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I Am Not You

with Lisa Rice, Shaunti Feldhahn | October 6, 2009

Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with best-selling authors Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice about their book, For Parents Only. Filled with profound and statistically solid survey results garnered from more than 1,200 teens nationwide, For Parents Only unravels the mysteries behind children's misunderstood behavior.

Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with best-selling authors Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice about their book, For Parents Only. Filled with profound and statistically solid survey results garnered from more than 1,200 teens nationwide, For Parents Only unravels the mysteries behind children's misunderstood behavior.

I Am Not You

With Lisa Rice, Shaunti Feldhahn
|
October 06, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  Shaunti Feldhahn is not a teenager, but she's interviewed enough of them to know what they're thinking and to know what they sound like when they talk with the mom and dad.  They sound something like this.

Shaunti:  Can you let us experiment?  You know, if we want to have a blue streak in our hair just because we think that that's really funky, you know, does that really matter so much?  And you, like, appreciate us?  And sometimes it is just us, like, experimenting with our hair or, you know, whatever we want to put on MySpace or stuff in our room, and it's like this outward, evolving expression of trying to figure out who we are on the inside.

[musical transition, "Teenage Wasteland"]

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 6th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  When your teenager pushes back maybe it is a big deal.   Maybe there is rebellion in their heart or maybe they are just trying to figure out who they are.  We are going to talk about that today. 

[musical transition, "Teenage Wasteland"]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  By the way, we received a call this week from the Missouri Department of Motor Vehicles wondering about the – what was it?  It was the Chevy Bel Air that had the odometer disconnected? They said there's a fine associated with that kind of behavior, and they wanted to talk to you.

Dennis:  The statute of limitations ran out.

Bob:  You think you're safe, huh?

Dennis:  That was 1964 when that happened, Bob, and I'm sorry but no law is in force – what you're speaking of is what I mentioned earlier on the broadcast, and that was that I unhooked the odometer when my dad gave me the car the first night I took it out.  He only told me I could go five miles, and, I mean, good grief, it was at least a half a mile to get to wherever everybody was, and then I had to be able to cruise.

Bob:  Yeah, you had to drive everybody around.

Dennis:  I had to cruise.  You know, you can – just going around a place like Sonic, and cruising around Sonic, you could rack up five miles …

Bob:  … in the parking lot at Sonic?

Dennis:  Well, we have a couple of guests with us who know a little bit about the thinking and the behavior of teens – Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice join us.  Lisa, Shaunti, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Shaunti:  Thank you.

Lisa:  Good to be with you.

Dennis:  Both Shaunti and Lisa are writers.  Lisa is a freelance writer of books and for movie producers, a screenwriter.  She has three children and a foster child, so right now she has three, count 'em – three teenagers – 16, 17, and 18.

Shaunti is the author of For Women Only and, along with her husband, For Men Only, and is a prolific writer.  This latest one they're co-authoring is called For Parents Only, and what you all did is you surveyed – well, it ended up being more than 1,200 teenagers from all across the nation, is that right?

Shaunti:  Yes.

Dennis:  You came away with six findings, and earlier we talked about one of the findings being that teenagers are addicted to freedom.

Shaunti:  Freedom.

Dennis:  One of the most important findings besides that that you came up with is that the issue of identity is huge when it comes to teens.

Shaunti:  Yes, this is one of these cases where I think most parents know that children have to go through different developmental stages.  They don't realize that what that looks like in the teenage years will actually look a lot like rejection to them.

The way we explain it is in the sort of grade school and middle school years, they have a developmental stage where they look at mom and dad, and they say, "Who is mom and dad?  What is it like to be a man or a woman," and they're sort of soaking you in.

I have a seven-year-old daughter, and this is when – oh, she loves nothing better than to dress just like Mommy.  You know, if we both have black pants and a pink shirt on, she's just happy as a clam for the day.  But, you know, somewhere around the age of 12, and it's 11 for some kids, 13 for others, they click into a new developmental stage, and it happens, in some cases, almost overnight.  It's no longer who is mom and dad, but who am I?  And that little girl who wanted to dress just like you is suddenly embarrassed to be seen with you much less where something that is an identical outfit. 

We parents know that they need to create their own identity but we think they are starting from scratch somehow.  They aren’t starting from scratch.   They are starting from you because the only identity they have ever known is yours. 

And so they have to basically – it's like building their own building.  The only building blocks they have are yours, and they have to basically pull apart your building, and they have to pull out each block, and they say, you know, "Gosh," hold it up to the light, and "I know I've heard this my whole life, I know this is what my parents believe, I know this is a value or whatever of our family, is this what I believe?  Is this who I am?"

And they basically have to get some distance from you, and that process will be really scary for some parents who think it means "They're rejecting everything I've taught them."  And it's not.  It's just that they have to pull it apart in order to decide, "Is this me?"

Dennis:  Really, what you're talking about is closely related to the freedom – they're trying to become their own person, and a part of the reason is to establish their own identity and to learn who they are.

I think there are two key areas parents need to be aware of here.  One, they need to know who they are related to God; and, secondly, they need to know who they are as a girl or as a boy.  I mean, what's the first question we ask when they have the ultrasound done or the baby is born?  What is it?  Is it a boy or is it a girl?

And that's what we celebrate.  We celebrate masculinity or femininity at birth and, you know, the question of what is it really isn't answered until they become an adult, and they begin to truly fulfill their role as a man or as a woman.  And a parent is the one, as you just said, Shaunti, a parent is the one who coaches that child in embracing biblical masculinity and maleness and biblical femininity.  Because you really can't find out who you are without reference to God – either man or woman.

Bob:  You know, this is what we've experienced as our kids have gone through the teen years.  You recognize that they do need to assert their own sense of self; that they've got to be their own person.  And yet some of the things that become a part of their own person are things that – and, again, I'm not talking about moral choices, but their preferences, their choices that they're making that you go, "Oh, that's not a good one.  I don't like that particular choice." Whether it's a fashion – in fact, Lisa, you had a situation where one of your children didn't like the way you were dressing; thought it was – do you know what I'm talking about?

Lisa:  Absolutely, yes.  Oh, that was so funny.  My kids suddenly got into the thing of mom is just so funny in her uncoolness, and one day they brought me down to watch this video called "Mom Pants."

Bob:  "Mom Pants?"

Shaunti:  Making the rounds of teenagedom.

Lisa:  It is.  I think you can find it on YouTube, and it shows these moms dancing, and they have these, like, high-waisted, elastic-waisted jeans that are so uncool, and they just don't have any flair, they don't come down on the hips and on and on, and they're, like, "Mom, that's you.  You've got tons of Mom pants.  I mean, how long have you owned the ones you're wearing right now?"  I'm, like, not more than 10 or 15 years, come on.

And so they took me to this cool store, American Eagle, and I was the only mom in the dressing room, but they insisted that I buy some cool jeans, and so now I'm a little cooler in the way that I dress, but they find tons of other things now to make fun of me for.

Bob:  They really do have a craving for asserting the fact that they're different than you.  That's deep in them, and it's not that they don't like you or they're trying to be disrespectful, but they've got to be them, right?

Shaunti:  That is the thing that we are trying so hard – we're like, parents, please hear this.  It really will feel like rejection in some cases.  It really will feel like that even if they are not being disrespectful it will seem a little bit like disrespect. 

You have to realize that they have to get some sense of distance in order to be able to question and be able to ask you questions.  And if you react like, "What are you talking about?  We've done this our whole lives."  You've just basically made clear those are your building blocks not theirs.  They're going to have to get even more distance but next time they may not talk to you about it.

Bob:  Here is how this is happening around our house right now.  My 16-year-old son, who is very politically aware and astute is trying to line up his preferences and which candidates he's supporting.

And he'll come up, and he'll say …

Dennis:  … and he's embracing yours, right?

Bob:  Well, actually, that's kind of the point …

[laughter]

… that I'm trying to make.  He'll come in, and he'll say, "You know, I really think this particular candidate looks like a good candidate."

Dennis:  And it's the same party as yours, right?

(laughter) 

Bob:  Would you be care …

Shaunti:  Turn that knife.

[laughter]

Bob:  Yeah.  I'm just thinking, "Son, you're out of your mind.  For that – come on.  I've taught you better than this to make that kind of a value judgment and assessment."  If I do that, as a parent, then I really drive them deeper into their choice, don't I?"

Shaunti:  That is exactly it.  It is truly that in order for them to have the ability to really question who am I, and in order to have that distance, the more that a parent presses the matter, and this is including on some really important things that you cannot compromise on – the more you press it, the more you do make clear, "This is you, as a parent, this is not him.  The more he's going to have to get distance." 

The thing that the kids told us that was so cool, though, is that they said on the survey, is that secretly if mom and dad will just make clear what they believe, not compromise, say we've seen this our whole lives, you know, this is important, but why don't you work on this and figure out what you think that the kids said, "You know, I'll probably come back around to the starting point," because – and one thing we should have said right at the beginning is we're not saying just because we heard it a lot from the kids that it's necessarily acceptable or appropriate …

Bob:  This is important.

Shaunti:  This is important to say but there is something to be said for we heard it a lot, because this is secretly in their heads whether or not they ever express it.

But the thing that we were really interested in is the kids made the distinction between, you know what?  Sometimes it is just us, like, experimenting with our hair or whatever we want to put on MySpace or stuff in our room, and it's like this outward, evolving expression of trying to figure out who we are on the inside, right, is what we're looking like on the outside.

They basically said, you know, "If it's not a moral issue, you know, just, can't you let us experiment?"  You know, if we want to have a blue streak in our hair just because we think that that's really funky does that really matter so much? 

Lisa:  Or a second piercing in the ear.

Shaunti:  You know, does it really matter so much?  Now, if it's some of these unhealthy things, that's part of the taking charge issue where they know the parent not the friend.  But that issue of, can you, like, appreciate us?  Instead of saying, like one girl – we were so fascinated by this, and kind of sad when she said, "My mom is always ragging on me for always being on the go."

 She said, "How much better would it be if she would just say, 'Wow, you're really becoming an extrovert.  You're really learning to fly, and it's so neat how you have so many friends, and you're able to juggle so many things.'  I would love it if she would have affirmed the person that I feel like I'm becoming rather than sort of, 'Oh, well, you're always on the go, and you're just doing too many things.'"

Bob:  Dennis, this is an important point, I think, for parents.  We do have a tendency to want our children to be little version of us, and that's not necessarily the right thing, is it?

Dennis:  Well, it's not the way they're thinking.  In fact, in their book, they ask the question – "Which of the following best describes how you feel?  Choose one answer."

"I am content with adopting the life, taste, values, and goals of my parents." 

Now, what percent of teenagers do you think said, "I best identify with that statement?"

Bob:  I'd like to be like my parents, essentially? 

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  Not many.

Dennis:  Not many is right – 7 percent.  Ninety-three percent said this – "Even if I love my parents, I want to have my own life, my own tastes, values, and goals, and sometimes these opinions will be different from theirs."

We've been laughing about this, but we have to give our children the freedom to grow up and be different than us, and different isn't wrong, it's just different.  I think you made a very important point, Shaunti, especially if it's not in the moral arena. 

Now, when they start pushing back against our moral standards, which they must do also, they have to learn this, and they have to learn that when you break one of God's laws, there is pain associated.  What we, as parents, need to be careful to do is not rescue them from the pain.  That's going to be part of the process of helping them grow up, and it's why, as parents, I think it's very important to have consequences when they do go against our moral standards.

Bob:  Let me take you back, though, to the parent who is saying, "I want my kids to adopt my life, my tastes, my values and my goals.  I'm an adult and I've thought these things through.  My goals, tastes, and values are biblical, and I feel rejected if my child does have different tastes and goals."

Dennis:  You're going to feel rejected.  Get over it.  As a parent, you're going to feel rejected.  They have to break away, and I'll tell you, I think it's hardest on a mom, I really do.  I watched this with Barbara and with me, and I think some of it is the close proximity that a mother has had to her children compared to a father in this culture, plus I think it's how a mother's heart is knit to her children.

She is a nourisher, she's one who helps these children grow up in some very specific ways, and what you have to do as a mom is you have to realize those boys have got to become men, and to do that they can't be their mommy's boy anymore.

Now, that sounds so tragic.  That's so harsh and tough.  Now, you only have daughters that are teenagers right now, correct, Lisa?

Lisa:  That's right, and I have a 12-year-old son, but this exact point that you're touching on, we saw over and over in our focus groups.  As a matter of fact, one thing, and, Bob, you touched on this, too, sometimes in this identity thing we have to see if there is sort of a fear in our children that's – and if the enemy is planting a lie about their identity, it is time to step in and say, "This is not who you are."

For instance, we had one boy in one of the focus groups who shared a really cool story.  He said, "When I was in high school, some things were happening, and I started thinking I might be gay.  I started looking at the other guys in the locker room and seeing how their muscles were rippling, and I started kind of envying them and thinking …

Shaunti:  They were good looking.

Lisa:  They were good-looking, and the enemy said, "Well, that's because you're gay."  He said, "So this is when a father can step in."  You know, you're talking about this mother thing but now comes the key role of the father, and this father was so fantastic.  He came in, and the son just poured his heart out, and the father said, "You know what, son?  That is totally normal for you to look and see and want to be like them and want to be good-looking.

Shaunti:  He said, "It's just envy.  It's not that you're gay, it's envy."

Lisa:  He said, "You are good-looking, and you'll continue to become more and more like this," he said, "But you are not gay.  You were made to be straight.  God has such a plan for you," and he affirmed him.  He said all it took was that one afternoon of his dad just meeting him right there at his point of fear.  So sometimes the parents do need to really step in and say, "No, this is not your identity.  You're being fed a lie."

Dennis:  In this culture, that issue about sexual identity, perhaps being gay, is going to be a thought that does cross your teenager's mind.  Count on it.  And it's a part, I think, of the culture distorting how God made us male and female. 

I think one of the great challenges for parents today is to respond like you just described, Lisa.  That father was very, very wise of not overreacting, not shaming his son for having had the thought, but saying, "You know what?  It's okay to have those thoughts," and give him the freedom to have those thoughts but create safety in the relationship to bring him back to the truth and then perhaps follow up at a later time, saying, "How are you doing on that?  What have been your thoughts since then?  How are you thinking about yourself as a man moving forward?"

This is a big issue for young men, but, I'm going to tell you, it's also a big issue for girls.  On the Internet, on Facebook and a number of these social networking groups that are found there, there are pictures of girls kissing girls.  It's kind of the cool thing to do today, and there's all kinds of peer pressure around these issues, and moms and dads have got to think through how they're going to address the issue before it happens.

Shaunti:  And, you know, the thing that is so interesting, as we were talking to all these kids and hearing some of those kinds of stories, there was a common denominator that we felt was so important for parents to realize, is that these kids, there were some of these kids that felt they could talk to their parents about it, and some who felt they couldn't.  And that was a huge deal in the stories we heard.

Because if you will try to take the chance to understand inside, you know, on some of the things the kid is feeling and not overreact, they will talk to you more, and you'll get a chance to speak into their life that otherwise they're going to get that information from somewhere else.

Dennis:  That's right.

Shaunti:  We actually had one girl who told us a story that just killed us, where she said, you know, one of her best girlfriends really was having all this sexual temptation when she was a teenager, and she couldn't talk to her parents, so she talked to her mother's sister.  But the mother's sister didn't have the same values, she wasn't a Christian, and so she gave her niece birth control pills.

This girl is telling her friend that, "Oh, wow, that was so compassionate that my aunt did that for me," and the girl we were talking to was, like, that was so sad that she couldn't talk to her own mom and own dad and be able to get an answer that was so much more in line with the biblical values that the family shared, but it was only because she didn't feel like she'd be heard or understood.  So that was a huge common denominator.  We need to learn to understand and listen to our children.

Bob:  I think all the times I've talked to parents who have resisted the temptation to freak out when their kids have come and said, "You know, I've been thinking about 'X,' whatever that is, and your instinct is to lock them in their room until they come back to their sanity, right?

Dennis:  Hit the panic button.

Bob:  And the mom or the dad overcomes the impulse and goes, "Well, tell me why you've been thinking about that?"  And that is a determinative point …

Dennis:  It is.

Lisa:  It's huge.

Bob:  … in whether your child is going to continue to talk to you about this or go to their aunt and get bad counsel.

Dennis:  And, Bob, what Shaunti and Lisa have done a great job in their book is helping parents understand where some of these hot-button issues are, and I so appreciate what you've done here and for being on the broadcast.  I just want to encourage parents here – the teenage years are a time when the teens, if you let them, will push you out of their lives.  They will push you out at the very time, in my opinion, they need you most. 

If there is ever a time in a young person's life in this culture, when they need to know what their spiritual identity is, and their sexual identity is, and get it from the right person who has the right values, it's today.  It's from Christian moms and dads who are Christ-followers, who will point their children back to the Scripture and to a biblical definition of what it means to be a man and a woman.

Bob:  And for a mom and dad to have a leg up on what's going on, it helps to get a copy of the book that Shaunti and Lisa have written and better understand.  I mean, I guess if we think back hard enough, maybe we can remember what it was like to be an adolescent, but it's a different world today, and there are different issues and different pressures that our sons and daughters are facing, and I think this book shows us kind of what's going on in the mind of a contemporary adolescent, and it helps us, as a mom and dad, better understand how we can guide our sons and our daughters.

We've got the book in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center.  Let me encourage our listeners to go online to get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.  The book is For Parents Only written by our guests, Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice. 

You can also call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information about the book or to order by phone.  That's 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have a copy of this book sent to you.

Let me take just a minute if I can before we are all done here just to make sure that those of you who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today understand what it means when we talk about being listener supported as a program.  Like most of the programs you hear on this station it’s folks like who listen who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today that make this program possible. 

The costs that are associated with producing and syndicating a daily radio program are costs that we cover with the donations we receive from folks like you who listen to the program.  We have some folks who are monthly partners with the ministry and we call them Legacy Partners.  They make monthly donations to help cover these expenses.  Others of you just contact us from time to time and make a donation as you are able to do that. 

However you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today we appreciate your partnership with us and if fact this month if you are able to help with a donation of any amount we’d like to send you as a thank you gift two CDs where we have an extended conversation with our friend Dr. Tim Kimmel about what grace based parenting looks like.

If you make a donation on line to FamilyLife Today this month just type the word “PARENT” in the key code box on the on line donation form.  Or you can make your donation by phone and just ask for the grace based parenting CDs.  Again let me say thanks for locking arms with us and being part of the ministry FamilyLife Today through your financial support of this program.

Let me encourage you to join us back again tomorrow Barry St. Clair is going to join us and we are going to continue to talk about parenting.  We are going to talk tomorrow about what ought to be at the center of the bull’s eye.   What are the essentials we ought to aim for as we raise our kids?  I hope you can be back 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'll 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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