FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Raising the Bar

with Alex Harris, Brett Harris | September 3, 2008
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Everyone expects teens to rebel in some way, but Alex and Brett have started a rebellion of a different kind. Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with brothers Alex and Brett Harris, authors of the book Do Hard Things, about why they are sounding the call for teens to rise up and make a difference in the world around them. Find out what Alex and Brett have in common with youth throughout history, including King David and many of the founding fathers.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Everyone expects teens to rebel in some way, but Alex and Brett have started a rebellion of a different kind. Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with brothers Alex and Brett Harris, authors of the book Do Hard Things, about why they are sounding the call for teens to rise up and make a difference in the world around them. Find out what Alex and Brett have in common with youth throughout history, including King David and many of the founding fathers.

  • 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.

Everyone expects teens to rebel in some way, but Alex and Brett have started a rebellion of a different kind.

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Raising the Bar

With Alex Harris, Brett Harris
September 03, 2008
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Bob: If, as a parent, you want your children to thrive, one of the things you're going to have to learn how to do is let go.  Here's Brett Harris.

Brett: Parents need to have the wisdom to say that, you know, "We raise our children, we do shelter them, we do protect them," but it's just like when you raise a tomato plant – you start it in the greenhouse, but if you leave it in the greenhouse, you're going to get greenhouse tomatoes.  You need to know when it's time, you know, when the roots have been established, and you can move it onto the field to bear its fruit in the field.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  How do you take your children from the greenhouse and get them transplanted in the world safely?  And how do you know when it's time?  We'll talk about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I'm just sitting here doing the math, to see if I've got this right – you were 19 in 1967, would that be right?

Dennis: That's correct.

Bob: And that was kind of a – there was kind of a little bit of a revolution going on in '67.

Dennis: There was.

Bob: Were you a revolutionary?

Dennis: No.

Bob: What were you?

Dennis: I didn't know what was going on at 19.  I hadn't figured it out yet.

Bob: You were in junior college at the time, right?

Dennis: I was.  I was just starting …

Bob: Playing basketball?

Dennis: I was playing some basketball, pitching some baseballs, matter of speaking.  I had, that was like a 12-run lead, Bob, and the coach put me in, and …

Bob: You blew a 12-run …

Dennis: I blew it, I blew it.  It wasn't one of my better exhibitions of pitching.  I don't think my career ever recovered from that.

Bob: So everything that was going on all around the culture, and you weren't paying attention to it?

Dennis: You know, I think I was still trying to find out, really, who I was and my identity.  And unlike the two young men who are in the studio with us today, I didn't have any idea what God really had for me and what my spiritual purpose was.

Bob: You would say that these two guys we've got here are maybe a few steps ahead of where you were at 19?

Dennis: I think they're a bit sharper than I was at that age.

Bob: I bet they've never blown a 12-run lead.


Dennis: Well, Alex, Brett, have either one of you blown a 12-run lead?

Brett: I can't say we have.  We actually have tried to stay away from baseball.  We have blown some 12-point leads in basketball, football, and maybe soccer, but baseball we've tried to stay away from.

Dennis: Well, these are the voices of Alex and Brett Harris, who are the first twins, I think, that we've ever interviewed.

Bob: Is that right?  I hadn't stopped to think about that, but I cannot think of twins that we've had on our program.

Dennis: And I don't know if we've interviewed anyone any younger.

Bob: That may – now, I'm thinking, you know, I was kind of doing double vision and deja vous when they first walked in because a little more than a decade ago we had a 21-year-old on.

Dennis: Right, who is their brother.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: Josh Harris.

Bob: He had just kissed dating goodbye at the time.

Dennis: And I want to set this straight for our listeners right at the outset.  Both Brett and Alex are single, and we're setting up a special website for pictures of girls that you want to send …

Bob: You know, stop …

Dennis: You know people are doing this for these guys left and right.

Bob: When your brother was here back a dozen years ago, Dennis did this same thing with him – called him the Protestant Monk and said – but there weren't websites a dozen years ago, so he was …

Alex: That's probably a good thing.

Bob: They were having people fax pictures in at the time, and I don't think we got a real flood of pictures.

Dennis: I don't think we did.

Bob: But the website thing …

Alex: That's encouraging to me. 

Brett:  Well, Alex, you know, so there's two of us.  We should be able to at least double …

Bob: Double the output, yeah, that's right.

Dennis: The output of your …

Brett: Double of nothing, though, is nothing, but it's still double.

Dennis: Well, enough foolishness here about the pictures of the dates.  These two young men are serious followers of Christ, and they have written a book called "Do Hard Things, A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations." 

Now, at this point, Bob, there has to be some moms and dads, maybe some grandparents listening to the broadcast – maybe even a teen or two that's thinking, "I need to call a friend," so you know what?  Use your call-a-friend bonus here on FamilyLife Today right now …

Bob: That's right, phone a friend.

Dennis: And call a teenager and listen in because you are about to hear a radical approach toward being a teenager.  And for you two guys, this book – and, really, the idea for it started in 2005 when you were given a reading assignment?

Brett: That's right.  We were 16 at the time, it was summer of 2005.  We didn't really know what was next in our lives.  Our past experiences were mainly speech and debate competition.  That was what we were good at, that was what we were comfortable with, and our parents decided it was time to move on from there.  We agree but didn't really know what was next.  We were kind of in limbo.  Every time we thought we had an idea, God slammed the door in our faces, and we really were just unsure of where to go from there.

Alex:  We really wanted to serve God, you know, I think a lot of young people are in the situation where they know they want to serve God with their lives, they want to honor Him, but they really don't know when that's supposed to happen.  They have the idea that it's supposed to happen later in the future, but they just don't know what to do with their lives right now.  And so we were at that point – not sure what was next, and that was when our dad walked in with this huge stack of books, you know, plunked them down on the kitchen table and said, "I'm going to put you guys through an intense reading regimen this summer."  And so he had us reading books on everything from, you know, sociology and quantum physics to globalization from that …

Dennis: Hold it, hold it, have we mentioned homeschooling here?

Bob: We've not mentioned – you were both homeschooled all the way through high school, basically, right?

Alex: Yes.

Bob: And at 16 were you – I mean, were you still in homeschooling?

Brett: We had completed most of our high school studies by the time we were 16.

Alex: And not because we were especially smart but because our family really put emphasis on that.  Our parents …

Brett: We normally did school through the summer.  So this summer of not having anything to do was a new and disturbing thing for us.

Dennis: So how many books were in the stack?

Brett: I don't know, we probably read, maybe, 10, 12, 15 books at the most.

Dennis: Wow.

Brett: But it was – we really didn't have anything else to do, literally.

Dennis: And what was the essence, the net result of reading all these books?

Brett: Well, it was really a cumulative effect where God really just opened up the size and scope of His world and what was happening in it to us.  We really felt like, you know, these were adult books, but they were about the issues that young people needed to know about.  We felt like so much of what we were reading was what our generation was going to end up dealing with.  And so we were reading books like, "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, and just – he's talking about young people in China, young people in India, how they are working, how they are applying themselves, and where they are headed, where their countries are headed, and we really felt like, "Wow, American young people, you know, Alex and I, ourselves, we're going to be set up for a big disappointment if we think that we can just coast through and have this American dream everyone is talking about.

Alex: Let me jump in there and just share one of the stories that Thomas Friedman shares in that book that really impacted us, and that was about when Bill Gates went to China, and Bill Gates is in China, and there are young people, teenagers, even younger than that, hanging off the rafters to get a chance to see Bill Gates.

Bob: He's a rock star in China.

Alex: He's a rock star, he's Britney Spears in China, and what Thomas Friedman realized and what he said …

Dennis: Could you pick a little different …

Alex: This was before – he wrote this book before.  You have to take this – understand the context in which he wrote it.

Dennis: Keep going then, okay.

Alex: But what he said was that the problem with America is that in China Bill Gates is Britney Spears.  In America, Britney Spears is Britney Spears, and that's our problem.

Bob: You read that and put the book down and said what to each other?

Alex: Well, we just realized, you know what?  There has to be more.  We're seeing more in these other countries where they are really taking their teen years seriously.  There's more to the teen years than what Western culture or just the modern view of the teen years tells us.  There had to be more.  I think that was really the cumulative effect of our reading was "There's more."

Bob: We, as a culture, moms and dads, teenagers, we're not taking the teen years seriously enough?

Alex: Well, what we really saw was that there are different results for different ways of spending the teen years.  We were – in some of these books, we were very clearly able to see that in this country they spend the teen years this way, here is the result.  In America, you know, in Western culture, we spend our teen years this way, and here is the result.  And that was just such an important thing for us to realize is that the teen years are not disconnected from the rest of life.  They're not just some, you know, period that doesn't have effect, that's just a vacation from responsibility, a time to goof off and have fun, to realize that this is actually, you know, the seed time.  This is the launching pad, this is training, this is preparation, you know, all of those realizations were kind of coming to us as we read because it was very clear to see the results are different.  The fruit is there.  What does this mean?  We weren't actually quite sure right off the bat.

Dennis: You know, you guys don't need my affirmation.  You already know you're on the right thing, but when I worked with teenagers in Dallas, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, all across the nation, after working with high school men and women for five years, my conclusion was the same one you've come to – we're not challenging teenagers to a high enough standard.

And what you've come to, your conclusion of your book, as I wrote it down, the corner of my notes here, you're calling teenagers to rise above complacency and low expectations to grow as followers of Christ and begin to exercise their faith now instead of later.

Brett: That's exactly right, that's exactly right.

Alex: You could write the mission statement for the "rebelution."  That could be our mission statement right there.

Dennis: The rebelution?

Alex: The rebelution.

Dennis: Not the revolution.

Alex: No, r-e-b-e-l.  It's a combination of the words "revolution" and "rebellion," and the idea is when you bring those two together, they negate themselves, and we really like to think of this as rebelling against rebellion.  It's definitely a new thing.  We're not rebelling against God-established authority, we're not calling young people to throw off, you know …

Brett: There's not going to be any riots and violence in the streets.

Alex: There's not going to be riots.  We're calling young people back to God-established authority.  We're calling them back to the authority of God's Word, of their parents and their elders, and to really – back to the weight of history, you know, that cloud of witnesses that is talked about in God's Word, and just to look at their teen years and say, "This is my season for strict training."  This is that verse, "It's good for the young man to bear the yoke in his youth," and it's definitely a different call, but it's rebellion because we're living in a society where young people are expected to do the opposite.

Bob: It's one thing to encourage your sons, your daughters, to think deep things, read deep books, be intellectually challenged.  It's another thing to say, "All right, go to Alabama and live there for a while, and we'll see you later" kind of thing.  You know, as you guys did.  You were interns with the Alabama Supreme Court when you were how old?

Brett: It started when we were 16, just a few weeks before we turned 17.

Bob: Okay, as a mom or a dad, you look at your 16-year-old, you say, "They're going off."  I mean, you think to yourself, do these guys – they're only 16.  You know what I'm saying?

Brett: Exactly.  Well, I think that, you know, you – it's going to be different on a child-to-child basis, I think, to say that every child is the same would be very wrong, but parents need to have the wisdom to say that, you know, "We raise our children, we do shelter them, we do protect them," but it's just like when you raise, you know, a tomato plant.  You start it in the greenhouse, but if you leave it in the greenhouse, you're going to get greenhouse tomatoes.  You need to know when it's time, you know, when the roots have been established and you can move it onto the field to bear its fruit in the field.

And I think the most important thing that we're really challenging parents that we don't really try to speak to parents, but we're really challenging them to let their kids get into the right kind of trouble; to understand that, you know, young people today are getting into trouble, why not let them get into the right kind of trouble; get into trouble because they are living the Great Commission, because they are doing hard things, great things for God at young ages.

And if you look at history, you look at God's Word, you know, these young people got in trouble, but they got into trouble because they were obeying God not because they were rebelling against God.

Dennis: Yeah, David, I think David picked up a slingshot, didn't he?

Brett: He got in a little bit of trouble.  He had some people chasing him and trying to kill him, actually.

Dennis: No doubt about it, and what I hear you guys saying to moms and dads here, is don't fall into the conformity of the culture about how are culture approaches teenagers.  Instead, think above and beyond that to how the Bible thinks about young people, which is pursuing maturity in Christ and being men and women of faith at early ages.

Brett: Exactly, and, really, what Alex and I really stumbled upon during this time of study once we started our website and blog where we started writing about these ideas and interacting with other young people is we realized while history is full of these stories, you know, modern day is full of these stories, where you look at people who are successful today serving God or even, you know, secular leaders, athletes – everything goes back to these young years.

How many athletes weren't playing their sport when they were teenagers or younger, you know, middle school?  How many athletes started after college saying, "Oh, now it's time to become an athlete."  It doesn't work that way, and if you look back at the founding fathers of our country, you see George Washington being a surveyor for Culpepper County, Virginia, at 16.  He was the – he led the entire militia of Virginia at 23, and 20 years later he was commander-in-chief of the entire Continental Army.  Alexander Hamilton was a clerk in a counting house at 13.  Twenty years later, he was the first secretary of the Treasury. 

And so you just see this pattern where we've been able to find any person, look at what they did later in life, and trace it back to how they spent their teen years.  And so many times we lose this, we say, "Oh, they were just prodigies," "Oh, they're just exceptional," and we judge them backwards.  We judge them from what they've accomplished at the end of their lives, and we don't look at the cause of that.

We say, "Oh, the reason they were able to do that when they were teens is because they were so exceptional."  No, they were exceptional because of how they spent their teen years.

Dennis: You know, what I want moms and dads to hear out of this is you are powerful, as parents, in shaping the direction of your children's lives, especially during these teenage years.  And, as parents, I think, a lot of times, gentlemen, as a parent – you guys haven't been there yet, so you don't know what this feels like, but a lot of parents really feel powerless against the culture.  They feel like the culture is overwhelming their family.  All they're doing is playing defense, and what I hear you guys challenging teenagers to do but especially their parents, is put them on the offense.  Give them a picture of who God is, and train them in the biblical faith so they can be serious followers of Christ.  Not later on when they are fully equipped but now, during the teenage years, give them that vision for their lives.

Brett: Absolutely.  And our father has a great two-step process to being a great parent, and that is to get a life, and then include your children in your life.  And that's what he has done for us.  He says, "If you need another step, repeat steps one and two."

But that's really what he's done, and he uses the analogy in Psalm 127 of children being arrows in the hands of a warrior, and that that warrior aims them at key targets, and he oftentimes, in the Bible times, they would make their own arrows, and they had to make sure that they were sharp, that they were balanced, that they were straight, and them aim them at strategic targets.

Dennis: Okay, here's the question for both of you guys – I want both of you to answer this question because there are a lot of parents sitting on the edges of their chairs going, "I think I like what I'm hearing here, and I love the products of what's happened out of this family."  If you had one thing for a parent to understand about a teenager today, okay, only one – if you can just communicate one thing to a parent that they desperately need to know as their child moves from pre-adolescence and emerges through what I believe are the most perilous years on the planet for any human being – 13 to 19.

What one thing would you want them to know as they train and teach their children?

Brett: I think I have two things, actually, if that's okay.

Dennis: Oh, you're going to cheat, you're going to cheat.

Brett: If that's okay – I'm going to do two.

Dennis: Bob, can we give him two. 

Bob: I'm just keeping notes over here.  You've got two.

Brett: If you want, he could, you know …

Dennis: … is yours two?

Alex: We could just, we could just have him kind of change his voice and be me.

Dennis: Since you're twins …

Brett: Since we're twins …

Dennis: You're going to let him, you're going to let him …

Alex: In fact, I don't think most people will even know …

Bob: Which is which?

Alex: Who said what, so …

Dennis: I think that's right.

Alex: I don't think it matters.

Brett: Okay, so two things.  Number one, understand that your young person is capable of a whole lot more than the culture around them than they and that you expect them to be able to do.  That's number one.

The second thing is to …

Dennis: Hold it, hold it, I've got to stop you for a second, because the moms out there going, "Wait a second, I can't even get him to clean his room.

Bob: That's right.  He's capable of what?

Dennis: She doesn't know how to clean the kitchen.  What do you mean high expectations?  But keep going, that's okay.  I just had to say that, I feel better now that I've said it on behalf of a lot of moms and dads out there.

Alex: We'll probably talk about that more as we go on.

Dennis: We will, we will.

Alex: The second thing is to encourage your children to do hard things, and when they do them, understand that it's okay to fail at hard things; that the purpose of doing hard things is to grow, to build muscle, and even when you fail at doing hard things, that muscle is still being built.

We like to use the analogy – we were with a group of guys one time and had the masculine bright idea to have a contest to see who could get to 100 pushups, and now some of the guys knew they couldn't do it, so they didn't even participate.  Brett and I knew we couldn't do it but decided, you know, for our manly honor we had to participate, and other guys knew they could do it, and they proceeded to, you know, put off 100 pushups, get up without a sweat, here we are, struggling at about – I don't know what it was, but it wasn't 100.


And in the end, you know, in the end we could not push ourselves up one more time.  We could barely get off the floor, and yet even though we failed to reach 100, we got a better workout than those guys who had just ratcheted out those 100 pushups without breaking a sweat, because we had pushed ourselves to the limit.  And a lot of times, you know, a young person's limit may be pretty low, but it's when they push themselves to the limit, that's where they grow, and steps can be taken to increase their strength, and eventually they'll be doing some pretty big, hard things that start small.

Dennis: Okay, so, number one – expect great things; number two, set some high goals, help them set some standards.

Bob: And let them fail at it.

Dennis: Yeah.

Bob: And let them try it and …

Alex: Well, you're not setting them up to fail, but what you're providing them is the support that they know that they can fail, and it's okay.

Dennis: You know, as you help a teenager use those muscles, there's going to be pain not only for him but for you, as a parent, and I think, again, we don't recognize when we start out this journey of raising young people how painful it can be to help them all the way to maturity, but that's where the Scriptures come in.  And God will guide you in the process, you just don't quit.

This is not a one-time shot where you give your child some kind of inoculation or quick fix.  This is a mindset.  This is an attitude, a way of life, that you take your teenagers with you on as you are that warrior.

Bob: It's thinking like an archer, it's thinking, "My job is to get the arrow out and to point it and shoot it," not thinking like a goalie, where you're just trying to protect the goal.

Dennis: Play defense.

Bob: Yeah, where you're trying to keep the team together on the field and in the game, you know?  I mean, I know you coach parents on that in the book that you've written, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and I think the book that these two guys have written, "Do Hard Things" – I'm trying to imagine me giving this book to my teenager and saying, "Hey, I've got a great book for you called 'Do Hard Things,'" and having them kind of put in on their nightstand and never open it.  But I do think it's the kind of book that students groups can go through together, student ministries leaders can take their students through a book like this and help give them a vision for how their life today can have a kingdom impact.

We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website,  On the home page, you'll see a box on the right side of the screen that says "Today's Broadcast."  Click where it says "Learn More," and that will take you to the area of the site where you can find out more about the book, "Do Hard Things," about Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," about other resources that we have available here at FamilyLife Today to help parents and teens during this years.

Again, our website is  You can click on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast," to get the information you need, or you can order these resources online, if you'd like.  If it's easier, just call us at 1-800-358-6329, which is easily remembered at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  When you contact us, someone on the team will let you know how you can have the resources you need sent to you.

And then let me remind you that FamilyLife Today is listener-supported.  Folks like you not only listen to our program each day but from time to time you call us or you go online, and you make a donation to help keep FamilyLife Today on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country.  We appreciate that financial support for this ministry.

And this month, when you make a donation of any amount, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you.  It's two CDs that feature a conversation we had not long ago with authors Tim and Joy Downs.  They've written a book called "The Seven Conflicts of Marriage," and we talked about some of the common conflicts in marriage relationships and about what we can do to resolve many of those conflicts.

We'd love to send you these two CDs as our way of thanking you for your financial support for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  When you make your donation online at, you'll come to a keycode box, and if you'd like the CDs from Tim and Joy Downs, just write the word "conflict" in that box.  We'll know to send those out to you, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Make your donation over the phone and just mention you'd like the CDs on marital conflict.  Again, we're happy to send them out to you as our way of saying thank you for your partnership with us here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Tomorrow we're going to continue to look at how teenagers can be actively involved in doing hard things, kingdom things, during their teen years.  I hope you can join 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'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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