The Space Between | Notes & Review

Posted on September 26, 2009


Walt Mueller. The Space Between: A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Development. Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2009. (127 pages)

The Space Between

To be normal during the adolescent period is by itself abnormal. – Anna Freud


Though feelings of confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding often characterize the relationship between parents and teens, it doesn’t have to be the ultimate reality.

“Adolescence is, by definition, maladjustment.” (16) “In addition we must approach our task of parenting teenagers not as a punishment, a problem, or a cross to bear, but as an opportunity to depend on God while teaching our impressionable teens to do the same.” (17)

Let’s Keep These Truths In Mind:

  • Your Teenager is a Gift from God.
  • Like Everything Else in Life, Parenting Teenagers Isn’t Easy.
  • Perfection? There’s No Such Thing.
  • Adolescence Is a Process.
  • Independence Is the Goal of Adolescence.
  • Helpless Is A Good Place to Be.
  • Your Teenager Longs for God.


“Normal developmental changes cause the dependent child to crave and even fight for adult-like independence and freedom around the age of 11 or 12 (sometimes earlier), leading to six, seven, or even more years of tension and chaos for unprepared parents. With our culture pushing kids to become, act, and look like adults at younger and younger ages, the craving and fighting is starting earlier and earlier.” (32)

The timeline? It “begins at puberty and ends…sometime.” (33)

“My job as a parent is to seize the God-given opportunity to come alongside my kids, encourage and help them to make good decisions, support them, teach them, pray for them, and help them prioritize … so they can move through adolescence and on into the independence of a God-glorifying adulthood. In effect, parents are to gradually ease their children into taking ownership of their own lives.” (35)


In recent years research has found that both boys and girls are entering puberty at younger ages (occurring anywhere from 10 to 17).” (37) How will they react to these changes? “As teenagers look in the mirror to monitor where they are in the process, they self-evaluate in stressful ways, determining their physical liabilities and shortcomings based on the standards of beauty portrayed in the multitude of images that have cemented themselves in their mind’s eye. They find it extremely difficult to accept who they are in light of who they believe they should be.” (40) And the sexual culture berating the kids doesn’t help the process. So, what can you do?

  • Be sensitive and affirming as your teenager’s body changes.
  • Offer your teenager a godly perspective on these changes.
  • Understand the sexual temptation your teenager faces.
  • Teach them how to view and treat others with dignity and respect.
  • Communicate openly with your teenager.


This shift “in social orientation from parents to peers is normal, it can be difficult for us parents — especially when the friends they choose are questionable or perhaps totally unknown to us. This is when we must remember that adolescents are on the road to becoming independent adults. They’re beginning the process of changing the nature of their ties — not breaking ties — with family in order to establish identities of their own.” (49)

“…Parents are no longer all-powerful and all-knowing. Your children now see you as you really are — a human being with faults. In fact, they won’t hesitate to point out those faults to you whenever they have a chance.” (49) “It’s easy for parents to feel rejected as their teenagers devote greater amounts of time to building friendships and making social connections, and less time to the family. Don’t misinterpret this as rejection. Studies, observation, and discussions with adolescents have all yielded the same result: Parents remain tremendously important and significant in the lives of their teenagers.” (50) (emphasis mine)

“These [social] changes shouldn’t be viewed as proof of a deteriorating situation, but rather as a transformation in the type of relationship” (51) So, what to do?

  • Remember your role as parents.
  • Don’t let your teenager’s treatment of you shape how you see yourself.
  • Let your teenager know she’s loved — no matter what!
  • Spent time with your teenager.
  • Look for opportunities to teach your teenager about friendship and treating all people with dignity and respect.
  • Encourage your teenager’s involvement in friendships with other adults who share your faith and values.
  • Never forget that you’re still vital.
  • Realize the negative peer pressure is a spiritual battle that all of us — teenagers and parents alike — fight constantly.


Jean Piaget found that young children pass through four distinct intellectual stages by the time they reach the age of 11 or 12.

  1. sensorimotor stage when a child’s intelligence is manifested through actions.
  2. preoperational stage when a child has the capacity to use language and play make-believe.
  3. concrete operations stage when the child is now able to use limited logic to solve simple problems.
  4. formal operations when the child has the ability to use more advanced logic to explore and solve complex hypothetical problems about the world and assess the possible consequences of different courses of action.

“…the brain is an organ that grows and transitions, just like the adolescent.” (62) “Research shows that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is the last part to develop. This is the area that controls impulses, planning, organizing, prioritizing, judging future consequences, making complex assessments, self-control, and emotional regulation. … When all is said and done, the research shows that the brain may not be fully formed until the age of 24 or 25.” (63) This obviously affects everything, from discipline, to sexuality. So, what to do?

  • Discipline yourself.
  • Think with, not for.
  • Challenge your teenager to reflect on issues about which you might not see eye-to-eye.
  • Encourage discussion and be sure to listen before offering advice.
  • Treat your teenagers as adults.
  • Always teach right and wrong and be sure to explain and enforce appropriate consequences for wrongdoing.


“As life gets harder and more complex for teenagers, the normal developmental issues they face are compounded by cultural pressures and relational breakdowns that make it that much harder.” (72) “Add to that the fact that many teenagers live with divorced parents and blended families and the stress levels rise even more.” (73) Expect mood swings and an emotional roller coaster as a result of physical changes, academic stress/performance/expectations, peer relationships, etc. Teenage spirituality is also volatile too. So again, what to do?

  • Treat your teenagers’ emotions as important.
  • Make every effort to ensure that your home is emotionally stable and secure.
  • Look for and emphasize your child’s positive qualities.
  • Don’t take your teenagers’ rejection personally.
  • Ask questions if your teenager’s moods are often low — really low.
  • Always, always, always emphasize the authority of the Word.
  • Teach your children to trust truth over feelings.
  • Make sure your children know that following Jesus doesn’t always feel good.
  • Give your children the knowledge and skill to utilize the “this I knows.” (truths that will never waver or change)


“Armed with a newfound ability to think, evaluate, and solve problems, teenagers often question the values and beliefs they’d previously accepted. They’ll take what you’ve handed down to them and put it to the test.” (84) So, “tell them about Jesus…but let them question their faith.”

  • Be diligent in teaching young children by precept and example.
  • Don’t be upset when your children start to ask questions.
  • Encourage your teenager to be a vital part of your church.
  • Openly share your own doubts and struggles.
  • Never, ever forget that spiritual growth is a process.
  • Remember that spiritual maturity is born out of struggle.
  • Never stop praying for your kids.


“The rapid change and newness of adolescence is compounded by the fact that teenagers struggle to find answers to three life-shaping questions: Who am I? Who are my friends? and Where am I going?

Identity formation, (92) includes finding identity in Christ, sexual interests, academic or athletic achievements, money and possessions, pleasure, gratification, and comfort, relationships and approval, noble causes, and religion and morality.

Peer formation, (98) includes acceptance, security and safety, and making the proper friendship choices.

Purpose formation, (99) includes occupation, personal skills, choice of mate, etc.

What to do?

  • Continually look in the mirror and ask yourself: Where am I finding my identity?
  • Continually observe the identity-shaping world.
  • Continually confront the lies.
  • Finally, nothing speaks louder than embodied truth.


  • BE ALL THAT YOU DESIRE THEM TO BE. Quoting Deuteronomy 6, Mueller exhorts parents to be the “who” and the “how” for imparting his truths onto the children. “It’s no mistake that our children grow up to look, act, think, and be like us in so many ways.” (104)

A parent’s main job is not to be a parent, but to be a person. There are no techniques to master that will make a good parent. There is no book to read that will give the right answers. The parent’s main task is to be vulnerable in a living demonstration that adulthood is full, alive, and Christian. – Eugene Peterson

  • KNOW THEIR WORLD. “Read what your kids read. Listen to what they listen to. Watch what they watch.” (107)
  • BE PROPHETIC. “…the intentional process of looking for opportunities to speak biblical truth into their lives, showing how God’s Word and the Christian faith speaks and relates to all of life. It’s the process of imparting godly wisdom to our children and teenagers.” (107)
  • BE GRACE-FULLY REDEMPTIVE. “The determining factor in whether a bad choice turns into a situation that gets better or worse is your response.” (109) “Let me suggest that your goal should be to redeem these situations by turning a mistake into an opportunity for your teenager to become a more godly and Christlike person.” (110)
  • YOU HAVE A LAMP — USE IT. “Whether we’re children, teenagers, or adults, we all look to some authority for answers. That authority…becomes our guiding light, directing our steps as we try to figure out where we’re from, where we belong, and how to get there. … Together, the example of Christ and God’s revelation of himself in the Bible reveals what we need to know about everything we encounter on the journey.” (113)


“If you let them, teenagers can get under your skin and drive you crazy. If you understand them — and the changes taking place in their lives that they don’t even understand — then you can fulfill your God-given responsibility. You can help them survive the earthquake of adolescence that strikes between childhood and a healthy, productive adult life in which they enthusiastically embrace the Jesus who has embraced them and seek to glorify him through all they are, all they have, and all they do.” (119)

— VIA —

Walt does a good job intermingling personal stories (including his own) with the data so as to keep the book personal. It is written in a very conversational style, which makes it easy to read and to engage. And, the points are simple, easy to understand, and immediately applicable. For the many parents with whom I work that do not exhibit these characteristics, this is a high recommendation. For anyone who has yet to reach the stage of parenting adolescence, do not wait. Prepare now.

(Cf. The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting).