Getting Teens to Grow Up

Remember Alice in Wonderland?  There’s one part of the story that finds a diminutive Alice trapped in a room where everything is bigger and taller than she is.  But there, at her feet, she finds a piece of cake labeled “Eat Me.”  After one bite from that questionable dessert, Alice grows exponentially, transforming into a full-fledged adult in the space of a few seconds.

I know many parents who would love to feed a bit of that kind of “maturity cake” to their own kids!  It seems that more and more teenagers in this generation are becoming stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence.  Instead of growing into healthy adults, a rising number of young people are prolonging their childhood.  In fact, the American Medical Association has recently increased the age of adolescence to 27.  That means we have a bunch of twenty-somethings running around behaving like kids!

No parent wants his or her child stuck.  Our desire is to see our kids develop into mature, responsible, and independent adults.  So how can we get young people to grow up?


Before we work to fix the problem, we first have to identify the cause.  Now, we could blame society for this generation of childish teens.  But here’s the honest truth—parents, the fault lies with us.  Young people will remain kids as long as we allow them to be kids.  When we entertain their every desire, cater to their every need, protect them from every threat, and fund their every activity, why would they ever feel the need to be mature or responsible?

Another cause for stunted growth could be related to how we communicate with our teens.  When we constantly criticize their behavior, we stop their decision-making processes and send a clear message that they can’t function on their own.  As they move through the process of maturity, remember to transition from lectures to discussions.  Parents; stop the constant correction of your kids!  I realize that sometimes they need it, but communication made up entirely of criticism can stunt a child’s growth.  If you want your child to grow into an adult, begin to treat him like one.  If your son or daughter makes a mistake and doesn’t always listen to your advice, that’s okay.  The consequences of bad decisions are often better than any correction you could give.


When your child shows no desire to hold a job, move out of the house, pursue goals, or further her life, it’s time to ask some tough questions.  Are you giving too much and expecting too little?  Are you nurturing a child’s inner adult or catering to an adult’s inner child?  Though on the outside it looks like a maturity problem with your child, a teen stuck as a kid is really a family problem.  And it needs to be corrected!

Zookeepers know that you can turn a ferocious grizzly bear into a non-threatening stuffed animal by providing for their every need and limiting their freedom.  But don’t make that mistake with your teens.  Allow them opportunities to reach, grow, and mature, even if that means they make mistakes along the way.  We want our teens to survive in the jungle, not a controlled habitat at home.

Start by making a detailed plan of moving your child through maturity.  It could look something like this:

  • Age 13: Start washing his or her own clothes
  • Age 14: Pick up more chores around the house
  • Age 15: Get involved in helping others at church or in the community
  • Age 16: Get a summer job
  • Age 17: Be responsible for his or her own school career, including homework, tests, and activities
  • Age 18: Manage personal money, including clothes budget or gas

These are simply examples, but you can see that the goal is to slowly nudge your children to deeper levels of maturity and growth, and lovingly train them to stand on their own two feet.  Mom and Dad, start taking the emotional training wheels off your child’s bike early and often.  This doesn’t mean we can’t help him steer or balance the bike from time to time.  But we don’t allow our eighteen year-old to keep riding around on a tricycle!

No teen is past the age where you can teach maturity.  Maybe you have a 19-year-old living in your basement, playing video games and contributing nothing.  Now’s the time to take action and give him a big push in the right direction.  Announce that you’ll be charging rent next month.  However, maybe the first month you’ll cover half the payment, the second month you’ll cover a quarter, and by the third month you’ll expect a full rent payment.  The ramp-up will give him time to get on his feet.  Or make the decision that gas money, insurance, and clothing allowances are contingent on going to college or holding down a job.  Set the rules, then don’t give in!  Stick to your guns.  If you don’t do anything now, two years down the road, instead of a 19-year-old living in your basement, you’ll have a 21-year-old living there!  Make a decision to help your teen move forward right now, and put it at the top of the priority list.

Though the American Medical Association says that 27 is the new 18, we don’t want that to be the case for our kids.  It starts with us as parents.  Let’s take the initiative and begin offering our teens opportunities to nibble the cake that will help them grow up.  Stop the constant correction, take off the training wheels, and make a yearly maturity plan for your teen.  Use these tools to get your teen moving forward into adulthood.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

Tough Guys and Drama QueensFree online course: Tough Guys and Drama Queens

This free two-week online course will help you to parent your teen in a counter-cultural way. You will  walk through topics like appearance, performance, authority and respect, setting boundaries, and many more.

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