Jim Burns. Teenology: The Art of Raising Great Teenagers. Bethany House, 2010. (221 pages)
PART ONE: PARENTING TEENS TO BECOME RESPONSIBLE ADULTS
1. Who Is That Stranger in Your House
It has been said that raising kids is part joy and part guerrilla warfare. (17)
A dog trainer once told us that training your dog is 66 percent human training and 33 percent actual dog training. I think the same rings true for raising teenagers. (19)
One of the deepest cries of adolescence is FREEDOM, and it’s the parents’ job to help their teen become a responsible adult. We can only do that when we move our parenting role from controlling to consulting and from micromanaging to mentoring. (19)
There is more stress in this generation of American families than in any previous generation, and it is playing havoc on the emotional health of parents. Raising kids was not meant to be this difficult. (21)
The first step is making sure we have a realistic view of healthy teenagers and their parents. (22)
Walt Mueller … described adolescence as a transitional stage in which your child is “an adult trying to happen.” (23)
…part of normal healthy teenage development is
- finding a healthy self identity
- establishing healthy relationships
- making good decisions
- developing a relationship with God
No teen will become a responsible adult if their parents carry the load for them. (27)
A child-focused lifestyle isn’t healthy, and frankly, it’s not fair to the kids if you expect to be a healthy role model. (28)
2. Correcting Behavior Without Crushing Character
Micromanaging parents never get the results they hope for, and most often they end up disappointed. The most effective parents are those who surrender the control they really don’t have and offer choices for their teens to make. That is the way to teach responsibility and respect. (33)
The most valuable lessons in life often come as consequences from making a mistake. Before freedom often comes pain. (34)
I’m afraid too many parents have indulged and enabled their children to such an extent that they have helped create irresponsible and even narcissistic kids. (37)
Discipline is fundamentally a matter of leadership. (37)
Parents should not agonize over what a child fails to do or does, if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it themself [sic]. – John Rosemond
Foster Cline, in his excellent book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, offers four steps toward responsibility:
- Give your teen responsibility
- Trust that your child will carry it out and at the same time hope and pray that they will blow it. (They will learn from their misstep.
- When she does blow it, stand back and allow consequences to occur while expressing empathy.
- Turn right back around and give him the same responsibility all over again, because that sends a powerful implied message: “You’re so smart that you can learn. People do learn from their mistakes, and you’re no different.”
Let reality be the teacher. (41)
Shame-based parenting never works in the long haul. (43)
By and large, most teens do want to succeed and, believe it or not, please their parents. (43)
3. Learning the Developmental Stages of Adolescence
The word that might describe the teen years best is change. (49)
Kids socialize in what is called friendship clusters, and I vote for using almost any way to get to know the people in your teen’s cluster of influence without becoming a snoop. (52)
On this roller coaster of emotional ups and downs, you can be your teen’s solid ground. (54)
Parents must avoid smothering their kids with their own faith. …Allow and even affirm the difficult questions. A healthy faith has no room for questions. And whenever possible, empower them to put their faith in action. (55)
As kids shift their way of thinking and acting, so must parents. Parents have to shift their parenting style to keep up with what is going on in the life of their child. (57)
4. Creating a Media-Safe Home
Since we can’t keep our children from all media, we will have to teach them to learn to discern what is influencing them. (64)
- Evaluate everything you see and hear.
- Examine your own behavior.
- Enter into dialog, not monolog.
- Develop usage agreements for music, media, and the Internet.
Perhaps the two most prevalent approaches parents take toward media use don’t work: ignoring the dangers and being too strict. (68) It’s ultimate up to you to set and enforce those boundaries, but they will work best if you and your teen create them together. (69)
5. Teaching the Purity Code
The Purity Code Pledge
In honor of God, my family, and my future spouse, I commit to sexual purity. This involves:
- Honoring God with my body
- Renewing my mind for the good
- Turning my eyes from worthless things
- Guarding my heart above all else
Many parents ask me about the right age to have “the talk” with their kids. I always give the same response: “Never.” The one-time birds-and-bees talk doesn’t work. (81)
6. Communication Is Key
Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them. – Donald Miller
Prize above all else those who love you and wish you well. – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
The deepest principle in the human nature is the craving to be appreciated. – William James
Children need more models of healthy behavior than criticism. (97)
If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.” – Maya Angelou
When a family is overcommitted [sic], it quickly becomes under connected. (98)
A.W.E.: affection, warmth, and encouragement. (100)
I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted in his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism. – Charles Schwab
You have to take the lead with your attitude. You can’t expect your teens to go someplace with their attitude that you haven’t gone yourself. Emotionally unhealthy parents produce emotionally unhealthy kids. (103)
An apology is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength and healthy authority. (105)
Four Things You Can’t Recover
The stone…after the throw
The word…after it is said
The occasion…after it is missed
The time…after it is gone
7. The Spiritual Life of a Teenager
Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught by their parents. – Christian Smith
A spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is the other side of discipleship. – Henri Nouwen
Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions, and the actions which speak louder than your words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of, the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism. – Abraham Lincoln
8. Dealing With a Troubled Teen
If you have a troubled teen, let me shout from the rooftop: THERE IS HOPE! (127)
Stay as calm as you possibly can, get on the same page with your spouse, and get as emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy as you possibly can. (129)
Persevere and Seek God’s Help | Find Support | Get on the Same Page With Your Spouse | Develop a Contract for Behavior | Seek Counsel From an Expert
9. Your Marriage and Raising Teens
It’s a common surprise: Parents think that once their children get past the exhausting toddler years and become more independent, life will slow down and the couple will have more time to connect spiritually. For many, the opposite occurs. (148)
A successful marriage is not a gift, it is more like an achievement. (150)
10. The Changing Culture
Set Parental Standards | Teach Your Kids to Learn to Discern | Use Experiential Learning to Help Change Their Lives | Encourage Positive Peer Influence | Foster Spiritual Growth
PART TWO: COMMON PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Eating Disorders, Drug and Alcohol Use and Abuse, Tattoos and Body Piercing, Coping With Tragedy, Cyberbullying, Driving, Choosing a College, Depression, Dinnertime, Overweight Teens, Self-Injury, Sleep, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Homework Hassles
APPENDIX: SAMPLE FAMILY CONTRACTS AND AGREEMENTS
SAMPLE INTERNET USAGE CONTRACT
The average amount of time I will spend online will be no more than __ hours per day. I will limit my Web surfing to educational, Christian, or other family-friendly sites only. Unsolicited e-mails and forwards with attachments will be deleted unopened. Internet filters will be used at all times.
SAMPLE MUSIC AGREEMENT
The number of hours music can be played in the home is __ per day/week. ___ are the only acceptable styles of music to be listened to anywhere (home, car, school, friend’s house). I may not attend any concerts where __ (names of groups) are playing.
SAMPLE TV/MOVIE VIEWING CONTRACT
The average amount of time the TV can be on in our home is __ hours per day/week. Television programs with ratings of __ are not acceptable in our home. __ are not acceptable TV programs in our home. The only movie ratings that are available for each family member to view are __. The family agreement about MTV (or VH1 or other channels) is __. An example of a TV program that could be a fun family weekly date is __. A movie that supports the biblical standards of our family is __.
— VIA —
I have appreciated Jim’s work over the years, and consider him to be a gift to the Christian community. His work on youth and family is one of the most accessible I have ever seen, and this book exemplifies it well. The first two chapters of this book are worth the price of admission, and I would highly commend this to any parent of a pre-teen so that they can get some foundations under them before puberty begins to set in. Reading this book is like sitting in his office and having a friend walk you through the various obstacles of raising teenagers. The standards, stories, and scripts (contracts) will all prove helpful to many!
However, I had a few difficulties. Here are the top three.
Regarding learning about the adolescent stages and being immersed in the media culture, I simply do not know any parent outside of a parent who is also a professional youth worker or academician that can do what this demands. Now, I’m all for being educated, reading, engaging in the conversation, and doing everything you can to be well informed. Information can be very powerful, encouraging, etc. But the vast majority of parents I know simply will feel discouraged and overwhelmed at the amount of research, reading, etc, they’ll have to do in order to be marginally informed.
I am a “professional youth worker” (whatever that really means) myself, and I have been, for all my years of doing this, behind in understanding youth development and youth culture. Just this last month, I got introduced to two new up-and-coming bands, and these things called “spirit hoods!?” Yeah, I would have never seen that coming. And my kids, they’re totally wanting to be a part of the “tribe!” I’m also reading new research (Teen 2.0) and some old (Piaget) that is challenging my thinking all over again. Good stuff…I really enjoy it. But I question how reasonable it is for parents to even grasp the cliff notes of all this.
To be fair, Burns does not suggest that this level of research is required. And, he includes summaries in this book that are really accessible to the reader (again, why I do like this book). I would, however, suggest that listening and relating closely to your kids more than the culture around them and what experts say about adolescent development, is, in my opinion, far more doable, and far more effective. If you can learn the skill of simply “paying attention” well, you can learn much about development and culture through your kids. By the way, that’s how I can now tell you about those Spirit Hoods! 🙂
Regarding his segment on media, McLuhan, Hipps, Postman, and Kelly would suggest, contrary to what Burns has written, that technology is not neutral. I do concur with the boundaries, the goals, and the content care that Burns suggests we attend to. I simply think that it’s inaccurate and unwise to say that “technology is neutral.” Putting an iPad in their hands, a phone with internet at their fingertips, or a TV in their room, regardless of content is transforming your family. Understanding the effects of that technology is important for parents (e.g. “individualism,” “isolationism,” “ownership” “entitlement,” etc., are all effects of the technology).
Lastly, on page 103 (and I believe in other areas), Burns talks about emotionally healthy parents and the affect that has on emotionally healthy kids. There is almost a direct correlation. I completely concur, which is why much of the book is to be commended. However, in Part Two of the book in dealing with the common problems and solutions, many of the issues listed fall directly into that category of emotional health, yet he does not direct the parents themselves to be introspective about their influence on their child, nor does he ask them to seek healing themselves. I realize that pointing this out may be unfair, as Burns’ purpose is simply to give some quick handholds on the solutions and outlines of the particular issues. However, I’m simply persuaded that this corollary between parents and kids is a point that cannot be talked about too much, nor directed at too firmly. I have become persuaded that kids are a reflection, for the most part, of the world we have created for them. Too much of the youth development “corrective” philosophies that exist out there focus on the kids, as if they’re the problem. I think this needs to radically change, as the adults who are creating those environments and experiences for our kids ought to be more introspective and mature in their personal evaluations. Again, the first two chapters of Teenology does this well. I suppose I wish it had pushed harder on this.
Regardless of the above, I still commend the book for, as I mentioned, its accessibility, its honesty, its simplicity, and its information. I hope my comments and evaluation above were read in love and respect to the author.