Chapter 7: Prepare Teens for Adulthood
From The Missing Dimension in Sex, Chapter 13
By Herbert W. Armstrong
Ignorance about sex is not, of course, the only cause of unhappy marriage and divorce. Many causes contribute.
Religious difference is one. The Roman Catholic Church is very emphatic in restraining its members from marrying non-Catholics.
Neither should a truly converted Christian ever marry a non-Christian. God commands Christians: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
That fellowship of a Christian with unbelievers should be avoided, even in dating. For dating too often leads to marriage!
What About Dating?
In different ways, according to varying customs, dating has been practiced as far back as history records. But, as in all things, dating has a right and a wrong use. The right kind of dating has become virtually a lost art today—especially in America.
Enough has been said in regard to the almost universal modern custom of “necking,” “petting,” “heavy petting” and premarital intercourse. These immoral practices dominate modern-day dating. Most dates consist of either this sort of thing, or a ready-made daydream watching a motion picture.
Enough, also, has been said about “going steady.” This should not be done by teenagers. After one is mentally, emotionally and spiritually mature, and qualified to assume the responsibilities of marriage, steady dating with the most likely choice for an engagement to be married becomes a different matter.
But until then, avoid “going steady.” Date different ones. Let the dates be on a higher mental, intellectual and ethical plane. Let the dates be upbuilding, contributing to mutual self-improvement.
When I was a young man, a date was a challenge. My effort was to make the date mentally stimulating, and enjoyably beneficial. Of course, some of them included dances, the theater, an occasional “movie.” But often they included ice-skating or other such interests, and often simply going walking—with a scintillating conversation.
In Ambassador College we encourage dating. But we very definitely discourage “going steady”—until the middle of the senior year.
And remember this: It is God who joins together in marriage a husband and a wife. Therefore it ought to be—in your own interest—God who selects for you the husband or wife you are going to marry! And God will do this, if you ask Him, and then refrain from getting in a hurry and taking it into your own hands! This may require self-restraint and patience, yes, and also faith. But if you rely on God, He will not fail you. And if He selects your lifelong mate, you’ll have the right one!
I didn’t realize this before I was married. Yet I have always known that, in His mercy, God did select for me the young woman I married. And now, more than a half-century later, I am more sure of it than ever before!
If you are a parent of one or more teenage children, should you try to force your children to date only converted young people—or those of your choice? You’ll drive them directly the other way, if you do! Your responsibility is to teach your children the truth—and teach them, as they grow up, gradually to assume more and more responsibility themselves. Of course, this teaching ought to begin during their first year of infancy. For many of our readers it will be too late for that, now. Then use tact. Your children may now be past the age where you can guide their lives. They have minds of their own. But, in sympathetic understanding and tact, try to induce them to be willing to counsel with you in regard to general principles and truths. But never try to pick for them the one they are to marry. If you have a choice, above all, never let them know it—unless they voluntarily ask your counsel and advice. Otherwise, you’ll drive them the opposite direction!
But, in my nearly 50 years of counseling in the problems of unhappy marriages and divorces, the overwhelming majority of cases involved couples who married too young.
Thousands have asked us, “What is the best age for marriage?” An article on this subject has appeared twice in the Plain Truth. The answer to that question is so vitally important, it simply cannot be omitted from this book. Therefore, it is here reprinted to complete the remainder of this chapter.
Too Young to Marry!
Some 20 years ago I officiated at a wedding in stately Memorial Hall at Ambassador College in England (now closed). My next-to-youngest grandson, Richard David Armstrong ii, then age 2½, thought the ceremony so very nice, he said:
“Mommie, I want to get married!”
“Well!” answered his mother, a little shocked—a little amused, “and whom do you want to marry?”
“Karen,” replied little Dicky promptly.
“But Karen has just been married. She can’t marry anybody else, now.”
“Well then,” decided Dicky, “I’ll marry Sheila.” Sheila is a very nice Irish colleen, and was then a student in the college.
“But Sheila is grown up now, and in college,” protested “Mommie.” “What if she won’t have you?”
“Then I’ll marry you, Mommie,” came the quick decision.
Marriage Is Not for Children
We may smile at the idea of a 2- or 3-year-old’s getting married. It would be a bit irregular! Marriage is not for children! Marriage is for adults. Marriage is pretty serious business!
Marriage entails the assuming of very serious responsibilities. Children do not realize this, of course. Marriage is a lot more than romance. It is more than daydreams about a “Prince Charming,” or floating around on “cloud nine,” or being in a lover’s arms.
But when do we become adults?
Are not boys and girls adults at around age 14? No. Far from it! Let’s understand why!
Age for Acquiring Knowledge
Human beings know nothing at birth. We have to learn, or be taught—everything! Without any knowledge, or with erroneous knowledge, we are helpless—as newborn babes. But there are some things many fail to learn. One of these is the right age for marriage.
Whatever an adult knows, true or false, has come into his mind since birth.
It may sound surprising or incredible, but a person actually learns more during his first year of life than in any succeeding year. If a 1-year-old baby could talk plainly with complete and adequate vocabulary, you’d be completely amazed at how much he has learned that first year!
The second year he learns a trifle less than the first, and the third year a little less than the second. Gradually, his capacity for learning decreases year by year, if only slightly. This is hard to believe for the simple reason that a 2-year-old adds his second-year acquisition to what he learned the first year, the third to that, and so through the years his total store of knowledge increases continually.
But a person past 60 cannot learn something new in a field new and strange to him as readily as a young person of 22 or 23. Does this mean that a well-educated man of 60 knows less than a young man of 22? Of course not. Other things being equal, he knows significantly more—because he has accumulated knowledge of all those years since age 22 added to what he knew then—and he has learned much by experience. That is one reason wisdom comes with age!
But a 2½-year-old cannot delve very deeply into the study of advanced mathematics, philosophy, nuclear fission, business administration, economics or child rearing. He would have very different ideas on the latter than he probably will have when he becomes a parent!
The first five or six years of life are, so we believe from experience, most profitably spent in learning the basic things of infant and child learning—how to walk, talk, eat, run and play—knowledge about lots and lots of things. The little child learns what an automobile is—an airplane—he learns about animals—many things.
He may even be taught to count, and part or all of the alphabet. However, the kind of knowledge taught in school (kindergarten excepted) seems most effectively taught beginning age 6. At that age the child can learn to write, to read and to spell simple words. In some countries he begins to learn a second language at that age. For the next 10 years he acquires gradually all the foundational elementary knowledge, and during the last two of the 10 perhaps a bit of preparatory knowledge for higher education.
All these years the normal individual has been learning rapidly. There is a great deal to know before maturity, and he is not mature yet! Many, in their own minds, know more than Dad or Mom. You see, what they do not yet know, they don’t know that they don’t know! But there is still much to learn.
But by age 16 the average normal young person of good mind is ready to begin a little more advanced study into more solid fields.
When Bodies Mature
But along in these early and mid-teenage years, usually 12 to 14, the physical body suddenly speeds up its growth and development. The teenager at this point sprouts up much taller within a single year, with bodily changes from child to man or woman.
Suddenly the young person feels “grown up”—adult. He usually does not realize that at this stage the body makes a rather sudden leap toward maturity, while the mind makes no corresponding advance! The mind continues on at only the same year-to-year gradual development. The mind is still more child than adult. Its interests are still mostly “having fun,” games, entertainments. Sexual maturity is suddenly reached, long in advance of mental, emotional and spiritual maturity.
A human being is not a mere body. The married state needs maturity of mind, emotions and spiritual qualities as much as physical adulthood.
A boy or girl is physically able to become a father or mother years before he or she is qualified to assume the responsibilities of parenthood.
But, suddenly becoming taller and physically developed, the boy or girl feels mature. A new awareness of the opposite sex is present. What the child of this age does not yet know, I repeat, he usually fails utterly to realize.
The attraction of the other sex acts as a magnet. The girl dreams of her Prince Charming; desire is awakened in the boy to hold an attractive girl in his arms.
The girl often falls in love with love, a certain boy being the focal point of her fantasy. Of course she only sees this particular boy as she imagines him to be, not as he really is. She is dead sure she is in love. And no one can awaken her from this entrancing dream. There are many facts of reality about this puppy-love affair of which she is totally unaware.
But, again, what she doesn’t know that her parents see so plainly, she simply doesn’t know that she doesn’t know! She simply has to outgrow it! The very fact that she is not mature enough to recognize her immaturity is proof that she is still too immature for marriage.
At this stage, the parents have a problem on their hands, and need great wisdom to deal properly with it.
I repeat, marriage is not for children.
The Preparatory Years
But when does a child become an adult? When is one ready for marriage?
Marriage is in itself a career. One is not ready to enter upon any profession or career until after full preparation. This preparation may be divided, roughly, into three stages. First, that of infancy, preparing the child for school. Second, elementary and preparatory schooling prior to, thirdly, more advanced education and specialized training for the adult life’s work.
There are really three stages, roughly, of mental development that parallel these stages of preparation. First, the change from babyhood to boyhood or girlhood around age 6. Then the mind, as a rule, has absorbed enough elementary and semi-mature knowledge, by age 16, to begin more mature thinking and learning. Age 16 is a crucial year in mental development.
Prior to age 16 the average youth has little awareness of the seriousness of life, of world conditions, of human problems or the purposes of life. In our American public school system, he enters senior high school, or the last two years of preparatory school at about this age.
But the mind does not really become mature, on the average, until age 25. At age 25 a more definite adulthood of mind, attitude, interests, is reached. The mind becomes more “set” in its ways.
The years between ages 16 and 25 are the vitally important years of adult preparation for life’s work. These are the crucial years of preparation. During these years the mind is capable of acquiring faster than at any other stage of life the advanced knowledge needed before beginning one’s adult career—whether it be business, profession, occupation or marriage. Before age 16, the mind has not acquired the basic elementary knowledge needed as a foundation for entering more advanced study—and the mind has not developed in serious comprehension to the level of advanced knowledge. After age 25, the mind which has stagnated since age 16 finds it difficult to enter upon more mature study.
Before age 16, the mind simply is not mature. At age 16, it is merely prepared to begin acquiring the more mature preparation for either career, business or marriage.
It should be borne in mind, I am speaking of average ages. There are, of course, exceptions—but in my experience about 99 in 100 follow this pattern.
Another stage of maturity seems to be reached at about age 30. I have noticed that, although most young people reach a certain mental maturity at age 25, a far more complete maturity of mind, personality, performance and influence on others is reached at age 30.
By age 30 the man or woman has added five years of practical experience, in addition to further study, to the preparatory knowledge and final reaching of mental maturity attained at 25. Prior to 25, the young man is often called just that—“young man”—by older men. I can remember how, in my carnal preconversion vanity, I smarted under being spoken to as “young man” by business executives I dealt with. This expression simply meant they did not accept me, yet, as a fully mature man, and I knew it.
Somehow, the vanity in a young man of 18 and older makes him want to be considered mature—as a completely adult, fully experienced man. He wants to be considered older than he is. But as soon as young women are past 20 to 25, female vanity usually causes them to want to be considered younger than they are!
The Best Age for Marriage
The fact that a man attains a more complete maturity of personality, leadership and influence by age 30 seems fully recognized by the Eternal God. In ancient Israel the Levites were ordained to full priesthood at age 30—although they were put into military service at age 20.
Jesus Christ, our example, did not begin His active ministry until age 30. All years prior to that were years of learning and preparation.
Yet in ancient Israel men began actual service, adult work, and even military service, at age 20. This, however, does not mean that they were fully and completely educated at that age. Actually, their first years of service were those of apprenticeship—training, preparation. They probably were not accounted fully prepared for adult responsibilities until 25, though the exact facts are not given.
Apparently God has not given specific and direct instruction or command as to the proper age for marriage. God did not even count people in the census, as adults, until age 20. While there appears to be no punishable prohibition against marriage prior to age 20, there is every indication that on God’s instruction juveniles were considered children until 20. At 20 they were considered “of age.” This by no means implies they were expected to marry by age 20! Rather that they were expected not to marry until at least 20—or more.
Based on actual experience, my judgment is—and I think it is sound judgment guided and approved by God—that until out of the “teens” a boy or girl is too young to marry! And it is also my judgment—and I think it is sound and approved by God—based on lifelong experience counseling on marriage problems of hundreds of people—that even 20 is too young to be the best age for marriage.
Two factors are the major causes of broken marriages, or of unhappy problem marriages, in the hundreds of cases that have come to me for advice and counsel: sex ignorance and marriage prior to age 20. Quite often these two are merged in the same case. A great majority of all unhappy or broken marriages that have been brought to my attention were those of people who married too young!
Only too well I know that teenagers who think they are in love will not listen or heed. That very FACT proves they are too young for the responsibilities of marriage. Marriage is so much more than romance, necking, lovemaking and immature emotional bliss. Thousands of young people have gone ahead heedless, and been sadly disillusioned to learn that lesson—too late!
But in my judgment, except in rare cases or circumstances, even 20 is too early an age for marriage. I can only give my judgment. But it is based on experience. It is based on facts and knowledge. It is based on what biblical revelation God has given us. It is based on hundreds of case histories.
But here it is, and young people will do well to heed it—and later be glad they did! The best age for a man to marry is around 24 to 26, after he has devoted those top aptitude years between 16 and 25 for mature education, experience and preparation—after he has acquired the knowledge, preparation and preliminary experience to assume adult responsibilities—after he is able to assume the responsibility of supporting a wife—and family! And the best age for a girl to marry is between 23 and 25 when she has utilized those top aptitude years for preparation, and is prepared to assume the duties of wifehood and motherhood—the responsibilities of planning, decorating, arranging a home, keeping it, and being a help and inspiration to her husband.
I sincerely believe, in view of what God has developed, that He brought about circumstances and influences to shape my early life, and also my wife’s, as a preparation for a very great worldwide work He willed to accomplish. I believe I was steered and guided by His unseen Hand in ways I did not realize then. And Mrs. Armstrong and I were married when we were both 25. We were mature enough to assume the responsibilities.
Our marriage was most happy, and blessed beyond words to describe. And, after all those years during which God blessed us with four fine children, equally fine sons- and daughters-in-law, and 11 fine grandchildren, our marriage was still happy beyond words to describe. In fact it was happier then than ever before, because it had grown constantly more and more happy. What a blessing!
Wouldn’t you like yours to be equally so? Then heed! Use wisdom!
Marriage in Later Life
What has been written above applies to a first marriage on reaching adulthood. Marriage was ordained by God “until death do us part.” My first marriage was broken only by the death of my beloved wife after 50 years.
But what about a second marriage of a widower or a widow? In such a marriage age is not an important factor. It is not so necessary to be like-aged as to be like-minded!
One in God’s Church should never marry outside the Church. There should be like-mindedness spiritually and secularly. There should be physical appeal and harmonious companionship.