Brad Griffin & Kara Powell: “Am I Enough?”
After 1,200 interviews, Fuller Youth Institute’s Brad Griffin & Kara Powell offer conversations to navigate teens’ biggest questions--like, “Who am I?”
About the Guest
After 1,200 interviews, Fuller Youth Institute’s Brad Griffin & Kara Powell offer conversations to navigate teens’ biggest questions–like, “Who am I?”
Brad Griffin & Kara Powell: “Am I Enough?”
Kara: The heart of Christianity is that we are sinners saved by grace. What better way is there to infuse our home with what it means to be a follower of Jesus than to have us as adults/as parents be quick to apologize?for how we reacted, for our tone of voice, for our assumptionswhatever it might be.
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 Today!
We’ve raised three teenagers. You, Dave, especially
Dave: I'm not saying we did it well. [Laughter] But we got through three boys, who are now men, who are actually/you know, we're grandparents now.
Ann: Yes. And you've ministered/we've ministered to probably hundreds of teens and others, but what would you say is the number-one
Dave: No, no, no! I'm asking you this question.
Ann: No, I’m asking you. What's the number-one question
Dave: You don’t get to ask me.
Ann: number-one question teens are asking? What do you think?
Dave: Number-one question; I know where this is going. My first thought was relational, like, “Who am I going to marry?” But I know it's deeper than that.
Dave: Because you're so much deeper than me, so you know what the real answer is.
Ann: No, no. I think I would have even asked: “Am I loved? What does that mean?” There’re so many different things.
Dave: Well, I think it's really important what we're talking about today; because we’re parents
Dave: —and we're a family ministry that tries to help marriages and familiesso as parents, we need to know what our kids are asking. So we have/I don't know if we could get two better people in the studio today to answer this question.
Ann: I’m with you.
Dave: They wrote a book about it called 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. Obviously, these two have studied this. We have Brad Griffin and Kara Powell with us today. Brad and Kara, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Brad: Thanks for having us.
Kara: It's wonderful to be here.
Dave: We really are talking, not only to two experts, because you guys have written about thisyou’re at the Fuller Youth Institute out in California; this is your life workbut more importantly, I think, is you are parents of teenagers; right?
Kara: Yes; my kids are 21, 19 and 15. I have two college students and a tenth grader.
Ann: Brad, what about you? How old are you, kids?
Brad: 19, 16, 13.
Ann: So you really are in it?
Brad: We say this is our golden year of parenting, [Laughter] where they’re all teenagers at once.
Dave: We feel like the teenage years for usour kids are grown, married and have kids nowwere our favorite years.
Kara: I agree. I mean, the older our kids have gotten, the more my husband and I have enjoyed conversations with them, and doing fun things with them, experiencing life together. So that would definitely be true for me. How about you, Brad?
Brad: Yes, same; I love a great conversation. While I enjoyed conversations with my kids when they were little, in a certain way, [Laughter] there's just a whole other level. I love/I love when abstract thinking starts to kick in; and that, for me, is just a lot of fun.
Ann: I think we really start seeing our kids and discovering/like maybe that's where discovering who they are, what they're passionate about. I thinkand you guys probably relate to thisthat's true of their friends, because I loved having their friends in the house.
But I think, as parents today, there's a lot of fear and anxiety; because the world feels so tumultuous and uncertain. With your book, the subtitle is Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections. I think, as parents, we long for that; but we're not sure how to make those connections.
Dave: Yes; so talk about this book. I know you did research with some teenagers. You sort of developed: “Okay, here's the questions they're asking…” Help us understand what those are.
Kara: Well, in some of our previous research, we've seen how important it is to empathize with young peopleto not judge thembut to journey with them. We wanted to help parents, caregivers, grandparents, leaders, mentors, pastors know how to better empathize with young people.
In many ways, we were inspired by a young person, who told a friend of ours/a 15-year-old, who told a friend of ours: “I wish the church would stop giving me answers to questions I'm not asking.” “I wish the church”now you can fill in another noun for that”…my parents…” “…my family would stop giving me answers to questions I'm not asking.”
That really stimulated us to figure out: “What is it that young people are ultimately asking?”under their questions about:
- and “What should I do on Friday night?”
- “Where am I going to go to college?”
What are the questions beneath those questions?
We worked with our team at the Fuller Youth Institute to look at interviews with over 2,000 teenagersinterviews, surveys, focus groupsbut then we did deep dive/deep dive interviews with 27 very diverse young people, from all over the country, to try to figure out: “What are those top questions?”
Dave: Well, here's a question. As a pastor for 30 years, I feel like we did thatwe answered questions our kids were not asking, and maybe even our congregationbut let's talk about, as a parent, we do the same thing.
Dave: The question is: “Why do we do this? Are we afraid to go there?” I mean, I'm/I mean, when I read that in your bookI mean, I went/right away—I leaned in/I'm like, “Oh, my goodness; I did this. I hate to admit this.” “No; actually, other churches did this, not mine”;[Laughter]that's what I want to say”but no; we did this.”
As a parent, we tend to do the same thing: we're answering questions our kids aren't even asking. “Why do we do this?”
Brad: I think we want to lean into our own competence. I mean, you used the word, “expert,” earlierwhich sometimes makes me a little uncomfortablebut I think we all want to be experts in a way. As parents, we want to lean into what we know. There's so much about parenting that's so uncertain; there's so much that leaves us feeling, from day to day, like we're just flying by the seat of our pants. So if we can feel like we know a few things, we kind of lean on that; because it's more/it's more comfortable; it's more stabilizing. I think we end up avoiding some of the things that our kids really want to talk about.
Ann: Well, it's interesting; because you guys say every teenager is a walking bundle of questions. [Laughter] That's so good!
I'm thinkingas parents as well, and maybe even as youth leaderswe’re always giving answers.
Ann: So talk about that. What does that mean, Kara? How do we get to those questions?
Kara: Well, kids’ curiosity is part of the long list of what Brad and I love about young people is: they are wondering new things; they're starting to think abstractly; they have more engagement with the broader world. Social media opens up all sorts of new frontiers for them to wrestle with and to try to understand.
I think the role of a parent is to journey alongside that young person, and try to help them navigate the most pressing questions that are maybe top of mind, but then these three deeper questions. Let me just sayI mean, literally, this morning, as I was processing an interaction that I had with one of my kids, who shall remain nameless [Laughter]literally, this morning, I realized, “Oh, my goodness; this child is trying to answer this one question.”
Instead of my feelings being hurtwhich, quite honestly, what my kid had done was hurting my feelingsI empathized with him/thought, “Oh, you know, my kid’s trying to get an answer to that big question.” It changed how I felt about them; it changed how I felt about myself. It's going to allow me to journey with my kid more effectively.
Keeping these three big questions in mind has been game-changing for me in understanding my own kids; young people in general; and often, myself.
Dave: Yes; every parent right now is like, “Okay, what are they?!” [Laughter] What are the three big…they’ve got their pen out; they’ve got their phone out; they’re ready to take them downso tell us what the three big are.
Brad: We believe the questions underneath the rest are:
- “Who am I?”—the question of identity.
- “Where do I fit?”—the question of belonging.
- ‘What difference can I make?”—the big question of purpose.
Certainly, there's a swirl of other questions there; but as Kara said, these kind of sit underneath the rest.
For many of usI mean, these are human questions—these are questions we have as adults. For adults, they might be kind of backburner/simmer questions that, every now and then, you turn up the heat when something happens. But for teenagers, these are front-burner, rolling-boil questions every day for many of them.
Dave: When I hear that, I think back to our earlier thing: “Why don't we talk about this?” I’ve got to be honestas a pastor, for 30 years, of thousands of peopleI would say almost most of our congregation doesn't know the answer to those three questions for themselves, as a parent. And so for me to go talk to my teenager: “I'm not sure I know [answers].” Of course, I'm not talking about meI'm perfect [Laughter]but you know, the people in our congregation. I don't think a lot of us adults could particularly say: “I do know my purpose,” “I do know where I belong,” “I do know my identity.”
Talk about that a little bit: “How important is it for a parent, to be able to wrestle with those, to be able to dialogue with our kids about it?”
Kara: Well, I think we're all in process; right? And part of how Brad and I, and the Fuller Youth Institute team, are starting to think about discipleship is: “Discipleship is the process of moving from our current answers to those identity, belonging, and purpose questions to more Jesus-centered answers to our identity, belonging, and purpose questions.”
One of those Jesus-centered answers, for the question of identity, I honestly pray for myself every day. It's one of my ten major prayers for myself, because a lot of my struggles have to do with identity. I need to like, daily, marinate in Jesus’ best answer for me to that question of: “Who am I?”let alone that 14-, 16-, 18-, 22-year-old, who's experiencing so many transitions/so much upheaval, all the more so in the midst of the pandemic and what we've experienced these last 18 months.
The good news about teenagers and young adults is: we, as parents/we can talk about our journey with our kids. The interaction that happened yesterday, that hurt my feelings that I was processing this morning with one of my own kids, the tension was this child is hungry for belongingand made a choice in how they spend time with friends that ended up hurting my feelingsit's tempting for me to distance myself from that child or somehow try to cope, myself.
What I realized this morning is, again: “Oh, that child’s after belonging. That's nudging my own identity insecurities because, when they want to spend time with their friends, then that makes me feel like I'm good/I'm not a good enough mom.” And with this particular child, I think I'm going to debrief how I was feeling; and how these identity, belonging, and purpose questions were in play for the two of us.
So again, that's part of the beauty of teenagers and young adults is: we can actually/we don’t have to keep this secret from them. We can talk about the ways that God continues to change and stretch our own identity, belonging, and purpose, just like God's doing the same with our kids.
Ann: Kara, walk us through thatlike you're going to have that conversationyou'll share what you were feeling, how that maybe even triggered you with your own insecurity;
Ann: but then, what will you be asking her to get into some of those questions you think that are at the root?
Dave: I like how you said “her” because she said it was a “him.”
Kara: I'm trying to be gender neutral so as to not reveal which of my kids it was; so their gender will remain anonymous. [Laughter]
Kara: That's a great question. You know what? My husband and I/we have found it very helpfulif there's something we feel like we need to say to one of our kidslike I probably will say to this child: “I'm sorry for how I reacted. You know, I sometimes struggle with identity and feeling like I'm not a good enough mom; and so when you made the choice that you made, that just made me feel insecure as a mom. I'm sorry for how I temporarily pulled away from you. Will you forgive me?” I would say that's going to be my first question to my child is: “Will you forgive me?” because I don't like how I acted toward that child.
But then, in talking more about how I'm looking for identity, and this child is searching for belonging, something that Dave and I have found is really, really helpfulif we need to share something with our kidsis then to ask them:
- “What do you disagree with in what I've just said?” Give them a chance to critique us and share what they think we're misunderstanding or not aware of.
- And then to ask: “Well, what do you agree with? Where do you think I may be right in what I'm saying?”
So first, I want to ask for forgiveness. Then I'm going to give them a chance to share what they think I'm missing in my understanding of them or our interaction; and then give them a chance to share what they agree with.
And let me just say: “My kids, if they have the chance to critique me first, they're often way quicker and stronger in their agreement with where we do overlap and what we can stack hands on.”
Dave: What you just said, Kara, I think blows away a lot of myths that a lot of parents don't understand. Number one, you said you admit vulnerability and mistakes, like: “I'm not perfect,” and “I struggle, even, in my own identity”; and then you ask your kids to critique you.
Brad, do you do the same thing? Because that isa lot of parents never do thatand yet, you and I both know our teenagers long for that.
Brad: Yes, yes. Isn't that counter intuitive?
Dave and Ann: Yes.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin and Kara Powell on FamilyLife Today. We're going to hear their responses in just a minute; but first, we’d love to send you Brad and Kara's book, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. It's our gift to you when you partner with us and make a gift of any amount this week to support the work of FamilyLife Today.
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Alright; now, back to Brad and Kara on the importance of humility in parenting. Here's Brad.
Brad: You know, I'll sayKara and I have been working together for 16 years nowand this is one of the ways that even our research has shaped our respective parenting in ways that/and that's a challenge for me. And the word that was coming to mind, as Kara was talking, isit's humilitythis takes a certain kind of humility. As parents, you know, we want to be right; because we're supposed to be right, because we're the parents! [Laughter]
But in those teen years, what kids need is not actually the parent who's always right. They need the parent, who's willing to be humble and vulnerable enough to say: “I think I was wrong there,” or “What I did there…that's not the parent I want to be for you, and that's not the kind of interaction I want to have.”
Kara: Well, and I think—that's the heart of Christianity—is that we are sinners saved by grace. What better way is there to infuse our home with what it means to be a follower of Jesus than to have us, as adults/as parents, be quick to apologize?for how we reacted, for our tone of voice, for our assumptionswhatever it might be, and asking our kids to forgive us. That just sets the tenor for who God wants us to be in all relationships: people who are quick to apologize, ask for forgiveness, repent in front of each other.
Brad and I have found that it's never too early to start apologizing to our kids. Parents, grandparents, caregivers of preschoolers/elementary age, we encourage you to ask your kids to forgive you/to talk about mistakes. In fact, one of our dinner questions, when our kids were in elementary school and middle school, was: “What mistake did you make today?” because we wanted our family to be a place where we could talk about mistakes.
I'll tell yousometimes, our kids would point out the mistakes that I had made during the course of the day [Laughter]it's like they were keeping their own list. That's just fine; I want us to be able to talk about how we blow itwhether it's a small thing, like not filling the soap dispenser properly, which I have a perennial problem with; so that's often a mistake I make [Laughter]or whether it's something more major like how I reacted to my child last night.
Dave: I thinkwith our kids or with, really, anybodyif we're hoping they'll come to us with their questions, they've got to have a sense of trust that we’re honest enough and vulnerable enough to receive their questions. You know what I'm saying?
What Kara modeledBrad, what you're talking aboutis: when we admit our mistakes/apologize, that opens up a connection: [Teenager thinks] “They’re strugglingthey've admitted it; they've apologizedthere’s humility there; I'm not going to go to somebody else with my question,”although, there's nothing wrong with that”I want to come to mom,” or “…dad.” Is that true?
Brad: Yes; you said the word, “connection.”
Brad: I think that's right at the heart of it: that connection requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is how we build trust.
I'm hearing a question in my mind, coming from parents right now, who are listening. [Laughter] That question is about: “But wait; what about authority? What about my leadership of my kids?”
Ann: like: “I need to parent, not just be their friend.”
Brad: Yes, and that's absolutely true. And I want to say our vulnerability and humility does not necessarily undermine authority. It actually can undergird our authority in a way that, as the relationship changes in the teenage years, in particular, it boosts our ability to speak into our kids’ lives; it boosts our believability.
You may have positional authority with your kidsand you’re/you know, you can hold that positional authoritybut to have relational authority in the teenage years, it requires us to have connection. And that connection is only going to be as deep as our ability to be real, be honest, be vulnerableand appropriately vulnerable and at age-appropriate timeswhat we tell a 17-year-old, that can be different than what we say to our 7-year-old. We shouldn't be vulnerable, in certain ways, to a 7-year-old.
But you know, our kids who are almost adults, they’re ready to hear the real stuff. The more we hold from them, the less they're really able to see us as true friends in their lifewhich, you know, as they move into adulthood, that is more of the rolewe move from being full-on authority to being the parent, who is guide, the parent who is companion, who is friend, who is/who wants to be mentor. I want to be a mentor of my young adult kids, but I've got to earn the right to be that mentor
Brad: because I don't have the positional authority anymore
Brad: because they're making adult decisions.
Ann: I was thinking: as I listened to Kara, I thought, “Well, that's so genius that she's saying, ‘You guys, that just triggered me in terms of my own identity and some of the stuff of the past.’” Just that comment right thereand because it wasn't about hershe's just saying, “This is why I reacted that way, and I'm apologizing.”
But I'm thinking of all the kids that are struggling with those questions of belonging and identity. I think of what that would do, because there's so much anxiety going on right now—I think that would just ease themthinking: “Oh, Mom and Dad aren't perfect. They're still kind of struggling with some of those questions,” and “It allows me [the kid] now to open up/”as you're saying, Brad”to have that connection with my parents; because they've displayed their own vulnerability.”
Dave: Yes; and you sort ofI mean, what we've all saidis you want them to come to you. I mean, not that you don't want them to go to somebody else, but I want to create a culture in my home, and a relationship with my teenage son or daughter, that they want to.
I tell you: I love doing this when they were teenagers, laying on the bed at night. You think that ends at seven or eight; right?[Laughter]and it sort of does; it's differentbut still being able to lay on the bed, or lay on the floor, while they're laying in the bedas a teenager, going to bed at nightand being able to talk about these big questions of identity, and belonging, and purpose. Again, you don't always frame them that way; but as you're listening, you're like, “Oh, my goodness, they're asking the same questions I'm asking.”
Dave: And there's a sense that I do have some wisdomI've lived longerso there's a respect for that; but at the same time, I struggle. So when I share bothlike you're saying, Brad, sort of the authoritative and the wisdom; but also, “I'm a fellow traveler with you, and I still ask those same questions; but I know where to go for the answers,”that opens them up; right?
Brad: Yes; and part of what we're doing there is we're creating relational safety. So you knowthis big question of belonging?where we need to belong first is in our family.
Brad: Of course, we lay the pathway for that in the early yearswe lay all the groundworkbut in the teenage years, in some ways, that foundation is really, really important. But it also gets hacked at, [Laughter] and it's a little more unstable.
In some cases, we kind of have to rebuild that foundation of trust and safety, so safety is essential for belonging. In fact, when we talked to teenagers, in those interviews we talked about, we heard over and over: “I feel like I belong when I'm safe, and when I'm safe to be myself.”
Brad: And there were young people who talked about really feeling safe to be themselves in their families. And there were those, who said: “Home is not a place that I feel safe,” “Home is not a place I feel like I can really be myself.” That/I think that's a tragedy for a kid.
Dave: Yes; and I would sayI don't know what you would say, Ann I'm thinking of a dadan action step for today, as you think about: “Okay, what am I going to do?”what if, tonight, you laid on the floor in your son or daughter's bedroomI'm guessing they’re a teenagerand you just listened.
You may have a strained relationshipyou're going, “I can't do that,”just start there. Just like, “Hey, man. So what happened today in your life?” They may not be able to talk about it; but if you started there, I’ll bet you, if you listen, you're going to hear one of these three questions sort of rise to the surface. And you know what I would say? “Don't tell him anything. Don't preach at him tonight.
Brad: That's good.
Dave: “Just listen and let God start to rebuild a relationship with them.”
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin and Kara Powell on FamilyLife Today. Their 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 800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F,” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Brad Griffin about how we can help our kids know they belong in the confusing times of adolescence and teenage years. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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