Category Archives: family

lonely boy.2

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 9

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content
and part 7: self-centered and perpetual now
and part 8: when to “back off” on parenting
(btw: this is the last installment. enough already, right?)

lonely boyQuestion: Our middle school grade son seems to have no real friendships. And I’m not even sure he wants them. Is this normal? Are there things my husband and I should be doing?

First, it’s important to know that this is a very normal situation for a young teen boy. In fact, it has become substantially more common over the past decade or so. So, your son isn’t “abnormal” on this one. It’s normal and natural for a young teen, even one who had friends as a child, to struggle as they move (a developmentally normal and good move) from forming friendships based on proximity (“You and I are friends because we live near each other or spend a lot of time in the same place”) to forming friendships based on affinity (“You and I are friends because we like the same things, or have the same values”).

But, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy situation. As a youth worker, it’s been one of greatest new concerns I’ve had for my students in the last ten years. Boys, particularly (girls also, but to a lesser degree), are not learning the skills of friendship. Historically, I don’t think we thought of children and teenagers as needing these skills–friendship just came naturally to them! But today’s 10 – 14 year old is so often isolated, they’ve not learned the skills of friendship in their day-to-day lives.

Boys are naturally less expressive than girls (especially at this age). And our culture has told them “the strong, silent type” is a great male archetype. Even the U.S. Army, which, ironically has learned – out in the field – that soldiers can only succeed in teams, has been advertising this notion like crazy for a several years with their “Army of One” campaign.

Add to these cultural notions the fact that today’s young teens have reaped most parents’ desire to “cocoon”, by having a house-full (or more likely these days, a bedroom-full) of toys intended for solo use: television or laptop, video-gaming systems, music players. Not that these things are all bad. But the fairly normal overuse of them has greatly contributed to this “loner” trend.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

• Encourage friendship groups. Often, the safest place for a boy to learn about friendship is in a group, not in a one-on-one friendship. Hopefully, one of the best places for this is in a healthy and active middle school program at your church. I know many parents who have chosen their church based on this factor alone!

• Service potential friendships. When you see any spark of potential friendship for your son, find ways to subtely encourage that spark. This doesn’t mean talking about it like crazy! (that will only lead to retreat for most boys.) Instead, offer to drive them somewhere; suggest fun ideas for excursions and make them possible. Also, make sure you home is a “safe” place for your son to have a friend over: a place where he won’t be embarrassed or treated like a little kid in front of his friends.

• Encourage your son, but don’t nag. When your son spends time with a friend (or potential friend), say something positive–but keep it short and sweet. Lengthy speeches will feel like pressure or nagging, and will backfire on you.

• Pray like crazy!

young teen and parent

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 8

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content
and part 7: self-centered and perpetual now

young teen and parentQuestion: When should I start to back off and be less engaged in actively parenting my young teen?

In one sense (and you all know this), you’re never done being a parent. I still seek out advice from my parents, and I’m 51. And of course, parenting teenagers has stretched well into (and sometimes through) the 20something years in most cases. Adolescence has extended on both ends of its age delineators.

But I have a couple theories I’d like to suggest you consider reality…

First, you should make this assumption: by the time your child is in high school, most of your parenting is done. That’s not to say that you still don’t have a very important role in her life–you do! But it’s normally a bit late to “change course.” Parenting an older teen (or young 20something) is more about “staying the course.” It’s more about continuing to model what you’ve already set in place.

You might be thinking, I’m can barely catch my breath, and I’m supposed to start thinking about the high school years? Fair enough. But the reality I just proposed adds significant weight to this next reality:

You’re on the last lap. Or, maybe the second-to-last lap.

These tender years of 9 – 11 (pre-teen) and 11 – 14 (young teen) are some of the most formative years of life. Kids are still extremely moldable, changeable, open. But as they settle into their mid-teen, change come less and less often. This is why I always joke with middle school ministry workers that we are still in “preventive ministry”, while high school work is often “corrective ministry.”

What does a long-distance runner do in the final lap or two? Think of the finish line. Calibrate what needs to take place in this diminishing space. Then recalibrate. Continue to pace yourself and recalibrate again.

Don’t forget these two extremely important facts:

  1. You are still the #1 influence in the life of your child at this age.
  2. The almost-absurd amount of change going on in the life of your young teen places them at a small timeframe of massive malleability (yes, I realize it doesn’t always seem that way – but it’s true).

These two facts combine to make these final laps of the parenting race some of the most important of your God-given role.

So don’t throw in the towel. Don’t concede. Don’t abdicate your role to the church or culture or your young teen’s peer group. Let God fill your lungs with a fresh air of strength and courage. And take another step. And another.

self centered

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 7

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes
and part 6: process trumps content

Question: Why is my middle schooler suddenly so self-centered? It seems like she thinks the whole world revolves around her!

This is an almost universal issue with preteens and young teens. Consequently, the frustration parents and youth workers experience is also almost universal! Young teens who were, just months ago, generous and outward-focused turn into themselves and become seemingly obsessed with themselves and incapable of noticing others.

kind of a big dealEverything’s about me!

Self-centeredness is a natural fungus on the tree of development. Your preteen might still have a shred of others-focus; but it will disappear soon! The almost-crazy amount of change going on in the lives of young teens (11 – 14 year olds), draws every remaining bit of noticing others in on itself. Almost all young teens (and older preteens) see themselves at the center of the universe.

For example: if you walk across the back of a crowded classroom (or, say, church service), you will try to be quiet as to not distract–but you won’t assume people paying attention and facing the opposite direction are noticing you. Not so with young teens. In the same situation, they’ll assume that everyone in the room is watching them (apparently through the back of their heads!) and evaluating their every move.

This self-centeredness is natural, but that doesn’t mean parents should just ignore it. There are many ways to counter this; but I’ve found that the absolute best antidote is experience–experience that forces their attention off of themselves. Give them experiences serving others in need (through a day helping at a soup-kitchen, or a family mission trip, or other service projects). For a preteen, this establishes a pattern of noticing others’ needs. For a young teen, it can create a small opportunity for noticing that the world is more than themselves (and that will work like yeast, spreading into their worldview).

straightawayEverything’s now!

A related issue is how “in the moment” preteens and young teens seem to live. If you ask their favorite movie of all time, they’ll answer the one they saw last week. They don’t have a sense of the past (and I’m talking about their own past, not anything grander than that!), and often don’t have a sense of the future either.

Think of it this way: as an adult, you’re making decisions on the road of life. And you can look in the rearview mirror and see the long straightaway behind you, including the choices of life. You can also look at the long straightaway ahead of you, and get a sense of what’s to come. But preteens and young teens are on a sharp curve in the road of life (the curve of transition and developmental change). The rearview mirror doesn’t show much; and the front view is a blind curve.

This can be maddening for parents. Ask speculation questions about the future to help your child begin to see more of the road (he won’t naturally do this on his own). Share your own thoughts about the future (as well as the past).

And remember, the curve in the road–with its self-centeredness and “all is now” perspectives–will pass. This is the normal stuff of young teen development; and it’s the plan God designed for your child to go through at this time of life!


By the way, I unpack this more (and a bunch of other stuff about early adolescent development) in my book Understanding Your Young Teen.

process

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 6

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions
and part 5: a world of paradoxes

processProcess Trumps Content

This is a very important issue for parents to consider, especially with the current trend toward a college-prep emphasis in school culture. School curriculum often teaches toward test scores. Even Christian schools, who are rarely involved in state testing, often focus on cramming content with an eye to college acceptance.

Many churches take a similar approach: load young teens with info during this formative age, in hopes that it will “stick” and become a guiding force in their lives.

Unfortunately, this is quite misguided.

Just prior to puberty (around 9 or 10 or 11 years old), your child’s brain does a wonderful thing: it grows an abundance of new connections. Like a massive infiltration of tree roots grasping for earth, these new connections between various parts of the brain open up a world of possibilities.

However, these new connections are only that: possibilities. There is no good way to use them all. So, those connections that get exercised and used end up forming a dominant part of the brain’s function through the rest of life. And those connections that are used less, well, they actually disintegrate during the teenage years!

What does this tell us? It’s essential that the young teen years be about learning how to think. Process, “what if”, and “why?” are critical. Discovery is the best learning mode (for spiritual learning or academic learning). If young teens exercise this part of their developing brains, it will positively impact their lifelong thinking, their spiritual growth (after all, spiritual stuff is abstract), their emotional health, their relational maturity, and their desire to continue growing and learning.

So, make room for “why?” and “what if?” Those are questions of speculation (a brand-new, but wimpy, ability for young teens). Encourage discovery. Don’t be threatened by questioned values and boundary-pushing. This is the best stuff of early adolescent brain development!


By the way, I unpack this more (and a bunch of other stuff about early adolescent development) in my book Understanding Your Young Teen; and go into detail on teenage brain development (not only for young teens, but teenagers in general) in A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains.

optical illusion triangle

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 5

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god
and part 4: boundaries and decisions

optical illusion cubeWelcome to the world of paradox!

If you have a preteen or a young teen living in your home, you gain a whole new appreciation for the concept of paradox. These wonderful kids completely embody every meaning of the word. In so many areas, they seem to be both one thing, as well as the polar opposite! (This can be quite maddening, and paradoxically, quite exciting!) It’s all about transition, baby.

Here’s a list of a few you might notice:

Young teens can be incredibly trusting, but will only listen to someone who’s honest and transparent. Young teens (and especially preteens) often don’t have the jaded skepticism of their older teen brothers and sisters. They are very willing to trust–a wonderful characteristic that shouldn’t be missed. This time of life is, in many ways, a last-stop refueling station into the long desert drive of adolescence. Take this opportunity to build on that trust, to show that your word is good.

At the same time, they are beginning to develop a more adult sense of the baloney-detection. If you want to be an example to your young teen, if you want to continue in a role of impacting their lives (in a positive way, that is), it’s essential that you do so through a commitment to honesty and vulnerability. This can be pretty tough, even threatening. When you’re wrong, it’s crucial that you admit it. If they sniff out insincerity or hypocrisy in your or your words, you’ll quickly lose your place of leadership in their lives.

They’ll catch less than you’d think, yet they’re savvier than you’d expect. This is a tricky one, but so true! Because the life of a young teen is all about change (physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological), they have a huge tendency toward “in-one-ear-out-the-other” behavior. You’ve certainly experienced this! You explained to your daughter why a certain behavior is a bad choice, and two weeks later, she seems to have no memory of that discussion. Often that’s because she really doesn’t have a memory of that discussion!

But at the same time, young teens are developing a very savvy ability to see through charades, to understand when they’re being marketed to, and to be aware of consequences. Often what happens with kids this age is that they are savvy enough to understand a situation, but not enough to apply it to their lives.

They want to be treated like adults, but have the opportunity to act like children. This has enormous implications. They’re caught in an in-between world. They know where they want to go: they know they want to be treated like adults, to have more freedom, to make more decisions on their own, to not be treated as if they were 4th graders. It’s important to talk to young teens with an adult voice, and to begin the move to a come-alongside perspective.

But at the same time, they are still very much children, and need the opportunity to act that out, without pressure to grow up too soon. A girl may move out of her childhood music choices, but still love to play with Barbie dolls. Allow her to live in that place. A boy may desire to sit at the adult table at family gatherings, but still keep a childhood stuffed animal on his bed. Don’t rush them into adulthood, but don’t treat them like little kids anymore either.

Some are prototype young adults, while some are really children, and most are both. The reality is this: it’s not that the young teen living in your home is either a child or a young adult (with some magic line being crossed at some point); it’s that she’s both, at the same time. Young teens aren’t just in-between, they’re in an overlap zone–childhood remains, while they’ve already stepped into the young adult world.

Living with paradox isn’t easy! But it’s not only the reality of the young teen years, it’s somehow part of God’s wonderful design for this transition to healthy independence and adulthood. Have fun!

music camp concert

Max and the Haiti Music Camp (or, when teenagers are given space to lead)

my 16 year-old son max is going to haiti for a month this summer. he’ll be part of a small team of four people partnering with leaders from my church’s sister church in carrefour to host a two-week music camp for children in the community around the church.

this is a perfect mix of max’s interests and passions: he’s very much into music (he’s a drummer, but plays other instruments, and is fascinated by music theory); he loves serving, and is particularly gifted with children (he volunteers, without any push from his parents, in the children’s ministry at our church); he’s passionate about justice and people in need (again, without any provocation from us, he has regularly, for years, joined a group of people who befriend homeless people in downtown san diego); and he’s had an interest in haiti since he was little (long before the earthquake, he did a massive school report on the country, and knows all about its history).

but all of max’s passions and interests might have sat semi-dormant if it weren’t for adults who cleared a pathway for him to activate, by organizing the trip, including him as an equal, and clarifying the needs.

in response, max has done the following things (TOTALLY on his own — i usually found out about these things he was doing after the fact):

  • max is actively collecting instruments for the music camp. he is unapologetically asking people for donations. he asked on facebook, asked musicians at church, and met with the owner of our local music store to make a big ask. the music store owner came through in a major way, donating this wonderful collection to the cause (which was a neat fit, as the music store owner had just launched a website of unique world music instruments):

instruments

  • max is taking a four-week crash course in creole language and culture, every thursday night:

creole class

  • max is organizing (completely on his own) a benefit concert for the camp. he found a location, volunteers, put together a facebook page, and continues to develop a robust line-up of solo artists and bands of a wide variety of rock, pop and folk genres. the concert is this friday night. if you live in san diego, there are worse ways you could spend a friday evening.

music camp concert

  • max (with help from us — this is one of the only aspects we helped him with) sent out support letters to friends and family around the country. since most of his personal trip costs are being covered by himself and us, the majority of the funds coming in will go directly to the costs of running the camp.

of course, i’m extremely proud of my son; amazed even. but all of this has also been a great reminder to me of what kenda dean wrote about in one of her earliest books, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church. instead of merely treating teenagers as consumers (as the vast majority of churches do), or even the step-in-the-right-direction of giving them roles in the church, what would it look like if we tapped into teenagers’ natural interests and passions (this is really what morgan schmidt writes about in her book Woo: Awakening Teenagers Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus), providing rails to run on and then getting out of the way? yup: teenagers will lead. and teenagers will remind us what passionate faith looks like, in action.

by the way, if you’d like to support max’s trip, i’ll let him ask you in his own words (copied from a facebook status):

this is really important! i’m going to haiti this summer for the month of july to put on a music camp for street kids and orphans, and we need money. $35 pays for one child’s tuition to the camp, and $50 pays the salary of one music teacher (although we will accept any amount). this camp will create jobs, create mentorships, and give the kids a sense of purpose. please help us show these kids that someone loves them.

if you’d like to help, you can donate here. all donations through this site in the next few weeks will go directly to camp tuition scholarships and haitian music teachers working the camp.

boundaries

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 4

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it…

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition
and part 3: bored with church and god

teenage turtleBoundaries and Decisions

This research-proven truth may surprise you: Parents are still the number one influence in the lives of their teenagers. Many parents assume that with adolescence, the peer group takes the top influencer slot; or media; or something or someone else.

Here’s another fact that may surprise you even more: Young teens still want and need boundaries. Maybe you’re not surprised by the thought that they need boundaries; but the fact that they want them seems counter-intuitive to their regular spoken and unspoken demands for independence. Of course, unless uttered in sarcasm, you’ll never actually hear your student say, “Please, Mom, I want less freedom!”

You live this issue every day. Because the primary task of parenting a teenager is to foster healthy independence, the rub of boundary setting is in your face on a constant basis.

And it’s not that kids want (or need) a huge set of restrictions: instead, they want to know–with clarity–where the fences of their decision-making playground are placed.

Two extremes to avoid

The Cage. It’s very common (in fact, it’s increasingly common) for parents to be concerned about the world in which their young teen is growing up. It’s common–and good–for parents to be concerned about the fact that our culture is expecting kids to act older (and be exposed to “older things”) at a younger and younger age.

The good and appropriate motivation to protect your new teen, however, can easily result in an unhealthy restriction on growing up. Parents at this extreme keep the boundaries on decision-making and independence so close that teens never (or rarely) have the opportunity to make any real choices.

This extreme can stunt the emotional and spiritual growth of teens, keeping them from the essential learning that comes with good and bad decision-making. In other words: setting the boundaries too tight works counter-productively, keeping your teen from growing in maturity.

Free-Range. The opposing extreme is also common (though increasingly less so), and is possibly even more destructive. This comes from the often-exasperated parent who says: “I don’t know how much freedom to give my teen. He seems to want complete independence, and his friends seem to have that already. Since I don’t know where to draw the line, I’ll give him what he’s asking for: almost complete independence.”

I’m saddened and occasionally shocked by how many 12 year-olds have complete freedom in every decision other than the basics of life (shelter, food, car rides). These young teens are allowed, or even encouraged, to make every choice when it comes to things like: curfew, bedtime, music and movie intake, friendships, money-spending, clothing and appearance. I’m not suggesting a prudish approach to this list (anyone who knows me can vouch for that!). But remember what I said at the outset of this article: teens want and need boundaries!

The Goal

The challenging goal of parenting teens, then, becomes to provide ever-increasing boundaries, with freedom inside those boundaries to run wild and make decisions.

This is not just about maturation and growing up and becoming healthy whole independent adults (although that’s a pretty good list!). This is a spiritual task! For parents, this is a fulfillment of the spiritual task given to you by God: to raise whole and healthy independent adults (failure as a parent looks like a 28 year-old who is still dependent on his mommy).

It also has spiritual implications for your young teen: as she learns to make healthy decisions, in the semi-protected environment of the boundaries you set, she will gain courage and skill for the task of embracing a faith-system that needs to evolve and grow into her own.

bored in church

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 3

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it…

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition

bored in churchBored with Church and God

When your kid was 9, he loved going to church, loved his Sunday school class, and seemed to have a real relationship with God.

But now, as a young teen, he seems bored. Maybe he’s even expressed this: “Church is boring; I don’t want to go.”

This is a natural occurrence in the lives of young teens. But the reasoning behind this boredom isn’t the same for every child. Here are a few possibilities:

Not Connected
Children (prior to the teen years) need fewer reasons to find church or Christianity engaging. A few fun moments in Sunday school or the reality of Christ in their parents’ lives can be enough. But young teens start to perceive a disconnect (if one exists) between real life and “church-world.” If they don’t sense a relational connection with people in the church (youth group leaders, other kids, adults in the church), it’s easy for them to make the small leap to boredom.

Young teens have a passionate need to be valued and noticed. Any place that doesn’t validate who they are as individuals, any place where they don’t feel known, can quickly feel awkward or boring to them.

Churchianity
Unless your family happens to attend a church with worship and sermons that connect with your young teen (this isn’t common, and isn’t normally the aim of most churches), attending church can begin to feel like a monumental waste of time to young teens – even if they still have an active faith in God.

The forms most churches use (in song, spoken word and format) are pretty foreign to the world of a teenager. Frankly, they’re often pretty foreign to the world of adults too! But the variance from “church-world” to the world of adults is almost always less than to the world of teens.

Faith System Disconnect
Probably the most common, and most healthy reason for young teens to feel boredom is their developmental need to grow up in faith. Pre-teens and children approach faith issues, obviously, with the mind of a child. But a young teen’s new ability to grasp (or at least entertain) abstract ideas begs all their concrete spiritual conclusions and understandings into question.

This shift in thinking ability has enormous spiritual implications for young teens, because pretty much everything we talk about at church, or in relation to faith in God, is abstract. Its like kids have a backpack of faith system “bits.” And during their young teen years, situations arise that call these bits to the forefront. When it becomes obvious to a teen that their childhood spiritual answer to a given situation or question doesn’t offer a strong enough answer anymore, they are forced to ignore this issue or struggle to allow their beliefs to evolve into a more adult form.

Don’t be freaked out by this process. Don’t be thrown by your teen’s expression of boredom. Instead, find constructive ways to come alongside her during this transition time of life.

Processing Boredom with Your Young Teen
Here are some ideas for coming alongside your young teen and her spiritual boredom:

  • Live it out. If your teen sees a vibrant and real faith being lived out day-to-day in your life (and being verbally expressed also), it will go a long ways toward helping him consider what an adult faith system should look like.
  • Talk about it. Our natural tendency is to lecture our kids about why they’re bored (“you need to do this”). Instead, work to create open lines of communication about faith and church. Process your child’s questions and reservations without jumping to easy answers.
  • Look for relational connections. Help your teen be (or stay) connected to the people of the church, not just the program. Look for creative ways to foster these relationships – with their peers and with other adults who will care about them.
  • Debrief. After a church service or youth group meeting, talk about what went on. Be careful that this doesn’t come across as a test. Helping your teen see the life-connection between what’s talked about at church and their world is a wonderful way to encourage the growth of their faith.
transition

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 2

if you’re a youth worker reading this, please feel free to copy and paste (or email) this in a parent email or newsletter (though a credit line would be appreciated)…

see part 1: doubts

transitionThe young teen years summed up in one word: transition

Nikki is 11 years old, and in 6th grade. But she looks more like a 16 year-old. And I’ve had more than one mom comment to me that they would pay big money to have fingernails as nice as Nikki’s. But Nikki still loves to play with Barbie dolls. In fact, it’s not uncommon for her to bring a couple with her on youth group trips. The other kids tease her about it – but she’s naive enough to think they think it’s fun that Barbie is in tow. It’s not that Nikki is neither a child nor a teenager: she’s bits of both.

Then there’s a group of guys I used to call the “Punk Pokemons” (this was several years ago when Pokemon was big). Their group was five 8th grade guys – all taller than me – who were trying very hard to be tough. They wore baggy pants and spiked their hair. And they never smiled. Never. They were 100% committed to looking disinterested. But on a regular basis, they would gather in the back corner of our junior high room at church to trade Pokemon cards (those goofy little trading cards that were popular with kids at the time). It was hilarious to see the snarling wannabe tough guys saying things like, “I”ll give you two Pikachus for one Mewtwo.”

Nikki and the Punk Pokemons are in transition. Not quite adults, but not kids anymore either.

If you ask me to define the young teen years in one word, I’d have to use the word “transition.” Everything about the world of a young teen is somewhere in-between where they’ve been and where they’re headed.

The signs of “work in progress” show up in every area of a young teen’s life, including her faith. She’s finding that her “childish” faith system isn’t working anymore, faith-bit by faith-bit. She begins the search – sometimes consciously and proactively, sometimes not – for a richer, more complex adult faith system. And much of this is accomplished through experimentation.

Here’s what I mean: your young teen might show less interest in church, but more interest in spiritual things. By spiritual things, I don’t necessarily mean youth group retreats and the church children’s choir. For a young teen, the dimensions of the spiritual life are just opening up, and they’re noticing depth and spirituality in music, in movies, in TV shows, in conversations with friends, even listening in on adult conversation.

But they’re in transition! They’ll continue to have pieces of childish faith and elements of an adult faith at the same time. Just as you would never try to rush the physical growth of your child (by pumping them full of hormones or steroids), it’s a bad move to attempt to rush this spiritual transition also. But you can help them: by listening, discussing, staying open and not threatened. Watch for these signs of transition in faith, and ask open-ended, non-threatening questions to help them develop their faith-thinking.

Share more openly about your own spiritual journey: your longings and doubts, your hopes and a-ha moments, places where you’ve seen God active in your life in the past week.

And most of all: be aware that this transition means they won’t stay this way for long; so cherish this time!


Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, a veteran youth worker, and a parent of a 20 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son. He speaks frequently to parents, and is the author or co-author of six books for parents, including A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, A Parents Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, and Understanding Your Young Teen. With his own “apprentice adults,” he co-authored a book for teenagers: 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents.

owen neistat

verbalization, adventure, and getting boys to do stuff

i have a genderalization i sometimes throw out in parenting seminars:

teenage girls make friends and find their place in their world through talking; teenage boys make friends and find their place in their world through doing stuff together.

sure, there a plenty of exceptions. and this doesn’t mean that girls don’t learn from doing stuff, or that guys don’t need verbalization. it’s simply a basic tendency. it’s why teenage girls can share an intimate moment of verbal sharing and instantly be BFFs. it’s why a teenage guy can play video games with another guy, pretty much not talk about anything (at least not anything intimate or vulnerable) and consider that the perfect foundation for a friendship.

we youth workers know the importance of getting teenagers talking. i’ve been really challenged in this area by the work and words of amanda drury, who The Youth Cartel had speak at a couple events in 2012 and 2013. it has caused me to say such questionably strong statements as:

for teenage faith development, verbalization of faith is more important than accuracy.

but what about guys and doing stuff?

i have, on more than one occasion, challenged a father (more than one father) who’s troubled by how he and his son seem to be disengaging. i’ve challenged these dads with a simple, but radical, idea: splurge and take your son on a BIG TIME international adventure trip. do something and go somewhere you would never do on a “family vacation.” do something where you’re pushed, both to being personally stretched, and to relying on one another.

i’m saddened by how few (none?) of these dads have ever exercised the will and courage to take me up on my suggestion.

that’s part of why i LOVED this short film by casey neistat. admitedly, casey is an adventurer. so he’s more accustomed to these things. but his son owen wasn’t an adventurer. really, this is very much worth the 20 minutes to watch (both for the story itself, and for the principles you can see at work).

dads? what sort of shared adventures are you willing to embark on with your son?

youth workers? amidst the critical value of creating space and an environment for verbalization, how can we embrace the importance of getting guys to do stuff (and maybe verbalizing in the middle of that)?