Rooted Recommends: A Crash Course in Teenage Development

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As parents and youth ministers, we can often find ourselves frustrated by teenage behaviors. We know we are called to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…bearing with one another in love,” as Paul writes (Eph. 4:1-2). But it’s all-too-easy to lose our tempers or to misunderstand the hearts of our teenagers. Having some background knowledge of typical teenage development helps us grow in compassion as we engage them.

I recently stumbled upon an easy-to-access resource that is something of a crash course in teenage development: Episode 351 of the Don’t Mom Alone podcast featuring child development specialist Dr. Nell Bush.[1]

In this conversation with podcast host Heather MacFadyen, Dr. Bush presents an overview of the four pillars of development: physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. Dr. Bush shares how each of these pillars typically plays out in the preteen and teenage years. She offers thoughtful advice for navigating friendships, social media, and even sleep (she urges parents to go ahead and let their teenagers sleep in on Saturdays; their growing bodies need the extra rest!).

Toward the end of the episode, Dr. Bush shares a powerful illustration from the book College Bound on Solid Ground by Kelsey Phillips, in which she suggests that the four pillars are like the legs of a table. If one pillar is more developed than the others (for example, a teenager is spending most of his time developing his social life), the table will not be level. When this happens, important aspects of life are likely to be neglected—to slide off the table, so to speak.

All teenagers tend to have pillars that come more naturally and those that take more effort to strengthen, so this illustration becomes a way for parents and youth workers to talk with them about growing in God’s grace in each of these areas.

Better understanding the unique challenges and strengths our teenagers experience enables us to bear with them in love as we share the Good News of God’s grace: Because Jesus lived and died and rose again to save sinners, there is hope for all of the struggles they face in these complex years.


[1] When you have a little more time, don’t miss the more comprehensive coverage of teenage development our friends at Daystar Christian counseling provide: Season One of the Rooted Parent podcast, “All About Boys” with David Thomas and the complementary material on the Raising Boys and Girls podcast!

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