FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Approaching Adolescence

with Dennis Rainey | March 9, 2011
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It's not always easy being in the middle of something, especially if that something is boyhood and manhood. Dennis Rainey, a father to six and grandfather to 17, talks about what teens are facing and exhorts dads to keep engaging their sons and calling them up to manhood.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • It's not always easy being in the middle of something, especially if that something is boyhood and manhood. Dennis Rainey, a father to six and grandfather to 17, talks about what teens are facing and exhorts dads to keep engaging their sons and calling them up to manhood.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

It’s not always easy being in the middle of something, especially if that something is boyhood and manhood.

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Approaching Adolescence

With Dennis Rainey
March 09, 2011
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Bob:  One of the key steps a young man will take as he progresses toward courageous, authentic, biblical masculinity is the step where he begins to assume more responsibility.  Here’s Dennis Rainey.

Dennis:  You know what?  As a young man, get used to stepping up.  Get used to taking on more responsibility because it is the stuff of manhood.  It’s why God created you.  Back in Genesis, chapter one, you were designed to reign over the creation and make a living by the sweat of your brow and be a part of God’s redemptive work on the planet.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 9th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’re going to explore today what has to happen for a young man to move through adolescence and to embrace authentic masculinity. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. 

We’re going to have to start with some definition, maybe, or some discussion here at the beginning.  You’ve just finished a book that you call Stepping Up, a Call to Courageous Manhood.  You’re challenging men to step up. 

One of the things you address in this book is the idea that men go through a middle phase, from boyhood to manhood, the phase of adolescence.  You know there are people in the culture today who push back on that whole idea of adolescence and say that’s an artificial construct.  Back a hundred years ago there was no such thing as an adolescent.  You just went from boyhood to manhood.  So what do you say to that, huh?

Dennis:  Well, they’re right.  It wasn’t even in the dictionary at the turn of the twentieth century.  In the early nineteen hundreds there were two steps, boyhood and manhood.  There wasn’t anything in between.  You stepped up from boyhood to manhood and probably did so at a much earlier age back then than we do today.

Bob:  So you’d have teenagers, young men, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old getting married, taking jobs…

Dennis:  Oh, yeah!  Right.

Bob:  …taking responsibilities for families.  The idea that there would be an extended period where you would learn and study and grow and just kind of enjoy life before you got down to the duties and responsibilities of adulthood?  That just didn’t exist.

Dennis:  It didn’t.  In fact there’s a guy who wrote a book, Dr. Michael Kimmel, called Guyland.  In it he describes a world where young men live.  He said it’s a stage of life, an undefined timespan between adolescence and adulthood that can stretch out for a decade or more.  It’s a bunch of places where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids and other nuisances of adult life. 

What he’s saying is he actually wants to add another step between adolescence and manhood, one that can go on into the late twenties.  In fact, it’s happening!

Bob:  Guyhood?

Dennis:  Guyland, I guess.  I don’t know.

Bob:  You get your video game controller and you work a job where you can go home and sit down with the dudes and crack some beers and get out the videogames and have a blast.

Dennis:  Yeah.  In fact, listen to this statement that Dr. Kimmel concludes with.  He says, “In this topsy turvy Peter Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men, despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

Bob:  Well, he’s really just saying that adolescence has been extended in our culture and there’s kind of this state of perpetual adolescence.  In fact, again as you’ve addressed in this book and you’ve spoken to men, you’re calling all of us to step out of what is that inertia that pulls us back into the irresponsibility of adolescence and say “Step up to the responsibility of manhood.”

Dennis:  I don’t think it’s wrong that adolescence ultimately emerged.  I think what has become a trap, however, is when young men are allowed to stay in some in-between world, in between boyhood and manhood for an extended period of time where no one in the culture, no one in their family, no one in their lives, is stepping into their lives and saying, “It’s time to grow up.  It’s time to assume responsibilities.” 

I have to say it’s interesting in this culture to watch a bunch of single people, for that matter single men, moving into their thirties delaying marriage with one foot in boyhood, one foot in adolescence.  I think they need some older men in their lives who are on the steps above, looking down at them, and not in an arrogant fashion, but reaching down to them, saying, “Come on up.” 

It may be frightening.  It may feel like it is more responsibility, because it is but you need to get out of childhood.  As Paul said in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11, “When I was a boy I acted like a boy.  I behaved like a boy.  I spoke like a boy.  But when I grew up I put away childish things.”  We need a generation of young men putting away childish things.

Bob:  But you know the messages they’re getting in the culture, the messages on TV, from their peer group, the messages in the movies, and even the message of their own flesh, it’s not calling them to put away childish things.  It’s saying, “This is a time for fun.  Enjoy it!”

Dennis: Well, you were a teenage young man one time.

Bob:  I was!  I remember!

Dennis:  Do you remember it?  I mean, it was totally confusing and life was a lot simpler back then.  But what’s happening today I fear, is the older men in the lives of these young men, instead of reaching out with their hand and calling them to step up, they’re not challenging them to much of anything.  They’ve forgotten what it was like.

Let me just read to you what I wrote in the book in terms of what teenage boys are facing today.  “A teenage boy’s body is changing in strange and foreign ways.”  Think about it!  I mean, hair growing in some unusual places!  What’s he supposed to do?  He’s starting to think about things he’s never thought about before.  All of a sudden, sexual allurement and the mystery of sex becomes powerful.  If you’ve never been spoken to about this, what’s a boy, a young man, going to do with all that?

Secondly, he’s bombarded with bewildering thoughts and choices about sex and morality.  In other words, when can he have sex?  Now he’s thinking about it.  What is appropriate?  If you watch what’s on TV, there are no boundaries. 

Barbara and I sat at the movies back around Christmas watching previews and there was, and I forget the name of the movie and I’m glad I’m forgetting it here, because I don’t want to give it any advertising, but it was all about having sex.  That was the theme of the entire movie. 

It was like all these single people were just born for this purpose, to just figure out how to ultimately make out and get in bed with one another.  There was no restraint on passion.  So here are teenage boys coming to a movie like that.  What are they supposed to do with those images?

Third, he faces relentless, unbelievable peer pressure, friends encouraging, enticing him to go along with, frankly, barbaric ways.  I mean teenage boys left to go their own route are going to be little barbarians.

Next, he battles an emotional upheaval of anger, sometimes rage that he has no idea where it’s coming from.  I watched out sons going through this.  Without a strong daddy in their lives, they can be punitive upon a mom.

Bob:  They’re getting some hormones squirted into their systems that haven’t been squirted there before and aggression is a part of what comes with that.  It’s got to be directed and it’s got to be channeled.

Dennis:  Yes.  And in this culture, in addition to all that, he’s also has to deal with other people’s expectations.  I mean, with all the expectations around the tests they’re taking, the college they go to, how well their grades are, it’s pressure on pressure on pressure. 

The last one is he feels this strong gravitational pull toward independence.  He wants to spin out and away from the family orbit and establish his own authority away from his parent’s authority all on his own.

Bob:  And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? 

Dennis:  It is.

Bob:  that he wants to do that?

Dennis:  It is.  But it is if he’s trustworthy, if he’s been trained, if he understands how to begin to exercise his own authority.

Bob:  If he wants to kind of be in charge of his own universe simply so he can indulge his own fleshy desires then that’s a recipe for trouble.

Dennis:  It is.

Bob:  But if he wants to be out on his own so that he can subdue the earth and fulfill it as the biblical mandate calls him to do, then that’s a good thing.

Dennis:  Yes.  But just pull back for a second and think as a parent. Here’s a young man that you’re observing that has this wash of chemicals and hormones surging through his system, all these outside forces impacting him.  He’s spinning off to his own orbit and two things can happen with parents.  One, I call the push back and the other is what I call the pull out. 

The push back is when a young man begins to push back against his parents, specifically his father, and the father lets him.  He lets him push him back and push him out of his life so that the father is not in there helping him navigate uncharted waters. 

The second area is the pull out.  Some parents just get busy and it’s a hassle to engage your teenagers.  The easiest thing to do, again, is nothing.  So a dad can pull out of his son’s life, in my opinion, at one of the most dangerous, most important times, when a young man needs an older man, in his entire life.

Bob:  So ideally, as I hear you describing all of this, I’m thinking to myself ideally you want to get a son from boyhood to manhood kind of as quickly as possible, get him  through the adolescent rapids as quickly as you can?

Dennis: Well, you know, you really understand why back at the turn of the twentieth century, why they got married and started their own families.  These young men had to step up and had to assume the responsibilities of a man.  They were given no other choices.  The problem is we’ve built an entertainment culture appealing to these teenagers, enticing them to stay in this phase well into their twenties.

Bob:  A lot of the young men at the turn of the century weren’t in school after the seventh or the eighth grade.  Now they’re in school to college and beyond and their only responsibility is to study. There’s no job.  There’s no work.  All of a sudden you’ve got all this free time.  I mean, I remember when I was a student thinking, “Boy, I’ve got no free time.”  Well, I’d go back and trade, you know?

Dennis:  No doubt.

Bob:  …because you’ve got all kinds of time.  If there’s no direct responsibility attached to that, that’s a recipe for mischief.

Dennis:  You know, Bob, my boys at this point would cringe because they know exactly what I’m about to say.  When they entered that phase I would look at them and I said, “You have the least amount of responsibility you will have for the rest of your life.”  But the idea there is that, you know what, as a young man, get used to stepping up.  Get used to taking on more responsibility because it is the stuff of manhood. 

It is why God created you.  Back in Genesis, chapter 1, you were designed by God to rule.  You were designed to reign over the creation and make a living by the sweat of your brow and be a part of God’s redemptive work on the planet. 

Probably the best illustration I have of what the teenage years look like and the assignment of a father during those years, used to occur as I completed my sixth grade Sunday school class.  Now this was a class I used to teach.  I had seventy, seventy-five young people in that class so it wasn’t just to the boys.  But I would always use a boy to illustrate the last principle.

Bob:   Now this was seventy twelve year olds?

Dennis:  Yes, eleven and twelve year olds.

Bob:  Oh my goodness.  Alright…

Dennis:  What I did in that class was I used to call it the traps of adolescence.  So I had a bear trap that represented sexual immorality.  I had smaller traps that represented drugs and alcohol and pornography, other traps that represented peer pressure.  I had a dozen traps that were illustrated. 

For the last session I had all the traps set on the floor.  It’s a miracle, Bob, that in all the years I taught this I never once caught a kid.  They never once stepped in any of those traps!  I was relieved!

Bob:  It was a miracle that the Fish and Game people didn’t come in and shut down your Sunday school class!

Dennis:  No doubt about it. But I had all these traps and kids knew what those traps stood for.  So I took a young man on the other side of the traps, on the other side of the rooms, and he could see the traps in front of him, and I blindfolded him.  Then I said, “I want you to take off your shoes.” 

And on the other side of the room, with the traps in between us and the young lad, was his father.  I instructed the father in what they were supposed to do.  I would say to the young man, “On the count of three I want you to come to your father and to me.  It’s representing going through adolescence all the way to adulthood.”

Bob:  So come barefoot through the traps with blindfolds on?

Dennis:  Right!  Exactly!  And I would say, “One.  Two.”  And the father would interrupt me every time and say, “Hold it son.  Don’t’ take a step!” 

He would walk over, around the traps, would go over and whisper to his son, “I want you to stick your hands on the back of my shoulders and I want you to scoot along and follow me very closely because we are going in between these traps. 

So the father would begin scooting through those traps, all of this taking place in front of seventy-five young people about to encounter these traps and the parents who were about to raise them.  They were in the room too because this was graduation. 

The father and the young man, closely behind him, would make it through to the other side and the class always began to applaud and clap and cheer as they finished it and the young man took his blindfold off and gave his father a hug. 

That’s a picture of what adolescence was meant to look like--a father in the midst of doing life with his son, in the midst of the traps.  First and foremost, staying out of the traps himself.

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  And then calling his son to step up and away from the traps and to step with him toward manhood. 

What is missing today are the fathers walking around the traps and then sticking with it all the way through the next five, six, seven years.  It’s not a matter of having one birds and bees conversation with a thirteen year old boy.  It’s a matter of talking with him as you’re watching a football game and a commercial comes on and you tell him to look away. 

It’s a matter of talking about the movies he goes to and having boundaries in his life.  It’s a matter of training him to know how to deal with the opposite sex and honor a young ladies’ femininity by keeping his hands off of her body. 

Young men today, more than ever, need a daddy, a daddy who is on the manhood step facing upwards, who knows who he is as a man, who’s not dabbling in pornography himself, so he can reach down to his son and say, “Let’s go.  Come on.  Follow me as I follow Jesus Christ.”

Bob:  The dads who are there and who can’t reach back because they’re got one foot still stuck in adolescence themselves?  How do they get unstuck?

Dennis:  As we’ve talked here Bob, we’ve created a picture of five steps, a step going upwards from boyhood to adolescence, from adolescence to manhood, manhood to mentor, and, the ultimate step and most noble call for a man, that of being a patriarch. 

We also created an image that a man can find himself with one foot on the manhood step and one foot on the lower step of adolescence, standing sideways.  When a man finds himself standing sideways, he has to realize a couple of things. 

Number one, his own life is in peril.  Number two, the kind of model he is leaving for his son, and for that matter the rest of his family, is not a good one.  And third, he needs to realize that from time to time all of us make foolish decisions. 

All of us step down and we have to turn our back, that’s call repentance in the Bible, we have to turn our back on selfishness and on sin and turn away from it and turn upward toward Jesus Christ and the scriptures and being obedient to what God has called him to do.  So I wish it was a simple matter of just turning away from evil one time and stepping up.  But it’s never just that. 

I mean, it occurs as we walk in the middle of an airport and you look over in the magazine stand.  I don’t ask to see those pictures.  I don’t ask to have those magazines faced outward to me, thirty feet away, not even going into the book store that’s in the airport.  But they’re there and they can be a temptation and they can call a man away from what he knows is right to becoming a doorway through which sin can gain entrance, not only to his own life, but also to his son’s.

There’s a warning in scripture that the sin of one generation will be passed down to four generations.  To me that’s a frightening thought, that my life would be used to pass on sin rather than righteousness to my descendants.

Bob:  If a dad is going to lead his son through the phase of adolescence to manhood, the dad’s got to have a pretty secure standing on the manhood step himself.

Dennis:  He’d better keep short accounts with God.  All of us make mistakes.  I’ve shared many of them here on FamilyLife Today.  I run into listeners all around the country who says, “You know what?  We appreciate the no baloney approach to the Christian faith and to real life as we all live it.” 

I’ve shared about cutting down trees in front of my own son.  And I’ve shared to repenting of cutting down a tree that wasn’t on my property and calling the owner of that tree and confessing my sin and offering to pay restitution in front of my son.  Now that’s no fun.  But you know what?  It’s a part of showing our sons where to find life.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”  My heart is a precious thing for life in terms of it beating right now.  It’s also a precious thing, if I understand the scriptures, spiritually,  for me to continue to guard my heart so that I might be a source of life, that my life might be a spring that would come from my life to my wife, to my sons, to my daughters, and to those that I impact and influence.  That’s a great picture for any man standing on the manhood step.  There needs to be a stream of water influencing all those around him.

Bob:  I think it’s helpful, and this is one of the things you do so well in the book, men need to see that the essence of authentic manhood involves sacrifice, involves laying down your life, giving your life away for others.  It’s not about being a man for yourself.  It’s about being a man for others and dying to self. That’s what’s at the heart of authentic manhood. 

I want to encourage listeners to get a copy of this new book.  Again, it’s called Stepping Up—A Call to Courageous Manhood.  This week we want to send it to you.  All we’re asking you is that you make a donation to help support the ministry.  When you do, we’re happy to send you a copy of Dennis’s brand new book. 

If you’re donating on line at, when you open up the donation form there’s a key code box there.  Just type “STEPUP” in the key code box and we’ll know to send you a copy of Dennis’s book. 

Or call 1-800-FLToday and make a donation over the phone.  Again, just ask for a copy of Dennis’ book when you do. Right now the only place the book is available is here at FamilyLife so, if you want to get a copy, go online or call us and make a donation.  If you’re interested in multiple copies of the book, those are available for purchase as well.  I know there are a lot of men’s groups that are going to look at doing a book like this for a men’s study.  So if you want to get multiple copies, contact us, again, online at or when you call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “Today.”

Now tomorrow we’re going to talk about what authentic, mature masculinity looks like.  What are some of the characteristics of someone who has stepped up to manhood?  We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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