Transitioning to Adolescence
About the Guest
Becoming a teenager is a big transition because so many new experiences are on the horizon. In his new book,Writer John Majors explains to teens what they’re likely to face.
Transitioning to Adolescence
Bob: If you have a middle school-aged son or daughter, what are the things that are most important to them right now? John Majors says, “As parents, we need to be helping our children be thinking about what really matters, not about what their Facebook® friends say is important.”
John: If I were to go back and look at the things I would have listed—and I think any adult would look back at what you would have listed that were important to you when you were 13—you know, so many of those aren’t even on your radar screen anymore. So, your identity can’t be about those things primarily; or you’re set up to fail. It’s got to be something deeper than that that will transcend those things as you grow and as you age.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How can we, as parents, be proactively engaged and involved in helping direct the way our middle school-aged kids are thinking?
We’ll explore that subject today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things that I had the opportunity to do, not long ago, as a part of the work that we’re doing on The Art of Parenting video series that we’re creating—I went out on the street corner in suburban Chicago; and I asked people who were coming by, “What age is the toughest age to be a kid?” What was interesting—
Dennis: You were there with a video crew.
Bob: We had a video crew. What was interesting is that there was a consensus. People kind of all looked and said, “There is a year that is the toughest year.” Would you know what that is?
Dennis: Well, because I know what we’re talking about today and I know the age range that it’s targeted for—13 to 15?
Bob: Thirteen is the year that folks looked at and said, “That’s got to be the toughest year—thirteen/fourteen.” That transition time from childhood to adolescence may be the rockiest season for any young person to go through.
Dennis: They begin to push parents out—
Dennis: —at a time when they need to be inviting their parents in. The unfortunate thing is—is that parents let them push them out of their lives.
Bob: Well, and they are trying to figure out in those years: “Who am I really? What am I good at? What are my talents and abilities? Will people even like me? Will my peers respect me?” There is a lot of self-doubt in those years.
Dennis: It’s why we’ve targeted this age range to produce a new product—and now a new book we’re going to tell you about here in a minute—called Passport2Identity™. There is both a male and a female version; and we have the creator of the male version, John Majors, back with us.
Welcome back, John.
John: Thanks. Good to be here.
Dennis: Passport2Identity—well, you explain it, John. Why don’t you explain to our listeners what it’s all about?
John: Well, Passport2Identity is an audio kit that’s a weekend getaway between a father and his son or a mother and her daughter to help them transition into middle teen years. We’ve specifically centered it around the driver’s license: “So, you’re about to get your driver’s license. How do you get ready for that? You’re going to have increased freedoms, increased responsibilities, new conversations in life that are happening around dating, and sex, and ‘What does it mean to be a man and a woman?’” So, we want to give you a weekend away to have those conversations, hopefully, in a fun and memorable way and to strengthen that relationship.
Dennis: So, you have created a companion book that is called True Identity that addresses the identity issues that young men and young women are facing; right?
John: Yes; that’s right. The book is really designed for a parent to be able to give it to their child and say, “Look, read through this; and let’s talk about it.”
Unfortunately, not everybody has a chance to get away for a weekend with their child; and this book complements the weekend. If you go through the weekend, you can read the book and get the same ideas in a little different way. It’ll open up a conversation between parent and child around a lot of important topics.
Dennis: Well, John has served here, at FamilyLife, for 17 years. He’s the Senior Director of Content Development.
Bob: Tell everybody what John’s first responsibilities were when he came here.
Dennis: Let’s let him tell!
Bob: What did you come here to do?
Dennis: He’ll tell it with some color, Bob.
Bob: Yes; he will.
John: Well, the way it was described to me was: “I was the chief manure-shoveler,” when I showed up—that’s how it was described to me. [Laughter]
Bob: Your boss—
Dennis: Since we don’t have horses or cows—
Dennis: —around here—
John: I was a ministry assistant to the President of FamilyLife—
Dennis: Who was then?
John: —who was Dennis Rainey. [Laughter]
Bob: Your job was to kind of help Dennis navigate everything that he had to deal with; right?
John: Yes, yes; in fact, part of what I learned during that time, I think, ended up in this book—was his encouragement to say: “Get out ahead of me.
“Make sure that you are thinking out ahead of me.” That’s part of learning to grow up—be a leader / be a man—is to think out ahead. I didn’t know what that meant when he said it, but I learned over time. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, and being a parent, we’ve got to be thinking out ahead. I mean, I remember the night that my daughter came home from being at a sleepover at a friend’s house. I said, “What did you guys do last night?” She said, “We went out to the park.” I said, “Oh, what did you do out at the park?” She said, “We just hung out at the park.” “Well, what time did you guys get back from the park?” “Oh, a little after midnight.” She was like 14—I’m like: “Wait, wait, wait. No, no, no,”—but I hadn’t been thinking out ahead. I had just been kind of rolling with the flow.
As a parent, we have to be anticipating: “What’s around the corner? What’s going on in our kids’ lives?”—thinking out ahead of what’s going on. That’s really a part of what you’re exhorting parents to—although the book is really more written for the young person than it is for the parent; right?
John: Yes; and really, I tried to get my head back in the space of: “What was it like when I was 14/15?
“What was I struggling with? What was I wrestling with?” You know, I thought there were some things I was good at, at school—I liked math; I was trying to pick out a car; I was doing well in my little grocery store job—but man, if you would have asked me, “John, what are you good at?” I was still trying to figure that out.
This book just tries to help give a kid perspective on: “How do you figure that out in a way that keeps the most important things central to life?” because we live in a culture that wants to make so many secondary things the most important thing of life. How do we say: “Look, here’s what’s got to be central to you. Your identity has to be rooted in something greater than you”?—give them that conversation / give them that opportunity to really explore that.
Dennis: I’ve gotten into your book. It may be what you struggled with when you were a 13-/14-/15-year-old, but it’s laid over today’s culture and some thorny issues that young people face today that they need moms and dads to help them address.
You begin the book with an unusual identity crises that a young lady had.
John: Alecia Faith Pennington is a young lady in Texas who wanted to travel the world. She wanted to get a job and earn some money. She couldn’t get a job, because she didn’t have any driver’s license. So, she went to get her driver’s license. She couldn’t get a driver’s license, because she didn’t have a birth certificate—she had been born at home / her parents hadn’t filed the paperwork.
Now, she pressed into it. She realized she didn’t really have any form of identification that really would prove that she was a person. She hadn’t been to the doctor or the dentist—no kind of records or public school or anything that would prove that she was a real person. That put her on a quest of “How do I prove to the government…”
Bob: “How do I establish: ‘Yes,’—that—‘I exist’?”
John: And that also caused in her some questions about: “Well, who am I? What is important to me? How do I continue to grow, myself, as my own person?”
Dennis: And it’s a great illustration of what a 13-/14-/15-year-old experiences, coming out of the golden years when life is simple—
—the hormones haven’t hit; or they’re in the process of hitting, maybe better-stated. Nonetheless, they’re trying to figure out: “Who am I? What’s my role here?” What you’re saying is that it’s a parent’s responsibility to help your child figure this out, and what you want to do is help them address it in this book.
John: Yes; I think every parent wants to see their kid grow into that. I’ve got a 12-year-old boy at home right now, and he’s excelling in swimming. I’m going: “How can I help feed that? How can I help him grow in that?”—but, yet, also—“How can I help protect him from him making that his ultimate identity and make everything about that?” because identity has got to be bigger than that.
Dennis: What is a biblical approach to a person’s real identity?
John: I point people to Colossians 3:2-3: “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Really, what we want people to get out of that is: “Our identity, ultimately, has to be rooted in Christ.
“It has to be rooted in something greater than ourselves.” When I think back to my identity-crisis moments, it was always when I was trying to take over my identity / trying to set my identity myself. Over and over again, I let myself down.
There’s a popular opinion, I think, in today’s world—that in order to really figure out who you are, you’ve got to look deep inside yourself / you’ve got to follow your own heart. I’ve heard Tim Keller say, “That’s a pretty scary proposition; because when I’ve looked deep inside myself, it’s dark; it’s wicked; and I’ve let myself down again and again.” So, we really need to root our identity—or hide our identity—in something that’s greater and stronger than ourself that will hold up under whatever pressure we face.
Bob: You know, you stop and think about it—as an adult, when we think about our identity, as grownups, when somebody says, “What do you do?” the first thing you go to is your vocation / your occupation. So much of our identity is based on what we do.
If you ask a 13-year-old, you don’t typically say, “What do you do?”—you know what they do / they go to school—but if you said, “So, tell me a little bit about yourself,” they’re typically going to go to their likes, their dislikes, their interests / things they’re good at. You’re suggesting that we need to help them understand that’s a part of who they are, but it’s not the core of who they are.
John: It’s not your ultimate identity. Those are important, and those help shape who you are and help you grow; but if I were to go back and look at the things I would have listed—and I think any adult would look back at what you would have listed that were important to you when you were 13—so many of those aren’t even on your radar screen anymore. So, your identity can’t be about those things primarily; or you are set up to fail. It’s got to be something deeper than that that will transcend those things as you grow and as you age.
Dennis: The Scriptures really command us to look into the mirror of God’s Word to get a take or an image of who we are.
Unfortunately, we’re gazing at the world; and we’re glancing at the Bible. If you’re gazing at the world—which is what most 13- to 15-year-olds are doing—they’re looking at their peers. They’ve got all these peers holding up mirrors back to them, telling them who they are.
I’m just curious—because you’ve given this a lot of thought—“What are the images that young people are being told that they are today?” I mean, we know some of them are around the gender issue; but what others are they being challenged with?
John: You know, a lot of them are ones that we faced as kids; but I think it’s really ramped up with our sports culture. You know, you’ve got to specialize really early and become totally involved in the sports world to prove yourself—that you’re going to be good at anything. But it’s also in academics—I mean, from a young age, kids—you know, they’re told, “Harvard is on the horizon,” in kindergarten and “depending on how you do there,”—it’s a bit crazy. Those kinds of pressures weren’t on me.
I wasn’t even hardly thinking about college until late in high school. So, it’s a different world in those regards.
And then: “What do you think about the latest music that comes out?” “…the latest movie?” “What are your opinions on the latest social issues?” If you don’t say the right things on social media, you’ll be ostracized by groups of friends. Those are significant pressures that are shaping the way you think about yourself.
Bob: Back last spring, there was a lot of talk around the series that was on Netflix, I think, called 13 Reasons Why about a young person who had committed suicide. The message of the series was that a lot of young people are hearing messages from their peers and from their culture that are driving them to despair; because they can’t measure up / they don’t measure up; they can’t achieve / they can’t succeed.
Do you think it’s tougher for a 13-year-old today to try to grapple with identity issues than it was when you and I were 13?
John: I don’t know that it’s tougher—but I think, whether it’s harder or easier—I think our goal, as parents, has to be:
“How do we push our kids back to Scripture? How do we get them to see that there is an eternal standard that they can depend on no matter what comes at them?”—because it could be strong messages on suicide; it could be strong messages on their gender identity, transgender issues, [and] same-sex attraction. If they have an eternal standard they can go back to and something they can point to—that they can depend on no matter what—and if we can keep pressing that into their heads in a way that’s not legalistic and turns them sour against God’s Word—that’s what’s going to help them navigate whatever comes to them.
Dennis: There are two things I want parents to know as they guide their children through these challenging years. First of all, I think there is more noise today, at a higher intensity, than there has ever been simply because most of them carry around a screen in their pockets or purses—and the world’s got access to them, and the world is flashing these images.
There are a lot of ways a kid could make a mistake today in a hurry.
The second thing—and this is a key point that parents have to understand—your young teenager may look like they’re nearly grown-up. They are starting to take on the features of adults, but they’re not—they lack confidence / they are filled with self-doubt.
Bob: You said, “confidence”—I didn’t know if you said “confidence” or “competence.” I guess they lack both; don’t they?
Dennis: I think you’re right, Bob; I think both words would characterize them; but they need somebody to believe in them—and believe in them when they fail / believe in them when they make a mistake and they don’t achieve and they don’t measure up—maybe to their brothers and sisters within the family or to what the parent is desiring from them, as a young person.
John: One of the things I try to encourage folks to do is to get around mentors. Find strong mentors in your life—and I hesitate bringing up mentors, because I know I may not get to talk again the rest of this time because Dennis is so passionate about mentoring—[Laughter]—
—in a season when you don’t want to hear from your parents.
I think, looking back at 15, I acted like I didn’t; but I did. I wanted my dad to say, “No, son; here’s what you need to do.” Even if I pushed back, that was part of the game. I’m going to push back, because I’m trying to establish myself as well; but I was also doing all I could to get around our youth minister, who was just the manliest man I knew and the godliest guy I knew. He was pouring into me—and he was helping to shape me / he was helping to direct me—and that’s a great tool. Find other men and women you want your children to be like and do whatever you can to get them around them.
Bob: I don’t know how many times my kids heard me say: “Find somebody, five or ten years older than you, who you look at their life and you think, ‘You know, when I’m 23, I’d like my life to look like that.’ Then, get some time with them—to ask them if you can go out and buy them lunch sometime and just hang around them.”
I think that you’re right—as a young person, you look at people in our generation—and a 15-year-old goes: “Yeah, I kind of want to be like my dad; but I’d like to be a little cooler than my dad”—right?—“My dad’s just not all that cool.” But you see some 24-year-old youth pastor—some kind who is manly and godly—and you go, “That’s who I’d like to be like.” And if you can get your kids in a channel of influence like that—
Bob: —that’s huge.
John: I’ve got a friend, right now—once a week, he drops off his 13-year-old son to meet with a pastor that he admires—he bribes him with coffee and treats. They’re going through a book, because he knows his son needs that guy to speak into his life in a way that he can’t.
Dennis: Here is what you need to know about a young person in this phase of life. You’d be much smarter to line up the mentor and have the mentor pursue your son or your daughter on their own.
I’m not against appointments like your friend—but if it can be someone taking interest in me, as a 13-/14-/15-year-old—I’m always looking up to older young people and college students that are just a few years ahead in the laps of life.
One of the things that we did, as we raised our older kids—we would go to them privately and say: “Hey, Ben, why don’t you put your arm around your younger brother, Samuel, and help him? He’s going through a really difficult time right now. Just express belief in him, and love him, and coach him.” In the process of challenging Ben to do that, I was also challenging him to finish the process of growing up well, as a young man. It’s a double gain for a family if you can use a family member to reach down into the younger ones and to build into their lives.
Bob: Yes; I’ll tell you—as you talk about that, I think—if I could find—
—if I had a 14-year-old son today, and I could find a high school senior or college student / somebody like that—who I thought, “This is a sharp young man,”—same with my daughter / if I could find an 18-/19-/20-year-old young woman, who would agree to get with my daughter—I’d buy two copies of True Identity. I’d give them to the older person—I would say: “Would you / I’ll pay you to go through this book with my son or my daughter. Get together with them once a week. I’ll buy the lunch, and I’ll pay you to go through it.” That would be an investment—it’d be huge; wouldn’t it?
Dennis: Brilliant—absolutely brilliant. As a parent, don’t lose sight of this. This is absolutely, categorically, something you can’t give up during this period of time—and that’s your relationship with your son or with your daughter. I know that says easy and does hard; because you’re starting to relate to them—they’re pushing back—they don’t like you / you don’t feel welcome.
You just keep finding a way to get into the interior of their lives—you take them hunting, you take them fishing, you take them shopping—go out on Coke® dates. Find ways to get T-I-M-E and keep the relationship alive. You can’t afford for the bridge to go down on your end, as a parent, that is bridging over to the island that your son or daughter is likely building for themselves to be isolated. They don’t need to be isolated—they need a parent now more than ever.
Bob: In that regard, if you can set up a weekend—where you and your son or you and your daughter—could get away for a weekend and do something that your son or daughter would really like to do—like drive four or five hours so you could go to a game, or so that you could go shopping, or so that you could go barrel racing—you know, I don’t know what it is that your kid is into—but something that would really be exciting for them. Then you say, “Along the way, I want us to listen to the Passport2Identity stuff from FamilyLife.”
They might shriek and howl and say, “Then, I don’t want to go.” Just say: “Come on. Let’s do this. It’d be good.” You do it. If you’re with the guys, you’re going to hear John guiding you through the material. If you’re with your daughter, Michelle Hill is going to take them through the material. It opens the doors for conversation—
Dennis: It does.
Bob: —that you just won’t have any other way.
Dennis: An outsider can say something to your son or daughter—
Bob: Yes, on the CD; yes.
Dennis: —and it authenticates that you, as a parent, aren’t near the dummy that your son or daughter may think that you are at that time.
John: And it’s not just what they hear—because we didn’t have Passport2Identity when I was 15; but I remember the times away with my dad—those were some of the most important moments of my upbringing—
John: —the camping trips / the fishing trips. They weren’t often because he was incredibly busy, but they were powerful / they were memorable.
Bob: We do have Passport2Identity for both young men and young women and the book that John has written called True Identity in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’m just sitting here, thinking about this time of year—kind of tough for a mom or a dad to plan a two-day getaway with a son or a daughter at this time of year—but you can start thinking about a couple of days over Christmas break or “Is there time over spring break?” Start making plans now to have a couple of days’ getaway where you and your son or you and your daughter can go on a Passport2Identity experience together.
Again, this is for parents of 13-/14-/15-year—even a 16-year-old. It’s a great couple of days away, where you can engage around subjects that are front and center with where your son or daughter is living. Find out more about Passport2Identity and John Majors’ book for teens called True Identity: Finding Significance and Freedom Through Who You Are in Christ.
Both resources are available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order from us online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Our phone number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I think all of us, as parents, look at the season in which we’re raising our children and think, “Has there ever been a more challenging time than the season we’re in right now?” It does seem like whenever your children are going through their teen years, there are lots of challenges that we face, as parents. One of our goals, here, at FamilyLife is to help you in that journey. We want to be an ongoing source of practical biblical wisdom, help and hope for moms and dads / for husbands and wives when you go through the tough times of life in your marriage or in your family.
Our goal is to develop godly marriages and families.
And when you support the ministry of FamilyLife, what you are enabling us to do is to reach more families—more young couples; more parents, who’ve got teenagers; parents of prodigals; couples who are struggling in their marriage—you’re helping to effectively develop more godly marriages and families when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you are a long-time listener and you’ve never made a donation or maybe it’s been a while since you donated, today would be a great day for you to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation; or call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail your financial support to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
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Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, John Majors will be back with us. We’re going to continue our conversation about the very difficult issues teenagers are facing today and how we, as parents, can help prepare them for some of the challenges they’re facing. I hope you can be back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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