kara powell reviews ‘understanding your young teen’

dr. kara powell, youth ministry professor at fuller seminary, executive director of fuller youth institute, author of tons of books (including the sticky faith series), is also a good friend and former co-worker of mine. so, i suppose i shouldn’t be too surprised that her review (part 1 here) of my new book for parents, understanding your young teen, was so warm and kind (not that kara would ever compromise her academic impartiality in the name of friendship… well, yes, she would).

here’s a portion of her first post on the book:

The first is Marko’s one-word definition for middle schoolers. According to Marko, when he asks parents and leaders to define young teens in one word, some of the answers he gets back are: stressed, immature, confused, impossible, fun, potential, emerging, spontaneous, and unpredictable.

None of those are un-true, but Marko’s best one-word definition for the young teen experience is “change”. I’ll admit I’m biased because that is also my best one-word definition, but nonetheless, as Marko says well, “The life of a middle schooler is all about change. As previously noticed, it’s the second most significant period of change in the human lifespan.”

If you know a young teen, this isn’t a surprise to you. You know that they are undergoing monumental internal, developmental changes (e.g., cognitive, physical, relational, spiritual).

Interestingly, one of the things we have learned during our Sticky Faith Cohorts is that change is hard. Even when it’s a good change, even when it’s a change you (or someone else) wants to make, it’s still hard. As Dr. Scott Cormode at Fuller regularly reminds our Sticky Faith Churches, “Change involves loss.”

When we look at the 12 or 14 year-olds (and maybe even 16 and 18 year-olds) around us, it can seem like they are gaining so much. In the case of young teens, they are gaining new freedoms, social skills, intellectual abilities, and even faith experiences. Yet they are also losing something: they are losing some of the simplicity of their earlier childhood, some of the lack-of-stress that comes from not paying attention to social dynamics, and even some of the confusion that comes from trying to juggle two or more thoughts simultaneously (especially when those are abstract thoughts).

i like kara’s reminder that the massive change of the young teen years is a change of opportunity and gaining things, as well as a change of losing things. i often remind parents, when i’m speaking to them about these issues, that while their young teen might not be able to put words to it, they all carry around substantial, unarticulated fear connected to the changes their experiencing. this is why it’s so critical that parents (and youth workers) are constantly–really, i do mean constantly–working to normalize the experience of middle schoolers.

(btw: kara and her partner in crime, brad griffin, co-authored a ‘bonus chapter’ in understanding your young teen on new research about young teen girls.)

2 thoughts on “kara powell reviews ‘understanding your young teen’”

  1. I agree Change is the key word. On one hand processing what Kara wrote and on the other hand a personal note reminded me about the fact that one of my children is in 5th grade, embarking upon the world of “young teen”. Change is coming TO ME and I believe it is gonna happen on the inside. Kara say’s “Change involves loss” it’s true 12-14 year olds are losing aspects of their early childhood, I just had to think what parents might be losing and gaining during this time period also? I am looking forward to reading “Young teen” for a better understanding of my child and a new perspective of myself as a parent of a “young teen” to be.
    Mike Liebler

  2. Marko,
    Enjoying the book here in the UK. Just finished it and am contemplating how to apply it to our kids. Good stuff. Also loved the story about John, hadn’t ever heard that one. Would love to hear more about helping kids to get out of the consumer culture or at least wade at the shores of that river. People tell me kids in the US are now more concerned about how they treat the planet, any synergy here? Have they connected the dots and seen the relationship between what they consume and how it affects others and the rest of creation?

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