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By Pastor John M. Opperman

Ages 12 - 14

Adolescence is a word that was not found in the dictionary a generation ago. It has remained to modern psychology to discover youth and set apart as a life that has neither the characteristics of childhood nor the maturity of adulthood. Rousseau says, “We are twice born, once into existence and the second time into life; the first time a member of the race and the second time a member of the saved.” To this we would add the great spiritual birth – the birth of the believer into the kingdom of God.

“There is no characteristics of adolescence,” says Tracy, “whose germ may be found in childhood and whose consequences may not be traced in maturity and old age.”


Children mark their approach to the adolescent life by accelerated growth. The girl in addition gives evidence of her maidenhood by the new interest that she takes in her personal appearance. The boy, on the other hand, is no longer the credulous, boisterous child, for, for he manifests his entrance into youth by an attitude that is more quiet and reserved and less confidential.

Early adolescence may be compared to the early years of childhood when enlargement and growth are the order of things. Later adolescence however, in addition to assuming the burden of physical enlargement must likewise bear the storm and stress that accompany the birth and development of the sexual functions. With the awakening of new powers within the adolescent and the steering of adult aspiration, there is a turbulent mixture of tendencies and counter-tendencies. It is not strange that boys and girls of this age are misunderstood. Still less can we expect them to understand themselves. Until we realize that complexities and self-contradictory traits are natural order of early youth, we are not prepared to deal intelligently and charitably with its eccentricities. It is well, then, to be informed as to the singularities that mark early adolescence.


The development of the sexual instincts influences their ideals. They are no longer an imitator, nor even a hero worshiper. They are full of ambitions and make elaborate plans for the future. They will throw themselves into some new interest with the utmost ardor, but in a few weeks it will be forgotten. Their ideals are fleeting and their decisions temporary. Lack of mature experience causes them to attempt the impractical if not the impossible, and arouses them from their daydreams to the stern realities of adolescent life.

Change of disposition, rapid and uneven development of their bodies are responsible for the frequent changes of mood that characterize early youth. Their days are marked by irregularities and extremes. At one time they manifest activity, at another apathy, one day they are hilarious and the next day despondent. Apathy rules one day, the next very activity. It is the age of intense craving. Tracy says, “The appetite seeks what is stimulating to the taste, the muscles cry out for strenuous exertion, and the mind for a story with an exciting plot. Hence, intemperance is apt to show itself and, unless checked, fix itself as a life habit.”

To understand these irregularities and weaknesses of adolescence is of the highest importance for parent and teacher. Once recognizing and realizing the scope of these contradictory impulses, the actions of a single day should never discourage or satisfy any instructor of youth. Judgment must be reserved for a longer acquaintance and no character considered established until this transitional period is complete. They are inattentive in Sunday school today and will surprise you by their interest next Sunday and you will have reason to reverse your opinion of them.

Youth cannot be driven, but they may be tactfully directed in health and in habits of deep breathing, bathing, eating, sleeping, and abundant exercise. Since youth is never calm, it behooves their leaders to continually present a placid and patient disposition, mingled with a spirit of charity and humor. There is nothing like an atmosphere of regularity and calm, even environment to modulate this excitable and eccentric nature, strengthen it against temptation, and store up reserve powers for the days to come.


Adolescence is by far the most critical period in the entire life of the individual. Coming into prominence in early youth is a direct consciousness of one’s ability to solve problems and a growing insistence on submitting all things to the test of ones reason. In childhood things were accepted on faith, but now faith is yielding to reason and all authority will be QUESTIONED and CRITICIZED.

Adolescent education should include a wide variety of subjects.
It is characteristic of youth that new interests emerge with great suddenness, and devotion to any one study is often short lived. This ought not to be disconcerting to parent or teacher when reminded that this is the time for testing and sampling a great variety of subjects. The wider the mental horizon is extended in youth the more life will have to offer in later years. Youth is to be prepared for living as well as for working, and the multiplications of their interests in the teens will enrich and ennoble their life in the twenties and thirties. The more pursuits in which we can interest youth in the early teens the less attention will they give to the frivolities of the later teens. This will acquaint them with many opportunities and give them a greater choice.

Intellectual capacities that are not started or stimulated in early adolescence may be lost.
The child’s acquisition of knowledge when arrested or terminated in adolescence tends to atrophy, (waste away). The ability to read or to study may, from neglect in adolescence, be lost entirely. Adult life possesses only the improvement of such capacities as have been cultivated in the early years. This principle has the very widest application both in the world of mind and the world of morals. All the foundations, then, for the large range of possible achievements and enjoyments of later life must be laid or strengthened during these important years. For this reason our educational work must be extensive, that every possible channel of mental activity may be explored.


The gang, in which the child in his last years finds the outlet for his social instincts, reaches the peak of its prominence in the thirteenth year and then declines. This does not indicate that the youth is becoming less social, but rather that his social life is being shaped by new instances and interests. He begins adolescence with the same sex-repulsion of childhood and it grows stronger at first, and then begins to change:

A. For the first two years of adolescence the sex-repulsion that characterized later childhood prevails and if anything, is even more pronounced at first, then it begins to change.
B. In the middle years of adolescence the sex-repulsion gives way to sex-attraction. The boy begins to groom himself to look better and the girl’s tomboyish manner begins to fade.

An unfortunate situation exists when adolescent loyalty to home, school and gang interferes with the development of loyalty to the Sunday school class. The reason that the church is in so many instances the weakest and not the strongest social contact is because it has so largely ignored the interest of its young people. Churches that do not provide for the social development of their youth in an Intermediate department need not expect them to take seriously the formal religious instructions it provides.

A boy of fourteen cannot be placed in the same department or class with children, and he is likely to chafe at any underestimation of his years and powers. A year’s difference, which means so little to the adult, is greatly magnified in the early teens. The reason that 65% of our girls and 75% of our boys drop out of Sunday school during early adolescence is undoubtedly due, not only to careless classification, but to inadequate provision for their social contacts.

As long as the church refuses to take the leadership in providing for the social life of its young people, so long may we expect the less desirable contacts with school and gang to shape and sear these impressionable lives.


While the last days of childhood present the most promising and practical period for evangelistic effort, the largest number of conversions is to be found among adolescents. Conversion literally means a transformation, and in this particular period when change is the program of life, A SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION IS JUST AS MUCH TO BE EXPECTED AS A PHYSICAL OR SEXUAL CHANGE.

The younger the child, the easier the conversion, and the older the child the more sin has taken hold and the more manifested the conversion. Both are equally genuine. ADOLESCENCE IS THE HARVEST TIME OF ALL THAT HAS GONE BEFORE. Conversion, whether in childhood or adolescence, is invariably supernatural phenomena, but the reaction of the youth is different from that of the child. The work of the Holy Spirit in childhood is more likely to be manifested by a religious awakening, while in later life regeneration will be evidenced by violent and critical change.

This does not infer that a conversion requiring a more or less violent wrenching away from sin possesses a more inherent spiritual value, but rather that the reaction of the older convert is characterized by a more marked resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit. The faulty preparation for life only becomes dramatically evident when conversion takes place.
A. Conversion of early youth involves the personality.
The religion of the child and the adolescent has much in common, but while the former may be regarded as natural, the latter is more distinctly personal. Prayers are no longer ‘said’ daily or church services attended because it is the custom. These things are now continued or discontinued because of the personal consciousness of individuality. Youth seek a MOTIVE for their actions. No longer can they receive their religion second-hand.
In childhood days there was little experience in moral self-direction. The child secured permission of parent or of teacher to do what was not covered by some former consent. To disobey their elders was to do what was wrong. To obey them was to do what was right. But this moral dependency is outgrown after the first twelve years. Adolescence feels free to express their own opinions. They assume the responsibility for their own behavior. Authority of the elders must now give way to the freedom of individual choice.
B. Conversions reach their peak in early youth.
Spiritual decisions may be more difficult in adolescence than in childhood, but the possibilities of conversion are far greater now than they ever will be again. This is especially true during the two most susceptible times, one at the beginning and the other at the close of this period. In fact, statistics state that seven times as many are converted at the age of sixteen as ten years later
Dr. George W. Bailey, who has shown a great passion as any for the winning of childhood to Christ, has said, “Less time and effort are necessary for the winning of twenty children to Christ than one adult, and a Christian child is worth more in the extension of the kingdom than many adults.”
The tragedy of the church is that it has permitted its young people to drift away at the very time when God speaks most directly and persuasively to life. These drifters become the religious derelicts in every community, and only a small percent of them are ever brought back to the life of the church through revival.
C. Conversion in early youth forestalls incorrigibility.
Early adolescence is the time not only for the making of converts, but also for the making of criminals. More than 2/3 of all delinquent boys brought into court are from twelve to fifteen years old. On the other hand, the first crime is seldom, if ever, committed after sixteen. A life of crime, then, must date its beginnings from the early teens. Most significant is the almost complete absence of Sunday school pupils from the ranks of adolescent delinquents. Supreme Court Justice Fawcett, of Brooklyn, declared that of the four thousand boys brought before him in twenty-one years not more than three were members of the Sunday school when their crime was committed.
County Prosecutor O’Brien, of the city of Omaha, declared that of the eight thousand cases committed to him, less than 3% had the benefit of any religious training in the home, school, or church. It would seem, then, that religious education might in itself wholly determine whether the adolescence is to be a Christian citizen or an incorrigible criminal, and that the Sunday school might serve a great patriotic as well as religious end. When religious tendencies are implanted in childhood, the conversion of youth will assure recognition of and regard for the supernatural. Regeneration recognizes God in the universe and in the control of our lives. Conversion, then, makes religion the great controlling motive of the adolescent and prepares him to pass safely from parental authority to divine government.


Enough evidence has been compiled in the preceding pages to fully convince parents and teachers that training of the early teens is most important. The home and the church alike stand condemned when youth plays the part of the prodigal and wanders into the far country. The definite, patient, and intelligent care of parents and teachers should rob the “far country” of all its attractions and make the home and the church places of delight. To further this end there should be provided:
A. Organized Departments
The early teen group should have a separate organization with a department and equipment worthy of its importance. Such an organization will not only recognize the distinctiveness the Intermediate feels as a student in the junior high school, but will provide a program of worship fitting to their years.
B. Organized Class
Next in importance to the organization of the department is that of the class. This provides for the natural social tendency to form in gangs or groups of which, as we have already learned, it is important that the church should assume the leadership. Class organization in the junior department is optional, but in the Intermediate department it is imperative.
C. Graded Lessons
In no other period of life is it necessary to select the curriculum with as much care. The graded lessons, which provide for biographical study, are well adapted to this age. The pupil who enters into fellowship with the great personalities of the Bible will be fashioned and molded by their dynamic influence. When presented with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, these biographies will captivate the mind and mold the character of this age group.
However, as this is one of the most fruitful ages for conversion, we must not overlook lessons with an appeal to salvation. Conversion, a changed life, should be the central theme even in the biography of Bible characters. So at least one quarter of the lessons should be devoted to lessons of “What it means to be a Christian.” As youth has now reached that critical stage when they require a reason for everything they learn, the study of one quarter should be devoted to Christian evidences. Lessons that set forth proofs of prophecy, persecution, preservation, power, unity and circulation will establish their faith in the Bible, and largely counteract the opposing forces of evolution and the anti-god movements which they will hear in high school and in the future college. Once led the adolescent will see for themselves that the Bible is far better established scientifically as a fact than the unproved hypothesis of evolution, and they will have a respect and regard for its contents.
D. Trained Leadership
The teaching of pupils in the early teens is a great task for any person. Professor Brown says, “It belongs under the heading of ‘big business’ and will tax anyone’s resources. They have a life of their own different from that of any other age group, and he who trains them in religion must know the rules of their life and must play the game accordingly.” This does not mean the teacher becomes an adolescent. Nor does it make the adolescent an adult. It simply means a mutual understanding of each other. Success in dealing with these young lives will depend largely upon adherence to the following laws of adolescence:
1. Keep open the channels of communication
Youth will make a confidant of someone, and happy is the parent or teacher who has always been approachable and appreciative of youth’s confidences. The home should redouble its affectionate manifestations. As the suppression of questions in childhood may destroy a personality, so the discouragement or betrayal of confidences may destroy a soul. Hours of confidential conversation with the representatives of this age will pay years of dividends in later life.
2. Multiply the interests
Narrowness of interests is the great obstacle to intellectual development and the preservation of moral integrity. No real progress can be made until the mental horizon has been widened. Immoral temptations, also, can best be met by a full program of wide and varied interests. The desire to go to work, which possesses youth like a contagious fever, may be counteracted by new studies or new responsibilities which provide a limited number of hours of labor with financial remuneration. The church should provide ways of occupying leisure time of its young people to safeguard them from frivolity and immorality.
3. Command by counsel
It is the paradox of youth that while they are stubborn they are also susceptible, that they can be guided when they cannot be governed, and directed or when they cannot be driven. They will resent a direct command or a wish, but are very sensitive to suggestion. The skillful teacher, however, will avoid direct suggestion and reach the adolescent by permitting him/her to fulfill their wish in another way. The counsel of deeds will be found even more potent than words.
“Don’t talk,” says Weigle, “be and do. Go about your business, live straight and get things accomplished, and your influence will do what your advice never could.”
4. Control by companionship
Those with whom they are most largely associated will control youth. A Sunday school teacher who is willing to be an intimate companion of any member of his or her adolescent class is often likely to have more influence over him or her than anyone else. The reason why ten evangelists have designated the Sunday school teacher as the key to evangelism is because they can come closer to the life during the years of religious awakening than either parent or pastor. A teacher of them, who is willing to be a chum, may so win the confidence of his or her adolescent pupil as to successfully lead them to surrender their life to the control and companionship of Christ.


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