What Missionaries Ought To Know About Adolescence

  • Approximate Time Commitment: 15 minutes

What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but rather what missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During the author’s 35 years of college teaching, he learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing—and if two people ask, it was certainly a topic that others need to know about. These are things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

To read more from the What Missionaries Ought to Know series


Resource Description


Jesus was a teenager, but never an adolescent. So was Moses. So was Paul. So was George Washington. If you are working among non-Western people, that may be the case with them as well. If you are working in developing countries, you may have noticed that teenagers in the larger cities are adolescents, but those in the rural villages are not. Why is there this difference? What is adolescence? What does the Bible say about it? Should adolescents be treated as adults? What are the major problems of adolescence? How can those problems be prevented? Let’s consider some of these questions.

What is adolescence?

Today adolescence is the time of life between puberty and adulthood. That seems simple enough, but it is much more complicated than it appears at first glance because of changes during the last 200 years.

  • Puberty. Puberty originally meant, “of ripe age, adult.” That is what it still means in many tribes where children go through rites of passage as teenagers to become full adults in their culture. However, in Western nations the age of sexual maturity has decreased by three or four years, but people do not become adults culturally at that time. Today puberty means only sexual maturity.
  • Adulthood. People used to become adults in their early teens, such as Jewish children going through bat or bar mitzvah at 12 or 13. It is not clear when people become adults today in Western countries. They begin paying adult prices in restaurants and theatres at 12, driving at 16, graduating and voting at 18, and buying liquor at 21. We have gone from the bar mitzvah to the bar as the final step to adulthood.
  • Adolescence is the time of life after puberty but before adulthood; it did not exist much before the twentieth century and still exists only in Western (or Westernizing) countries.


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