Brad Griffin: Where Do I Fit In?
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Brad GriffinBrad M. Griffin is the senior director of content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books.
Where do I fit in? Fuller Youth Institute’s Brad Griffin offer connections to help teens find the belonging their souls are hunting.
Brad Griffin: Where Do I Fit In?
Dave: I remember, in eighth grade, the day I felt like I belonged.
Ann: Oh, what happened?
Dave: I got invited to Steve Lishawa’s house after basketball practice. He was the—
Ann: Was he “the guy”?
Dave: He was the kid who hit puberty before all of us, so he was 6’2.” He was the center on the basketball team. I was the point guard; it was: “Get the basketball to Steve,” and he scored. But he was the man!
Dave: And he invited me to his house; I’d never been invited there. I remember walking in. All the guys that were in the groupthat I wasn’t really in yetwere sitting in his parents’ family room; and his parents were gone. As I walked in, they all looked at me; and Steve said, “Hey, grab a beer out of the fridge.”
Ann: You were in the eighth grade?
Dave: I’m in the eighth grade. I’m like, “What?!” I’d never had a beer, and my dad and mom were alcoholics; so I was like, “I don’t do that stuff.” But I remember feeling like that was the day I was in, because I was in Lishawa’s group.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife
What we’re talking about in this segment is so important for families and parents, because every kidwhether it’s 8th grade, 6th grade, 12th grade—
Dave: and every adultwants to know: “Where/where do I fit?—where I belong.”
Ann: Well, we’re specifically talking about teens today; because they are asking that question: “Where do I fit?”
Dave: Yes, we’ve even got a book called The 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager; and we’ve got the author in the studio with us today, Brad Griffin. Thanks for being back.
Brad: Oh, it’s so fun to be here.
Dave: Well, the interesting thing is, as we talked about previously with you and Kara, about your bookand really, your study with teenagers; because you both work at the Fuller Youth Institutemore importantly, like I said, you’re married; three teenagers in the home.
Dave: So you’re living exactly this.
But you interviewed these teenagers, and you asked them all kinds of research questions. You discovered what you believe are the three big questions. I know we’ve already said it; but remind our listeners: “What are the three big questions”because we just talked about one of them“that our teens are asking?”
Brad: Yes; so that question of belonging: “Where do I fit?” It is a huge one; for many teenagers, it is the one that’s out in front. The other two: the big question of identity: “Who am I?”and the big question of purpose: “What difference can I make? How will my life matter in the world?”
Dave: Let’s talk identity:
Dave: ”How are they answering the identity question of: ‘Who am I?’”
Brad: We spent a lot of time listening. To give you a picture for that: in the interview phase of our research, we sat down with teenagers, one on one, with an interviewer. We heard a lot; we heard a lot of stories.
When it came to identity, one of the big themes we heard was about pressure and expectation. The dominant narrative we heard from teenagers was: “I am what other people expect me to be. Other people have these versions of me that I need to live into and live up to,”you know, often: “My parents have a lot of expectations,” “Sometimes, it’s people at church/my pastors…” “My friends have certain expectations”; “My teachers…”; “My coaches…” and “Everywhere I go, I just feel this pressure to be.”
Ann: Well, I’m guessing, too, that creates pressure and anxiety.
Ann: I mean, a lot of teens/a majority of teens, even, are experiencing that. Do you think that’s why?
Brad: I think it’s a big part of it.
Brad: And anxiety is a word that this generation uses to define themselves.
Brad: It’s one of the words we think is just an overlay: “They’re anxious.” There’s a lot to be anxious about in teenage, you know, experience anywayjust developmentally; you get into high school, then you worry about your futurebut this generation, it feels like, has a whole other layer of pressure. Some of that’s about social media; some of that, I think, is about our parentingand the pressure and the expectations that we put on our kids to, quite honestly, perform to our expectationsyou know, that all builds up; it builds up! And then, add a pandemic on that. [Laughter] You know, I saw some research that, during the pandemic, among young people, anxiety tripled and depression quadrupled.
Brad: You know, the impact of thatthat’s going to remainand I think they’re carrying with them this built-up, you know, anxiety that they don’t totally know what to do with it.
In some ways, this season has even more pressure than ever. Okay, so I’ll give you another example. I have a junior in high school. The last normal year of school was eighth grade!
Brad: It’s like, “I’ve got to live all of high school all at once!” So when homecoming comes up, like it did recently, it feels so weighty; because she’s never had that! And she may not have it again; so suddenly, it’s like every experience has this/you know, this extra layer of: “Oh, it’s got to be really great!”
Brad: And I don’t know about youbut I have felt that as a parent, too, of”You know, we haven’t been on vacation in a while. This has got to be really great!”; [Laughter] you know? Or “My kids have missed this or that, so it’s got to be A-game!”
Ann: “It’s got to be epic!”
Brad: And I’m not feeling A-game most of the time these days. [Laughter]
Brad: So then, I’m missing my own/I’m not meeting my own expectations.
Dave: So if you’re a parent, and you’re seeing this in your child,—
Dave: and it could even happen before teenage years, obviously—but you’re seeing anxiety; you’re seeing stress; you’re seeing things you didn’t see earlier—
Ann: Even one of the stats was: 75 percent of teens feel inadequate or “not enough.” So keep going with your question.
Dave: Yes; I’m just saying, as a parentbecause parents are listening”What do we do?
Dave: “How do we step into that?”
Brad: I’ll start with one thing not to sayand this is going to be counter-intuitive; okay?I think we should stop saying, “Well, just be yourself.” Now, on the surface, that sounds like a really great thing to say; right?
Brad: To a teenager, it can sound like more pressure; it can feel like more pressure. Because here’s the thing: they don’t know who they are![Laughter]you know? “Just be myself! What do you mean? When I’m with my friends at school, I have to be this way; in class, I have to be this way; at home, I have to be this way. By the way, I’m trying on new versions of myself all the time”; because that’s what adolescence is.
Brad: That’s normal/developmentally normal. “And I don’t know that I like who I am”you know?“most days.”
Ann: Or “Other people may not like me!”
Brad: “Other people may not like who I am.” There are all these different pieces; you know? And so to “Just be yourself” actually feels like a standard they can’t live up to.
Ann: So Brad, what do we do when our kids come back, like: “I’m failing in school.
Ann: “I have no friends.
Ann: “I just posted this thing on Instagram®; I have like two ‘likes.’”
Ann: “I don’t feel like I am enough to anybody else. Maybe to youbut you’re you [Dad] and Mom; you have to love me.”
Brad: Yes, that’s right. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; how do you respond to that, when they don’t feel like they are enough?
Brad: So in that moment, where my mind jumps to is: “I want to fix it!”
Ann: Yes, me too![Laughter]like, “Let me tell you!”
Brad: Yes; I want to fix it: “Oh, no, no, no! You’re so awesome! You’re amazing! Look at all your talents!” and “Who cares if they don’t like your picture! I think it’s amazing! [Laughter] Look! I put it on my phone lock screen.” I mean, I want to fix! That impulse is there, because we don’t want our kids to experience the discomfort that they’re feeling; we want them to feel better.
I think what they need is to know that they’re heard. One of our colleagues said that: “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they’re the same thing.”
Dave: Yes; I read that in your book. I highlighted that, like, “Oh, my goodness; that is so well-said.”
Brad: Yes, yes.
Dave: So talk about that. I mean, that’s true for us as adults
Brad: Isn’t it?
Dave: but especially for teenagers.
Brad: So for that kid, in that situation, I actually think what could be most helpful sometimes, is for us to just reflect back: “Wow! That sounds really tough.”
Ann: “That’s a lot.”
Brad: Yes; “It sounds like you’re really just feeling a lot of pressure right now; huh?”
Dave: And you say in your book, “Memorize these three words: ‘Tell me more.’”
Dave: So that’s what you’re modeling right now:
Dave: “Tell me more.”
Brad: I love those words. I had a friend/a pastor, who said, “I think those might be the three most loving words that we can offer another person.”
- “Tell me more about that. Tell me more about what it feels like when that happens.”
- “Help me understand,”—that’s another great one.
- I love thiswondering language“I wonder what that’s like?” Even the kid who won’t tell us
Ann: Right; what they’re feeling.
Brad: what they’re feeling.
Dave: I’ve got to just say this! As I’m listening to this, I’ve just got to add this: “By the way, husbands, this works really well when you’re communicating with your wife”; and I’m sure it’s the other way for a wife with her husband. Ann has told me so many times: “Just ask medon’t fix it; don’t solve it[Laughter]just say, ‘Tell me more.’”
Ann: “Just get in it with me.”
Dave: “Tell me: ‘What did that feel like?’” I mean, I’m listening to you say that about us with our teenagers;—
Dave: but let me ask you this: “As a dad, or as a mom, how do we stop ourselves from saying, ‘Yes, but…’; because they’re going to say things that we know are wrong! We know they should think differently. There’s a part of us that goes, ‘Yes, I hear you; I hear you, but…’ And then we go right to the answerthe solution/the judgmentwhatever. How do we stay away from that?because that’s a tendency for all of us to do, as parents.”
Brad: You know, somebody told me this secret; and I love it. I have a bottle of water right here in the studio with us. One tip that this parent said was: “When you’re tempted to jump in with an answer, with a response, with a fixjust take a drink; take a sip/swallow; take a breathright?whatever that is, just interrupt yourself.
Brad: I actually think it’s a discipline
Dave: Yes, the pause.
Brad: whether it’s water, whether it’s taking a breath—whatever that is
Brad: the discipline of pausing and asking ourselves, “Why am I going to respond right now? What does this kid actually need right now?” Sometimes, in that pause/sometimes, the pause is long enough for the kid to actually say the next thing, where we might normally jump in with a fix or an answer.
I’ve got to tell you! I wish I were better at this. I mean, I actually love having the answer. I love it! [Laughter]
Ann: I’m getting—I was getting teary when you were talkingbecause I thought, “This is my greatest parenting mistake.” Because when they start expressing their pain, or their feelings of not belongingnot knowing who they are; not feeling like they fit in anywhereI get so fearful in my heart.
Ann: And I love them so much, that I want to fix them right away: “This is the truth…” “That’s wrong thinking; this is right thinking...” I’m passionate out of my love for them, but that’s not what they’re needing right now.
Ann: That’s been—that right there!if our listeners, and parents, and youth leaders could do that right there, it would change our relationship with our kids!
Ann: And you’re right; it’s such a discipline, instead of just jumping in to fix it. It’s hard!
Ann: I like that step of: “Take a breath,”/“Take a drink.” And I would add: “Say a prayer:
Ann: “’Jesus, give me wisdom. You promise to do that in James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously.”’” God hears that! He’ll give us wisdom of just being able to ask; take a pause.
I think it’s hard with kids who don’t open up.
Brad: Yes, yes.
Dave: And I would add this, because I think there may be some wired like me[for whom] the advice would be“Stay engaged.”
Dave: Because there’s a part of me that, when it goes thereeven with Ann, but with a son or a daughterthey’re going sort of deep. They’re going messy; and I’m just like, “Okay, I’m out!” [Laughter] You know what I mean? Part of me is like, “I’m just going to go work out. I’m just not going to…”
Dave: It’s like I’m uncomfortable. And I know there are moms and dads, who are like, “Yes; that’s me, too.
Dave: “I just bail.” Don’t bail! Stay engaged. You don’t have to answer their question; you just need to live with them, and walk with them in that journey; right?
Brad: Yes; and be okay with not resolving everything in the conversation. Because the other thing is, you know, I want—like I want it to be fixed now.
Brad: I want the answer to come by the end of our conversation. [Laughter] I want that kid to walk away, you know, feeling whatever;
Brad: or for this conflict to be resolved, if it’s conflict.
Dave: And I would add thisbecause we said this in our No Perfect Parents book“A lot of times, as parents, we think our goal is that we have teenagers who walk with God, with no sin/with no disobedience.
Brad: Sure; perfect kids; right?
Dave: “That’s not the goal! I mean, the goal is something bigger than that.”
It’s like: “I hope, when my son or daughter is 30 years old, they’re following Jesus.” You know what? It may take some really bad choices in their teen years for that goal to happen! I’m not saying that’s the only way it happens; but often, we’re like, “Oh, no! We can’t let anything that’s negative happen!”—or you know, let them wrestle with doubt and struggle in those teenage years; we want to fix it right there.
Sometimes, we need to step back and say, “God’s going to work in this, and what they need right now is a mom or dad that just comes alongside, is the stable force they need, but lives with them in the journey,”—
Dave: —something like that?
Ann: Hey, let’s play a clip; because this is another thing that can happen with teenagers. We recently interviewed Bev Hendricks Godby. She was talking about, sometimes, you really don’t like your teenagers.
Brad, we want you to listen to this and, maybe, respond.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Bev: Ideally, you don’t want to start in adolescence, trying to like your child.
Dave: Good point. [Laughter]
Bev: That’s not the most optimal time to do that. [Laughter] I feel like we lose the magic of childhood so quickly. When we first find out that we’re having a baby, and when we first have them, it’s just all joy and, “Oh, this is amazing!” And so quickly, it just kind of flattens out.
I would really encourage parents, wherever you are: “Try to get back into the joy. Receive the gift; unwrap the gift. It’s right in front of you. It’s happeningbut it’s like you can delight in that gift, if you choose toand figure out: ‘What’s right with this child in front of me?’ And they’ll help you out with that, because they cannot not be this person.”
Brad: I love that. [Laughter] The word that comes to mind for me is “curiosity”/cultivating curiosity. In the teenage years, one of the reasons, maybe, that we end up not liking our kids is that we just get stuck in the everyday. It’s logistics, and some of those logistics are not very fun. I have said that I kind of get stuck asking my kids the same handful of questions over and over again.
Ann: which are?
Brad: Well: “How was your day?” “Do you have homework?” [Laughter] “Are you going to practice?” You know: “Do you have your stuff?” “Did you do your laundry?” It’s the ridiculous: “Did you unload the dishwasher?”
Those are not very fun questions to live with! They’re not fun to ask, and they’re not fun to answer; and they don’t cultivate curiosity. They don’t actually help me get to know my kid. They don’t help us cultivate a fun relationship or anything of substance. Of course, they’re necessary. I mean, there’s this layer of life that is just—we have to function, and we have to learn how to function as a familybut I think that’s where we lose our teenagers!
We lose the wonder and the curiosity of who they are and who they’re becoming. I think, sometimes, when a parent ends up not liking their kid, it can be because we’ve stopped being curious about them.
Maybe a way to get back into that is just to start asking our kids some different questions; say: “Hey, I wonder what you’re into these days?” “I don’t feel like I know what kind of music you like right now,” or “I don’t understand the music you listen to; tell me about it.”
Ann: That’s good! I was even thinkingon social media
Ann: if they have social media: “Who are you following?
Ann: “Tell me about them. Why do you like to follow them?” or “What are you listening to that you resonate with?” Those are good questions; I like that.
Brad: Yes; I judge a lot, so this is a discipline for me too. [Laughter] As a parent, [not] withholding judgment is one of my biggest downfalls. Well, it’s a discipline I have to practice to withhold it, because my downfall is to judge. When we hear something that we don’t likeor we don’t know if we like it, or we’re not so surewe just jump straight to judgment.
Ann: Well, especially if it’s just pure trash!
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin on FamilyLife Today. We’ll get back to their conversation in just a minute; but first, let me just say we’d love to send you a copy of Brad’s book, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation of any amount this week to support the work of FamilyLife Today. You can do that at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Ann and how she struggled to respond well when she didn’t like the music choices her kids were making.
Ann: I was listening to a son—like this is back in the CD days—like, “Are you kidding me? This is what you’re listening to?!” [Laughter] I take it out of his CD player; I throw it into the trash can! That really opens up conversation. [Laughter] “My mom’s insane!”that’s what he’s thinking. But I mean, there’s some music out that the lyrics are crazy bad!
Brad: Yes, yes.
Ann: in terms of what we’re thinking.
So another time, this could be a: “Take a breath.”
Dave: “Take a drink of water.”
Ann: Yes; and you’re asking questions about that.
Brad: Yes; “Tell me what you like.”
I think it helps, too, to remember some of what we actually listened to and watched. You know, I certainly remember, looking back now,—I mean, even sometimes, I’ll hear something/you know, a song from when I was a teenager—and think, “Oh, I actually listened to that”; [Laughter] you know?—like: “I knew all the words to that song.”
Brad: You know: “That wasn’t very edifying,” “That wasn’t very…”—whatever.
So under the surface—sometimes, the kid wants to listen to music; because they want to belongto take it back to the three questions.
Brad: We actually heard this in our interviews. One young woman talked about—I remember this oneshe said, “Okay; so sometimes, I remember, in middle school, especially”—she said—“when I knew a song, and I knew the lyrics to a song, I fit in. And then, a new song would come out. I didn’t know; suddenly, it felt like I didn’t belong anymore with these people; and I didn’t understand how that worked.”
You know, music is one of those undercurrents of teenage life. Actually, it can be a marker of belongingand a particular in, you know, subgroups and clusters of kids, who listen to particular musicall of that is part of it. You know, it can be part of identity: “Am I an eclectic music person?”
Brad: “Am I a country music person?” “What kind of music am I?” “What does that say about who I am?” And kids are processing that. They may not even be able to be consciously aware of it; but it might be about: “Who I am.” It might be about: “Where do I belong?”
To us, as parents, it’s just like, “Oh, that’s trash! Are you kidding me?” [Laughter] Even when we listen to lyrics—kids don’t necessarily listen to lyrics!you know, for some kids, it's like: “Oh, this is just fun to dance to.”
Brad: We’re like, “Well, did you hear what they were saying?!” “No!” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; and I think, at the end of the dayas you think about the three questions: identity, belonging, and purposeif anybody is going to be the one to speak truth about those, it’s us, as parents. And again, we talked about: “We have to be very careful in how we do it. We need to listen; we need to empathize; we need to ask questions.”
I also think—and Ann has shared many of her mistakes—she was the best, and still is, at speaking words of life and true Christ-identity into our boys. Even now, as men, she constantly reminds them, in an appropriate waynot in a: “Mom! Hey, you’ve got to…”but just because they’re not hearing this anywhere else.
I think we, as parents, need to make sure—I would say even an action point for today”What if today’s the day they heard from you”—mom or dad—“the truth about who they are, and where they belong, and what their purpose is?”
Dave: in an appropriate, regular, consistent way, they need to hear it.
Ann: Dave, I would add, too, one of the things we did—I would do this every nightI would put my hands on themtheir shoulder, their leg, their footand pray for them at night.
Ann: I’m praying those things over them: “God, thank You that they’re a part of our family. Thank You for the gifts.” And I would name some of the things I see in them.
Ann: And I would even say, “They may not see it, Lord; but I do, and You do, Jesus.” Just praying that over thembecause they may not always receivebut just praying that over them and thanking God for them.
Brad: I was thinking “prayer” when you started to say that, Ann. You know, one thing I was thinking about is: “Sometimes, we tuck something away; and come back to it later,”
Brad: like, “Hey, this conversation may not be the moment to correct, but I’m going to tuck that away and come back to it.” One of the ways we can come back to it is prayer. I’m a big fan of praying for my kids at night.
Ann: Yes! Me too.
Brad: We do it. And it’s just a practice we started when they were babies. We keep doing it, even though they’re teenagers. They haven’t asked us to stop, and we’re not going to stop; right? [Laughter]
Brad: Praying for your kids at night can be one of those contexts, where you can reinforce truth.
Brad: I just text my kids things sometimes.
Ann: So good!
Dave: That’s good.
Brad: And, you know, I have a college student now. The other day, I just sent her a link to a songit’s just“The Lord bless you,”right? “and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you.” I just said, “Hey, it’s just a Tuesday blessing for you.” It’s little things like that, where we can speak truth to our kids in incremental ways over time;
Ann: That’s good.
Brad: and not in the heat of an argument; you know?
Brad: I wasn’t, in that text, disagreeing with her about music or about fashion, which is a whole other thing we haven’t even talked about—[Laughter]—or whatever—you know? It’s just a: “Hey, I just want to bless you today, because God loves you;
Ann: “because I love you.”
Brad: “and I love you.”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin on FamilyLife Today. His book is called 3 Big Questions that Change Every Teenager: Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections. You can get it at FamilyLifeToday.com, or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
If you know of anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station. You can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, it would really help us out if you would rate and review us.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Brad Griffin about how we know that, when our kids stumble through the day and fall down, God’s still got them. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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