The Star – October 1, 2014
AUBURN — In his talk on adolescent development Tuesday, Marcus J. Carlson joked that sometimes teenagers are like the creatures from the 1984 movie “Gremlins.”
“They’re cute and cuddly at first, but then you give them some water or maybe a snack late at night, and they get angry,” he said.
Carlson spoke at a “Trends In Adolescent Development” seminar Tuesday at Bridgewater Golf Club. Learning Link DeKalb County sponsored the event.
Learning Link started in 2009 as a facet of Community Foundation DeKalb County focused on education. The initiative works to connect different sectors of education in the county so they can work together and produce results, according to its website.
Carlson serves as pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Auburn and has worked with children, teenagers and young adults for more than 16 years. He also has done course work in youth ministry and professional counseling.
Carlson said adolescence is getting longer. Kids are hitting puberty earlier. The brain doesn’t fully develop until ages 25-30, and society is slowly recognizing that fact.
In 1900, the average age of female puberty was 15, and most women got married around age 16, Carlson said. In 2011, most females hit puberty at age 11 but weren’t settling into a job or marriage until ages 25-29.
Carlson said even though the current generation of teens grew up in the digital age, face-to-face relationships are essential for kids. He said parents are the most significant influence on a child whether or not they are adoptive, single or absent from the child’s life.
“We can’t replace parents, we can only support them and care for them,” he said.
Children also must have a relationship with at least five other adults who are invested in what is best for him or her, Carlson said.
Certain institutions that are meant to be about what is best for kids have become about something else, Carlson said. Schools have become about higher grades and better test numbers instead of teaching a child to learn. Sports are about competing and being the best athlete rather than working together and being part of a team.
Carlson said the education industry must embrace a mindset based on growth and how the adolescent brain changes. Right now, its mindset is fixed on standards and test scores, he said.
Carlson said the burden of parenting is higher than ever right now. More risks are involved and there are higher standards. But he said the most important thing for a developing adolescent is providing him or her with a social safety net.
“It’s about relationships, and we can all do that,” he said.