mid- and late adolescence.

     This is a very difficult topic to summarize. Adolescents
today face many special problems that didn't exist to any
significant extent just one generation ago--like drugs and the
occult. I already talked about how to produce a drug addict and
how to treat one in Chapter Five, so I'll refer you back to that
chapter for a discussion of the drug problem. I have studied
demon-possession extensively and have hundreds of pages of notes
on the subject. I have also discussed it with many missionaries
who have cast out demons, usually through quiet prayer. I believe
in demon possession, but have never seen an indisputable case of
it. I have had several psychotic or severely hysterical patients
who claimed to be demon-possessed, but with brief psychotherapy
anti/or tranquilizers their "demons" rapidly disappeared. Given
the occult trends today I probably will see a few genuine cases
of it in the future.

     I have also read some interesting research on student
activism, but that was more of a problem in the late '60s.
Today's adolescents are characterized much more by student apathy
than by student activism. They have a void in their lives, and
are trying to fill the void with hallucinogenic drugs and other
wild experiences? Unfortunately, many Christian teenagers are
also bored and apathetic, and are more concerned with
narcissistic emotional experences than with spreading the gospel
of Jesus Christs. But in the midst of all this apathy, large
evangelical groups like the Navigators, Fellowship of Christian
Athletics, Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity, and Young Life are
filling the void for today's youth, winning many of them to a
personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

     Teenage pregnancies remain a problem for today's youth, but
they have the additional problem of ready access to the local
abortion clinic. Abortions are granted to almost any pregnant
teenager who thinks having the baby would cause her to have
emotional problems, but studies have shown that the girls who
have abortions end up with the same number of emotional problems
as those who go ahead and have the babies. And venereal disease
is epidemic among today's youth. I had one teenage patient not
too long ago who received treatment for venereal disease one week
and became reinfected again a week or two later.

     Running away is also a common teenage problem. Psychiatrists
can tell a good deal about the teenager and his or her family on
the basis of running-away patterns. The spoiled, overly dependent
teenager (usually a girl) will run away in order to punish her
mother for not letting her have her own way. But these dependent
runaways will always see to it that they are caught, usually
within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. They can't bear to be
away from their mothers for any longer than that. The mother of
one of my hysterical teenage patients called me at my office one
day. She was very worried and concerned because her daughter had
run away that morning. I knew the daughter quite well, so I asked
the mother what time her daughter had run away. When she told me,
I glanced at my watch and told the mother not to worry about the
daughter because she would probably be returning home any minute.
Just as I was saying that I heard some crying over the phone, and
sure enough, her dependent daughter had returned.

     Teenagers that run away and stay away are really much
healthier than the ones who run away for only a day or two. On
some occasions I think a teenager might mature more by running
away than by staying in his mentally unstable home. I know one
man, for instance, who ran away from a very poor home situation
at the age of fourteen. He got a job, worked his way through high
school, college, and medical school, and became an outstanding
pediatrician. If your daughter does run away in order to make you
feel guilty for mistreating her, be sure you don't reward her
when she returns. If its a repeated problem, I would recommend
family counseling to figure out what the family's psychodynamics
are. Dr. Helm Stierlin states that between six hundred thousand
and one million teenagers run away from home each year here in
America. More than half of them are girls, mostly from the white
suburbs. Stierlin notes that:

     the more a binding [smothering] parent gratifies, indulges,
     and spoils his child, the more conflicted, insatiable, and
     monster-like the child becomes. This interpersonal
     scenario-quick disillusionment with peers, heightened
     conflicts with parents - explains why a good many of these
     adolescents run away, yet return home quickly as abortive

     He says the task of the therapist is to encourage the parent
and child to become more independent of each other, and comments
that "an offspring's successful running away can signal progress
rather than a setback, as it reflects this adolescents (and his
parents) increasing ability to live apart from, and independently
of each other."

C.   When to let go of the leash.

     Many Christian parents don't know when to let go of the
leash. When a baby robin reaches a certain stage, its mother
pushes it out of the nest, and the young robin learns how to fly
on its way down toward the ground. Without adversity and
independence, no teenager will grow up and learn how to fly. I am
continually amazed at how many of my neurotic and inadequate
patients are still living with their parents at age twenty,
thirty, or even older. This is especially true of young adults
who eventually become schizophrenic. It is also true of
alcoholics, many of whom marry several mother-types before
divorcing for the last time and moving back to mother to finish
their short lives.
     I sometimes recommend that teenagers who have graduated
front high school go several [numbed miles away - out of the nest
to develop their God given talents (preferably but not neces-
sarily at a Christian colllege), and learn the hard lessons of
life by making the necessary mistakes - and then correcting them.
     If the parents reared the child by God's standards during
those crucial first six years of life, when about 85 percent of
his personality was formed, he'll do just fine.

(I disagreed with Meier when he first mentioned this 85 percent
of personality forming by age 6, and I still do. Personality
development can be formed all through childhood into adulthood.
Many factors can be a part of personality development as we
mature into adults. My personality as a child and up to the 
teenage years was WAY different in a number of respects, than
when going through my teenage years. I had people and "scocial
clubs" I belonged to that had a great deal of good positive
influences on me, that changed my personality. Of course I'm
thankful that the Lord placed those people and "social clubs"
into my life as I matured through my teenage years. So NEVER
think it's all over by age six - it just ain't true - Keith Hunt)

     And if the parents haven't reared their child by God's
principles, most attempts to teach an eighteen-year-old something
he should have learned when he was three years old will be
utterly futile. Let him move out to learn from life's hard
knocks, and pray that God will mature him. The greatest freedom
the late adolescent can have is the freedom to fail. This is the
freedom to make a mistake and to go on from there, having learned
a valuable lesson by the experience. Don't kick him when he is
down. He'll probably kick himself enough when no one is looking.
If he can learn to lose his fear of failure, he has learned a big
lesson. God's Word tells us, "There is no fear in love; but
perfect love casteth nut fear" (I John 4:18).


To be followed with the last chapter "A Final Challenge."

Entered on this Website February 2008

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