Family Friday Links 7.21.17

Here's what we've found helpful online this week:

Trevin Wax wrote a post for The Gospel Coalition on the topic of parenting teens. He wrote, "From the moment we became parents, my wife and I have felt inadequate and unequipped to be parents. Now, at the threshold of a new stage of life, I am reminded that, just as we've had to do at every point until now, we must entrust our children to the Lord's care."  Trevin lists three fears he has entering this stage of parenting. Parents would do well to read this.

Scott Kedersha had a post on unmet expectations. He shares three reasons why unmet expectations lead to frustration and what to do about it. This is a great read for couples regardless of length of relationship.

Our friend, Marty Machowski, was interviewed by Tim Challies about writing for kid audience. With the publication of Dragon Seed, his first work of fiction, Marty is candid about the process from start to finish. Go read the interview and get Marty's books, they will aid in the spiritual enrichment of your family.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave a link in the comment section to check out.

Interview with Jaquelle Crowe ... and BOOK GIVEAWAY

A few months ago I started hearing rumblings about a young lady who had written her first book about the gospel and the teen years. A little while later, Jaquelle Crowe and her dad showed up one Sunday and joined us for worship. After reading her book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, which my kids will be reading this summer, I wanted to get this much needed book in the hands of the three groups of people who need it most: teens, their parents, and the church leaders that lead them. We have two copies to give away (more on how to enter later), but first I want to introduce to the author.

Pat: Tell me a little about yourself.

Jaquelle: I’m nineteen, and I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I graduated from university at the end of 2015 after studying communications and English and am a full-time writer now. I also run an online membership community for young writers called the Young Writers Workshop and host a podcast for youth with my dad called Age of Minority. And for fun, I love to read, cook, eat, explore, hang out with cool people, and write (obviously).

Pat: What prompted you to write your book?

Jaquelle: There were two primary reasons. First, because it was the book I wanted to read as a young teen – something that was gospel-centered and practical and written for the unique, specific stage of life I was in. I ended up reading a lot of fantastic books on Christian living, but they were all written for adults. 

Which leads to the second reason I wrote this book – because I saw a need. I began interacting with more and more young Christians like myself, and we were all looking for this kind of book. The Lord graciously began opening doors, and here we are!

Pat: Why do you think the teen years are so critical for faith development?

aquelle: J.C. Ryle referred to youth as “the seed time of full age … the moulding season in the little space of human life,” and I think that perfectly captures why the teen years are so critical for faith development. The teen years are preparing us for life. They’re cultivating the habits, virtues, vices, loves, and fears that will remain with us as adults. They’re when we learn the most, when we’re most shaped by what we hear and believe. This is why teens desperately need the life-giving truth of the gospel.

Pat: What was the process of writing like?

aquelle: The bulk of the book was written over a span of four months in 2016. I’m a planner, so I drew up outlines for each chapter, and then tackled each one individually. Most chapters went through 2-3 drafts. I’ve heard it said that writing is rewriting, and that was certainly true for me.

I also got a lot of feedback. My parents read almost every draft of every chapter. I had a team member at Crossway read each chapter and offer feedback. Before the book’s final edit, I had a group of teens and twentysomethings read the book and give their thoughts as well. So the process was a cycle of planning, concentrated writing, editing/rewriting, and receiving and implementing feedback. 

Pat: What do you hope your book does for those that read it?

aquelle: I hope it upsets the apathetic, that it communicates the hard truth that Jesus demands absolutely everything. But I hope it encourages the faithful, that it fills them with supreme joy and inspires them to know that they’re not alone. I hope teenagers love Jesus more. I also hope this is a helpful tool for parent-teen discipleship, that it gives parents more insight into their teens’ spiritual lives and that it sparks rich and honest conversations about faith and sanctification.

Pat: What’s next for you?

aquelle: Wherever the Lord leads! I’m focusing on the current things on my plate right now – traveling, speaking, leading the Young Writers Workshop, and writing. I’d love to go to seminary in the next few years, and I’d also love to write another book. But we’ll see what happens.

Here's how to enter the giveaway: Write something creative and post to Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #GCFgiveaway2017. There will be one randomly selected winner from each social media platform who will each receive one copy of the book. Enter as many times as you'd like. The drawing will be held on Friday, June 30th, 2017.

The kids are not all right: How to help teens who are anxious and depressed

This article initially appeared at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission website.

Safety is a prevailing concern for American parents. My generation baby-proofed our homes, obsessed over the safest car seats and boycotted sleepovers. But as hard as we’ve tried, we can’t avoid suffering. An example of this is found in an eye-opening article for the November 7 (2016) issue of Time, where Susanna Schrobsdorff tells us the pre-teens and teenagers we’ve raised are more anxious, overwhelmed and depressed than the generation before.

Over six million teens in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which is 25 percent of the teen population. After several years of stability, depression among high school kids is rising. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 12.5 percent of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, had at least one major depressive episode in 2015. That’s up from 4.6 percent in 2006.

The signature symptom

While not universal among kids with depression and anxiety, Schrobsdorff observes that nonsuicidal self-harm “[appears] to be the signature symptom of this generation’s mental health difficulties.” We know that family financial stress can exacerbate anxiety. Studies also show that girls are more at risk for depression than boys. But it’s harder to quantify how many teens are cutting, because they are deliberately secretive.

Schrobsodorff tells the story of Faith-Ann, an eighth grader who first cut herself in the middle of the night while her parents slept. She sat on the edge of the tub at her home and sliced into her ribs with the metal clip from a pen: “There was blood and a sense of deep relief.”

These sobering statistics and stories like Faith-Ann’s raise questions for parents. What caused this rise in anxiety among teenagers? What can I do to prevent my child from hiding depression? What should I do if I discover my child is cutting?

The link between mental health and technology

Schrobsdorff focuses on potential causes. She’s particularly interested in links between teenage mental health and their use of technology: “Conventional wisdom says kids today are over supervised . . . But even though teens may be in the same room with their parents, they might also, thanks to their phones, be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates.”

Getting your first smartphone is a rite of passage in our culture. Kids have them at earlier and earlier ages. Experts warn against the addictive distraction from schoolwork and the danger of exposing kids to online bullies, child predators and sexting. Such realities call for the same vigilance with Internet safety we’ve demonstrated in baby-proofing. Parents should know how to set up a phone’s restrictions and find a plan that allows for monitoring text messages. And parents must teach skills for navigating the world of social media by first limiting access, then giving increasing freedom as their children demonstrate growing responsibility.

But even with these precautions, a more subtle danger in children having smartphones is exposing kids to a deep experience of their own feelings before they have the skills to process them. Teenagers are wired for stimulation. The emotional reactions of a teenage brain can feel urgent and overwhelming. With a rise in hyper-connectedness, even rural youth are increasingly exposed to what Schrobsdorff describes as “a national thicket of Internet drama.” She writes, “Being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism—you name it.”

Helping teens work through their feelings

It shouldn’t surprise us when kids who are more socially connected gain a greater awareness of the world’s brokenness and feel deeply about it. Dr. Brent Bounds, a clinical psychologist who served as director of Family Ministries at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, says it’s important to create a culture where it’s safe to talk about these emotions when they come. Parents can’t force vulnerability, but we can model it. And we can let kids know that it is not wrong to feel deeply.

Our goal shouldn’t be to change how they feel but simply recognize our kids’ emotions and affirm our love. Bounds told me, “Sometimes parents feel that they have to have all the answers to make their child feel safe. But one of the most freeing answers a parent can give their child is, ‘I don't know. But I love you and I want to support and help you any way I can.’"

When conversation is open with a teen, parents can simply reflect back what their child may be feeling—“You seem really angry right now. I wonder if you’re angry with me and don't know how to talk about it?" or, "Wow, that's a really hard situation. I can imagine you feel overwhelmed.” Using this same reflecting technique, a parent can help build a child’s emotional vocabulary from an early age. This will prepare kids to face more complex feelings when they enter the teen years.

Helping our children grow in self-awareness about their emotions is a pathway to helping them grow in self-care as well. A teen must identify that social media triggers his anxiety before he’ll understand his need to manage that anxiety in a healthy way—perhaps by putting down his phone and going for a jog.

What if my child has hurt himself?

When a child does report he’s hurt himself, parents or pastors should first acknowledge the risk the teen has taken to be vulnerable. Acknowledge the teen’s courage and then listen. It’s hard to do. Bounds observes, “Most parents are understandably concerned when they find out a child is cutting, but they tend to react in ways that don't draw out the teen but instead shut them down.”

Know that it’s not out of the norm for a teen to cut themselves at some point. The important questions to ask are: Where did they cut? (Alarming areas are inside wrists, forearms and the inner thigh.) What did they use to cut themselves? And how much/often has this happened? While we want to respect our child’s privacy, if you have knowledge that a child has been harming himself, take it seriously and press in.

Sometimes self-harm comes from a sense of helplessness and desire for control. Teens like Faith-Ann say self-harm relives internal pain by “letting the feelings out.” The desire may come from a child’s deep belief that she’s not big enough to contain the feelings she is experiencing. The desire to cut may even be a deep emotional witness to the truth that growing social awareness or social advocacy will not atone for the world’s sins. Our brokenness is only healed with the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22); but it’s the Savior’s, not our own.

As Dr. Scott James, a pediatric physician/researcher and an elder at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., cautioned me, it’s not absolutely necessary for us to come to a full explanation of why this is happening:

I've learned as a doctor that when it comes to mental health, I need to disabuse myself of the notion that I will always be able to pop the hood and get to the bottom of what a patient is feeling/doing. Empathy is important, but it's hubris to think we should always be able to correctly identify and address the exact motives of each person.

Instead, we can confess, “I don’t understand where my child is coming from or why she is viewing life the way she does. But I’ll be here for her regardless." That's a position of compassionate engagement that puts aside trying to be the hero and savior. From that place of humility, we can point to Christ, the true comforter and healer. Jesus understands. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

Family Friday Links 12.2.16

Here, at the beginning of the Christmas season are some online resources we've found helpful:

Tim Challies put together a post of books teens should read. He says, "... each of them is suited to twenty-first century teenaged readers and together they will provide a foundation for the Christian life that will prove both deep and wide." Parents lead the way in giving your teens great resources. Use them as conversation starters or even for family devotions. You will learn right alongside them.

The Desiring God site had a post by Kristin Tabb on kids in worship. She describes it this way, "What you want is refreshment and inspiration; what you get is low-level tension, discomfort, and distraction as you brace yourself for what might happen next." She goes on to explain both the weariness and the wonder of it all. Parent's of little one, read this and be encouraged.

Our friend, Timothy Paul Jones, wrote a post entitled, "Advent: The Difficult Discipline of Celebrating the Waiting". In it he writes, "... Advent reminds me that time is far too precious to be killed, even when that time is spent looking ahead. Advent is a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ through the discipline of waiting." He goes on to explain the meaning of waiting and its importance.

What have you been reading or writing online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we will check it out.