Puberty is the season of life when children begin to physically and psychologically develop into adults capable of reproduction. The average age for the onset of puberty is 11 for girls, and 12 for boys. In modern Western culture, puberty is also known as “adolescence” or the “teen years,” and pubescent youth have formed their own subculture, targeted as a lucrative market by the media and advertisers. Because of Western culture’s celebration of youth and teenagers, an adolescent mentality may extend into the 20’s or 30’s, as the responsibilities and burdens of true adulthood look less appealing than the carefree days of childhood. Therefore, the puberty that produces a mature body may not simultaneously produce a mature spirit.
In Bible times puberty was seen as the beginning of adulthood. First Corinthians 13:11 is the clearest statement about the distinction between childhood and adulthood: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Puberty was designed to be the season between childish ways and adult ways. It involves more than the body’s development. Puberty is the time when thinking abilities deepen, wisdom should be gained, and skills mastered that will help the new adult be successful in life. While young people in puberty cannot control how quickly their bodies may change and develop, they can take responsibility for their own spiritual and emotional maturity.
Much of the book of Proverbs was written by a father to his son on the brink of manhood (see Proverbs 3:1–4; 4:1–13; 5:1; 7:1). This father was handing down wisdom and instruction that his son now had the ability to understand and utilize. In ancient Jewish culture, childhood ended when adulthood began. Young women learned from their mothers and grandmothers the skills needed for keeping a home and rearing children. Young men worked with their fathers and brothers as soon as they were able and generally followed the trade of their fathers, unless they were accepted into rabbinic school.
Luke 2:41–52 gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ early life during puberty. He was allowed to go to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover at the age of twelve. On their trip home, His parents realized Jesus was not among the group that had traveled together. Anxious, Joseph and Mary retraced their steps and three days later found Him in the temple courts discussing theology with the rabbis. At the age of twelve, Jesus was capable of holding serious discussions with His teachers.
The hormone surges that spark physical maturation can also upset brain chemistry and emotional stability, leading to conflicts and often rebellion against authority. It is common for an adult body to house a childish brain, and the two are not compatible. The teen years are well-known for their volatility, poor judgments, and, unfortunately, tragic, lifelong mistakes. A young person beginning puberty is wise to recognize that the frustration of the next few years is temporary. Rather than demand rights he or she may not be ready to handle, a wise young person will use the puberty years to listen to those who have more life experience (Proverbs 1:8), develop self-control (Proverbs 16:32), and strive to grow spiritually as the body grows physically (2 Peter 3:18). When parents and children work together, puberty can be an exciting time of expectation for all God has in store for the future (Jeremiah 29:11).