Tag Archives: understanding your young teen

nice review of Understanding Your Young Teen

i continue to be encouraged by the response to Understanding Your Young Teen. in fact, i’ve had quite a few youth workers buy bulk orders for parents in their churches, which is totally cool.

dan istvanik (a.k.a. “jh uth guy”) wrote a nice review for youthworker journal, and posted it on his blog also. here’s what he wrote:

There is finally a book that you can feel comfortable handing to the Middle School/Jr. High parent sitting in your office! Understanding Your Young Teen by Mark Oestreicher (*Marko, to most of us in the youth ministry world) is a concise and thorough read that gently walks parents through the young teen years. His heart for this age group saturates every page as he introduces and explains each area of young teen development and life.

The book starts off introducing the age group, defined as 11-14 years old and then hones in on the key word of this period of life as “change”. The core chapters of the book follow through explaining each of the changes that are taking place in a young teen’s life. The final chapters close the book out helping parents understand young teen culture and suggestions on responding well to your child. Beyond just the exceptional content inside each chapter, the book also includes “A Word to Parents” written by other well-known youth workers on each subject.

If you are a youth worker that is involved in any way in the lives of young teens, I would strongly suggest you reading this book and also having a few copies of this book available in your office for parents. If you are a youth worker that works specifically with middle school and Jr. High students this book and the previous book Middle School Ministry are essentials in your library.

there were a couple other short quotes about the book on that youthworker journal web page also:

Understanding Your Young Teen offers great insight into so many specifics about the different areas of young adolescence from the physical changes to friendships. Parenting is not just about understanding one part of your teen but his or her culture and the world around him or her. It gives you practical ideas about getting inside the mind and emotions of your teen during this big change in their life. Oestreicher reveals the importance of parenting and the true impact parents can have on their teens.
–Dr. Scott Newton, Student Minister First Baptist Church, Moore

Marko did a great job with adolescent development background coupled with practical tips and aids for adults and parents to come alongside teenagers with real world advice.
–Dr. Jeff Baxter, Littleton, Colorado

thanks, guys!

joel mayward’s review of Understanding Your Young Teen

sharp youth worker and youth ministry coaching program grad joel mayward posted a nice review of Understanding Your Young Teen on his blog recently. joel’s blog is worth following, btw; he’s a thoughtful guy.


I’m not the parent of a young teen, but I will be in about a decade. And when that day arrives, I’ll be sure to check back on the wisdom shared in Marko’s fantastic resource, Understanding Your Young Teen. It’s essentially the parenting version of Marko’s section in the youth ministry tome, Middle School Ministry, offering insight into the ever-changing world of 11-14 year olds.

Change. That’s the word Marko uses to describe this season of life. This change is holistic, from physical to cognitive to emotional to social to spiritual. Marko encourages parents to relationally engage with their young teen on all these levels, taking a posture of humble understanding and guidance. He proposes some new metaphors beyond the disciplinarian or the disconnected parent: cultural anthropologists and adventure guides.

As anthropologists, we learn about the young-teen experience, we study the generalities of development and culture, and we get to know the real issues and stories of the young teens living under our roof. Then we act as their adventure guides through the early adolescent experience, including–but not limited to–their spiritual journeys. (pg. 159)

Marko’s metaphors remind me of Richard Dunn’s discipleship phrase pacing-then-leading, found in his book Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students (the best book on teen discipleship I’ve ever read, btw). We enter into a teen’s life, pacing alongside them at their pace, which requires a posture of listening. As we pace, we also point out potential pitfalls and open their eyes to new visions and vistas they might have otherwise missed, leading them into maturity.

The tone of the book is practical and friendly while also clearly deeply informed. Marko has 30+ years of experience with ministry to young teens, as well as parenting two teens of his own. Yet he never comes off as overly didactic or formulaic; he practices what he preaches, offering insights as a fellow parent and guide with a tone of humble confidence. I also loved the other voices he invites into the conversation–at the end of each chapter, there is a section contributed from a fellow middle school expert, as well as a bonus chapter from Kara Powell and Brad Griffin from the Fuller Youth Institute.

One of the themes that emerges is normalization. With so many changes, parents can continually remind their young teen that they are, in fact, okay. “We must always be ready to slip ‘It’s okay,’ ‘It’s normal’ and ‘It’s good’ into our conversations with our young teens. These statements constantly remind them that their changes are normal and good and that they’ll turn out great.” (pg. 38) No one wants to be viewed as abnormal or bizarre; to offer genuine words of security and comfort can be a sacred act of love in a young teen’s life.

My favorite chapter is the one on young teen culture, entitled “White-Hot Temporary.” The insights in this chapter alone are worth the price of the book as Marko exegetes the current cultural trends of early adolescence. With sub-sections on “an intense but temporary culture” and “a driven yet sedentary culture,” there were so many descriptions that accurately describe the young teen cultural zeitgeist. To understand the culture requires patience and grace, but that’s exactly what Marko is encouraging: understanding. “If you understand why your young teen thinks, acts, and feels the way he or she does, you’ll be in a significantly better place from which to engage with your child.” Understanding and engagement–two critical values to godly parenting, and values that permeate Understanding Your Young Teen.

nice review of ‘understanding your young teen’

benjamin kerns posted a thorough and generous review of understanding your young teen the other day. with his permission, here’s a selection from his post (click through to read the whole thing):

This book is conversational in tone which makes it incredibly easy to read. Every chapter has great stories to hook the reader and practical help for handling the many different topics discussed. Additionally, MarkO has invited other youth workers from diverse backgrounds and contexts to share their insights as well. These voices give a well balanced view for each topic and add just the right amount of variety to each chapter to keep the book from being monotone.

A potential danger is to take the casual and conversational tone as being a simple book with simple solutions. But don’t be lulled into this way of thinking. While every chapter has clever stories as their hook, the meat of each chapter is built on a solid foundation of experts in their respective fields. The combination of credible sources combined with MarkO’s contextual expertise, makes this book the perfect resource for the parent and youth worker.

MarkO resists the natural inclination to scare the reader into a “sky is falling” world view with the awful statistics about teenagers, at risk activities, the crumbling of morality, and the secularization of society. Instead, he leans into the goodness of God and reminds the reader how we survived this crazy time of our lives as well.

The picture MarkO paints of early adolescence is one of wonder and chaos. He explores hormones, cognitive and emotional development, relational change, independence, spiritual development and the changing and not so changing youth culture. In every chapter, the reader is left with a hope-filled impression that the early adolescents in our lives are going to be OK. And, just in case our current realities are seemingly hopeless, there are practical helps to move the reader into action.


adam mclane’s grade school children await to pack and ship boxes of this book for you (not the baby; adam doesn’t have him trained to pack boxes yet). order one, or get a bunch of ’em for the parents in your church! (btw: if you want to order a bunch, adam will give you a special bargain — contact him first)

podcast about ‘understanding your young teen’

recently, rusty and barry from the student minister podcast interview me about my new book for parents, understanding your young teen: practical wisdom for parents. my part starts about 13 minutes in, and lasts about 30 minutes long. i had a nasty chest cold that day, and sound a bit like a male joan rivers; but, whatever.

we talk about early adolescent development, cognitive development, masturbation, doubts, and a bunch of other stuff. hopefully it will be helpful to you.

you can stream the podcast by clicking here.

zack weingartner reviews ‘understanding your young teen’

a wonderfully thorough review of my latest book, understanding your young teen, on zack weingartner’s blog. a bit from the beginning:

The first time a parent came to me as the youth group leader to ask for parenting advice was crazy. It was crazy for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason was that I was only 19 years old and the student in question was 14. I had nothing to say, mostly because I had nothing to offer – I was trying to figure out how to respond to the Elders’ request that I take my lip ring out and stop dyeing my hair green.

The reason that Marko’s new book “Understanding Your Young Teen” is so important is because it goes a long way towards closing the gap in the kinds of conversations that parents and people who work with young teens have to have, both with the teens themselves and with one another. The content of the book is a training for parents (the subtitle after all is “Practical Wisdom for Parents”) but applies so wonderfully to my everyday world working with middle school students and their families that I must rave about it. Here goes:

and from the end:

This book isn’t just a quick read and put on the shelf book. It is a field guide and handbook for anyone that has the best in mind for a young teen, or a group of young teens. My kids are little, but this book will come back into play for me in a whole new way in just a few years. If you are a parent of a young teen, or a soon to be young teen this will profoundly impact your parenting, your home – your entire life. If you teach this age or pastor this age of teen – you will learn more that you can imagine and have to underline and re-read to grasp it. Marko is a voice for a change in understanding and changing the way we do everything in ministry – and now in parenting – that none of us can afford to ignore or miss.

you’ll have to click through for all the rest!

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.)

understanding your young teen has released

my latest book, understanding your young teen: practical wisdom for parents, is officially available! i’m stoked. it’s my first book written for parents, and covers a wide variety of developmental issues about middle schoolers, as well as practical implications for parenting.

here’s the official description:

Between the ages of 11-14, adolescents experience one of the most significant periods of change they’ll face during their lifetimes—physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Mothers and fathers of young teens are presented with new challenges in understanding, communicating with and parenting their kids during this time in their lives. Understanding Your Young Teen offers insights on early adolescent development, new research and cultural changes, and practical applications for parenting and living with young teens. Mark Oestreicher has worked with young teens for nearly three decades, and is also the parent of two teenagers. Based on his research and experience, this book is presented to parents of young teens as a conversation from one parent to another. With transparency about his own experience parenting, and examples from his extensive involvement with thousands of other young teens and parents, Understanding Your Young Teen dives into the developmental realities of early adolescence. Oestreicher educates parents on the latest research and cultural shifts that affect their children, revealing opportunities for faith formation in the lives of young teens.

we’re selling it at a discount on the youth cartel store. if you want to buy a bunch of ’em for parents in your ministry, let me know, and we’ll see about doing something special for you (like, a note for your parents, or me skyping into a parent meeting, or maybe even special pricing). i spoke to a group of 50 parents at bay presbyterian church in bay village, ohio, on the content of the book, last weekend. had a great time with them.

here’s the full cover (you can click on it to see it larger)…

pre-sale offer from adam on my new book: understanding your young teen

my sneaky partner in The Youth Cartel sent out an email to our email list recently. being more gracious than adam, i’ve decided to share it with a slightly wider audience! here’s the email i got from adam (since i’m on our mailing list!)

An insider deal
Hey mark, Adam here.

I want to let you know about a brand new book Marko has coming out from our friends at Zondervan. It’s called, Understanding Your Young Teen. If you do middle school ministry, this book was written with the parents in your ministry in mind.

I’m a little biased, but I think it would be an excellent book to buy for some key parents and host a discussion group. I’m convinced that as you develop a partnership of understanding with parents in your ministry your impact in the lives of young teens will become even more significant than it already is.

To read the full description of the book, click here.

A Special Pre-Sale Offer
Here at The Youth Cartel we just launched our online store. For you, what that means is that we can pass along some exclusive stuff for our Cartel friends. (You know– keep it in the family.)

Marko’s new book doesn’t start shipping until some time in December. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pre-order it from us and get some bonus stuff when it releases.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
The book itself is $11.99 in our store. (Retail is $14.99) So just on price we’re already hooking you up. But let’s add some fun to the equation, get all Cartel-y.

Pre-order 1-9 copies – Marko will sign one copy & Marko will send along a note of encouragement.
Pre-order 10-29 copies – You’ll get the signed copy, a note, and we’ll schedule a 15 minute one-on-one time with Marko to talk about whatever you want.
Pre-order 30+ copies – You’ll get the signed copy, a note, and we’ll schedule a 15-20 minute time where he’ll Skype into a parent meeting.
Pre-order 100+ copies – You’ll get all of that. And I’ll buy Marko a puppy. Because he loves dogs. (NOT!) Seriously, if you want to buy that many copies we’ll do something awesome and no animals will be harmed.

One of the fun things about our new store is that any order over $65 automagically gives you free shipping. In this case, that’s just 6 copies of Understanding Your Young Teen. Cool, right?

To take advantage of this pre-sale deal, click here.

Thanks for your partnership! Viva la revolucion!

~ Adam (whyismarko editor’s note: the less gracious one)

middle school culture, part 3

i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.

my first post in this series covered a culture of information, and a culture of immediacy. the second post in the series included a disposable culture, and a culture of consumerism.


An Intense but Temporary Culture
In the chapter on middle school relational change (chapter 6), I wrote that young teen girl friendships are often surprisingly intense yet also tend to be short-lived. To some degree this is also true of middle school culture in general.

Some of this is developmental. In their effort to sample and discover, young teens often immerse themselves into their interests, affinity groups, or value systems. They try these on as if they’re the last ones they’ll ever try on, as if they’re going to give their lives to this new direction.

My daughter, Liesl, who’s now 16, has always been an all-or-nothing kid–and this was especially true during her young teen years. When she was into art (taking art classes and such), she was convinced she’d spend the rest of her life doing it. When she decided she wanted to be a skateboarder, she adopted everything of that subculture (including music, clothing, and many other seemingly unrelated variables) in a “this is who I am” manner. Liesl has gone through a dozen or more identity makeovers, and has only in the last year or so started to settle into some less-temporary identity wrappings.

We adults tend to either try things on more tentatively or immerse ourselves in things we will stick with for a long time. Not so, usually, with young teens. I titled this chapter “White-Hot Temporary” for this reason: Young teens give themselves wholeheartedly to the interest, relationship, choice, value system, or belief that’s in their faces, but they also easily discard it for the next sampling exercise. This is a cultural issue, in addition to being a developmental issue, because it’s what they observe all around them in other young teens.
It’s considered normal.

We adults might ask, “Why don’t you ever stick with anything long enough to really know if it’s you?” But their peers sure aren’t saying that to them.

A Networked Culture
Obviously, this is a huge shift in young teen culture. The fact that most young teens (sure, not all of them) have cell phones that instantly connect them with parents and friends is a whole new world of instant, networked connectivity. Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking tools have created a middle school culture that exists in bits and bytes.

This is a fascinating shift. While relationships are as important as ever, these relationships are more dependent than ever (seriously, more than ever–in all of history) on the written word. Friendships are no longer primarily dependent on physical proximity, audible vocalization, and listening. Friendships and social networks of middle schoolers are more dependent on networks played out over transmitted data.

As such, the “Who’s in your network?” question of identity and affinity is more than a cell phone company marketing tag. Most young teens consider online and text communications to be both the foundations and the buttresses of their relational cathedrals.

A quick example: My daughter has a formerly very close friend who lives only about a mile away from us, but no longer attends her school. He has a cell phone, but it’s almost always out of minutes (since he has a very limited prepaid plan). So she can rarely reach him by cell phone or text message. He doesn’t use Facebook (which Liesl does). So even though he lives in reasonable proximity to Liesl, she’s finding she has no real means of sustaining the friendship. She has other friends who no longer attend the same school she does, but she still considers them to be very close friends because they constantly–daily–connect via text
messaging and Facebook (and the occasional phone call).


up next, in the last post in this series: a driven yet sedentary culture.

middle school culture, part 2

i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.

my first post in this series covered a culture of information, and a culture of immediacy.


A Disposable Culture
Along with everything being instantly accessible, we also live in an era of disposability. Some things, such as disposable contact lenses and printer ink cartridges, are understood entirely as items to be used up and thrown away. Many more things have a sense of disposability to them, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers. Even an MP3 file seems more disposable than a physical CD.

Just like other aspects of the middle school world, this “use it a bit, then toss it” mentality has been the norm for these kids their whole lives. So it naturally flows over into other realms of their thinking in ways that are new to this generation:

Relationships have a sense of disposability to them these days.
Knowledge has a sense of disposability to it these days.
Beliefs have a sense of disposability.
And affiliations.
And trust.
And truth.

The subconscious thinking is: If something new is going to replace this next week anyhow, why should I be attached to it now?

A Culture of Consumerism
Earlier, I noted that it’s time for us adults to own our complicity in today’s culture. Nowhere is this more true than with consumerism.

A significant portion of the still-forming identity of today’s middle schooler is just that: “I am a consumer.” They’ve learned this from the obvious places, such as advertisements everywhere. It’s become so prevalent we may not even realize that it’s not always been this way. For example, do you remember when major sports arenas weren’t “sponsored”? Or the era before ad revenue was the primary fuel of the Internet? Do you remember when product placement was a term you didn’t know?

But schooling in how to be a consumer is not just a product of those people in the marketing world. Almost everything and everyone in the lives of young teens treats them as consumers.

And treating young teens as consumers–get ready for the “ouch”–is what most of our churches and youth ministries do also. Unfortunately, I see it played out in many homes also.

Some time ago, I heard British youth leader Mike Pilavachi speak at a Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention. He shared the narrative of his earliest days in youth ministry, when he worked hard to provide the best “youth ministry show” in town. A turning point came for him on the night he put together a fun movie party for his group. He arranged comfortable seating, provided fun movie snacks, prepared a bit of stand-up comedy beforehand, and showed a fun film. At the end of the night, the room was trashed and all the kids were walking out. The last girl looked at the state of the room, turned to Mike, and said, “Wow, this room is a real mess.” He thought she might offer to help clean it up, but instead she said, “You’re really going to have to clean this up!” And then she walked out.

Mike was furious as he went about the work of cleaning up. He thought about how unappreciative the kids were, and he even thought how they “didn’t deserve him.” But an intrusive thought (from God, Mike was sure) came to him: Why are they this way?
The only honest answer Mike could give was, I’ve made them this way. Mike said, “When we treat them as consumers, they play their part very well.”

Or, consider this example of the consumerism perpetuated in our own homes: I was chatting with my middle school guys small group about their parents, and asked the very abstract question, “What role do your parents play in your life?” The first boy to answer smiled and said, “My parents are the people who get me stuff!”

This is one of those “less neutral” parts of middle school culture that we can work to undo. Or at least we can be intentional about not adding to it.


up next: an intense but temporary culture, and a networked culture.