The Duty of the Christian Mother in the Training of Adolescent Youth (1)*

Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer. * This is the transcript of a speech given by Herman Hoeksema at a Ladies' League Meeting in Hudsonville, MI on April 29, 1943.

The subject that has been as signed to me is not a new one, but I think it is a very important one. The subject concerns the education of our children, and that is always important. It is recognized by all, that the education of children in general is not an easy task. But the subject I am to speak on is much more specific than that, because it speaks of the duty of the Christian to educate his children. That makes the task much more difficult already, even if we take Christian in as wide a sense as possible, because that means that one has to accomplish a task in opposition to practically all the influences that are exerted upon his children from without — especially, of course, from the world in which they must move. But the topic is still more specific and becomes concerned with a still more difficult task. It concerns the education of adolescent children, which is perhaps the most difficult age for the training which they must receive. Finally, my subject is still more limited and still more definite, because I am not to speak on the calling of the Christian, or even of the calling or duty of a Christian parent, but more specifically on the calling of the Christian mother in the education, in the training, of her adolescent children, and therefore particularly in the home.

Now, bearing these limitations in mind, I think I can best make my remarks by trying to answer especially three questions. First: What is characteristic, specifically characteristic, of adolescent children? That there is something peculiar, something specifically distinct, about that age is not only true, but is presupposed in the subject assigned to me. In the second place, and in connection with that first question, I shall try to answer this question: What peculiar problems and difficulties are presented to the Christian mother by the age of adolescence with a view to the training of her children? Also that is presupposed in the subject given me. And finally, there will be the answer to this question: What should be the peculiar, specific attitude that should characterize the efforts of a Christian mother with a view to the training of adolescent children?

When I speak of the age of adolescent children tonight, I will limit myself to what is often called the age of early adolescence. In a general way the age of adolescence is considered to be the period between the beginning of what is called the age of puberty, up to manhood or womanhood. Let us say, generally speaking, from about 13 to 21. That is in a broad sense the age of adolescence. But you can distinguish and divide that age into the period of early adolescence and later adolescence, and I am going to limit myself to that former period in order to adhere as closely as possible to the subject — the training of adolescent children — so that I am thinking now of the period between the ages of, say, 13 and about 17 or 18.

Now, what is characteristic of that period of life? The general characteristic of that period is that it is an age of transition — transition from childhood to manhood and womanhood. That is true from a threefold point of view. It is true in the first place physically. It is very plain at that age of our boys and girls that they are making a transition. You can tell that by, for instance, the fact that they begin to grow very fast — girls somewhat earlier than boys, but boys keep on a little longer. You will also notice that their growth is somewhat disproportionate; that is, they don't know what to do with their long legs and their long arms, and they, especially the girls, think their noses are a little bit too long. That is simply characteristic of that age, the age when they are between, let us say, a napkin and a tablecloth, as the Dutch expresses it. Belonging to this transition, and much more serious, is the fact that at that age they awaken to sex consciousness. In adolescence, children make a very important change. A certain new, and to them often strange physical life begins to develop, a life with which they were not acquainted before, and ought not to have been. In connection with that physical development of the early adolescent youth, there is also a psychological change.

Adolescence is, in the second place, the age of spring. The springtime of life, and therefore the age of looking forward, the age of idealism, the age of dreams. The burdens and difficulties and problems of life, adolescents do not see. In fact, at that age they often see them less than when they were children. It is, therefore, the age of hope. Unbounded hope, very often, whether it is real or not, it makes no difference to them, but that is characteristic of this age. There is a life within them that is exuberant and abundant, and they don't know what to do with it. In connection with that, it is also the age of reflection. In distinction from the age of childhood, adolescents begin to reflect, to think. 

In the period of childhood, they were receptive, and they took for granted what was taught to them. The Lord has so arranged the development of the child that that is possible. Therefore, in childhood we should store away into our children's minds as much as possible the truths of the Word of God, whether or not they understand it. Children do not have to understand immediately what they commit to memory, for when they are 13 and 14 they begin to reflect. They no longer take for granted, as they did in childhood, that all that they hear and are taught is true. Not only that, but they do not simply absorb it, they want to understand it. They ask "why?" They begin to seek an explanation at that age. That is characteristic of that age.

In the third place, there is at that age an opportunity to declare one's independence, more or less, depending somewhat on the nature of the training in childhood. Nevertheless, whether it is when they go to high school, or whether it is when, somewhat later, they earn a little money, they begin to feel that they should have more independence. They like to shake off the yoke of the governor. They feel that, largely due to that abundant life.

In the fourth place, psychologically that period is characterized by instability. They have not reached the stability of manhood. They have not taken a stand. They can be easily led, though they don't think so. They are subject to many influences, probably without their knowing it. In close connection with that, I may say that in many respects adolescence is the age of choice, the age in which choices must be made, both from a natural point of view and a spiritual point of view. In that age we choose our friends, our life friends. It is especially in that age that we choose, by God's grace, to confess His name and to take a stand with regard to the things of the kingdom of God.

Remember that. An age of hope and idealism. An age of an abundant life. An age in which one begins to reflect, to think. An age in which one begins to feel that he is ready to declare his independence. An age in which he is nevertheless unstable and easily moved to and fro and is subject to many influences. An age of choice. The age for taking a stand, perhaps, for the stability of manhood both in a natural and a spiritual sense. That is the age of which I am speaking, and that is characteristic of that period of transition.

Now, the second question I will address: What are the peculiar difficulties and problems that present themselves to the teacher and trainer of adolescent youth, particularly, of course, to the Christian parent, and more specifically to the Christian mother? That training requires special methods and special attention. For there are problems in adolescence that require specific solutions, and that do not present themselves in childhood. I will mention a few of them.

In the first place, at this age there is a danger on the part of the adolescent youth to disregard and deny authority. He is apt to shake off the shackles. And you can no longer simply take him or her by the hand or guide him and direct him by the word of your mouth. There is something natural in that. I am not condemning this. I am merely speaking of what is characteristic of the problems in that period. In the development of the adolescent youth, there is something natural about his desire to shake off the shackles of authority that were upon him when he was a child. That is even true in the spiritual sense. The apostle Paul speaks of the childhood of the church in the old dispensation when it was placed under a governor and was guarded by the law. But when the child is grown up and has passed the age of childhood, it becomes characteristic of that child to want to get away from that kind of authority. There is a danger here if the parent does not understand that change. This is one of the dangers from within. There is in adolescence a change in attitude over against external authority, which the mother particularly, as well as any teacher, ought to understand in dealing with children of that age. One cannot teach John, when he has been Johnny, as if he were still Johnny. That is all. There is something natural in that which requires attention.

In the second place, in close connection with the former and because of the strong development of life, there is a tendency on the part of the adolescent youth to act as if he knows it all, and especially to act as if he knows it much better than his parents. That is often the case when the child goes to high school and begins to read, to solve problems, and to come in contact with all kinds of solutions to all kinds of problems. He is then inclined to think that he knows things much better than the old fogies, he is intolerant over against his parents' old notions, and he is somewhat ashamed of them, for he knows much better. That is another problem.

Now, I say again, there is something natural in that. You must not simply assume that these things are characteristic of an evil child. I am not talking about evil, only about characteristics of that age. And it is not a question of whether you can explain it. It cannot be explained. You must know how to deal with it. You cannot prevent this any more than you can prevent physical growth. You must understand that.

There is in the third place, still from within, the problem that these adolescent children try to find an outlet for their exuberant life, especially if they go to school and do not have to work hard and long days. When I was an adolescent youth of fifteen years old, I had to work from four in the morning until seven at night in the blacksmith shop, winter and summer. Then the problem of the theater and movies and dancing wasn't very great. One does not feel much like dancing when he works for fifteen hours a day! I used to sit at the table in the sitting room and try to light my pipe, and before I had it lit I fell asleep.

Not today! The early adolescent youth are in school. They are in school until they are seventeen, and in school they don't find sufficient outlet for their physical life. The result is that, especially in our day and in our country, there is a tendency in our youth in the age of early adolescence to seek pleasure as the outlet of their life. They want fun; they want something to do. Take that life in connection with the fact that they are full of joy. I am not talking about wrong amusements that are characteristic of the problems of life. It is not a question of whether you can root it out. The question is how you can deal with it. It is a problem.

These inner problems are aggravated by circumstances without, especially in our day. There is in our land and in our age usually a strong neglect and disregard of and for authority. The world does not know what authority means. And the children at that age, if they get into the world, find all kinds of support for the wrong conception of their relation to parent and teacher and to those whom God has placed over them, so that this tendency that is in them to deny the authority that has been upon them as a child is in danger of becoming an evil tendency. The same is true especially with the tendency to express their life, to seek pleasure. There are in the world all kinds of ways, ready-made for them, in which they can express that life. 

I am not thinking merely of the movies and the theater and the dances and all these things, but I am thinking just as well of certain kinds of companionships, friendships, literature, radio, the automobile, and the urge to leave home and go out and not be seen and to go far and not come home until late, to seek pleasure. That is characteristic of our day. Now put that adolescent youth — one who, remember, is unstable, hasn't made up his mind, likes to shake off the shackles, thinks he knows it all — put him in the middle and next to all these kinds of means and pleasures of the world and you have a real problem. If your child comes home he will ask you — if he doesn't, he ought to — may I do this or that; may I go here or there? You are then going to have practical problems in your home which are not always easy to solve. You have to distinguish. 

So there is, from without especially, the danger of falling into wrong hands. Especially under the influences of worldly and corrupt companions, adolescents, who are in the nature of the case easily moved and inclined to seek that very life, will find all kinds of opportunity to express themselves in evil ways.

What to do about it. That is my last question....

... to be continued.