January 17, 2021

Out of the Mouths of 16-year Old Babes: The Terrible Truth About Kids and Parents

The youth ministry professional has something to say, and parents need to read it. First, let’s hear about a new book you need to add to the Amazon wish list.

This book has a lot to teach us. But not just about our kids.

Seems that Doris Fuller, a journalist, her 19 year old college son and her 16 year old, wild-child high school junior daughter have penned this little book giving the terrible truth of what is going on in the youth culture of contemporary suburban yuppiedom. Hence the title, “Promise You Won’t Freak Out.”

The protagonist of this little tell-all is 16-year old Natalie. Oh what a child is she!

So take a deep breath and get ready for 15-year-olds who drink liquor shots holding their noses in their parents’ kitchen and “touchy-feely,” a football-team party game where guests drink, strip naked and race through the house groping body parts.

Natalie, who by 16 confesses to lying, shoplifting, sneaking out of the house, drinking, driving to visit a boyfriend out of state and getting her belly button pierced, notes that during her sophomore year “I must have lied to my parents about my plans 90 percent of the time.

“I would tell them I was going to someone’s house to sleep over, and then I’d go someplace I wasn’t supposed to be. It was like a game … Every time I returned home, adrenaline pumped through my veins in anticipation of finding out if I had successfully pulled off my latest getaway. I knew that as long as I got away with things and was having too much fun, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.

Out of this adventure in honesty comes a lot of parenting advice from the point of view of the wayward child who says she really needed her parents to show up and do their job. It’s all well worth hearing.

Most times a teen plays the trust card (“If you trusted me, you wouldn’t … “), parents should be suspicious, Natalie warns. “Lying about where we’re going works as well as it does because we can almost always count on parents never checking up.”

Peek into a teen’s bedroom late at night , especially on weekends. This catches teens sneaking out or sneaking others in.

Set rules that make your teen a “social liability.” Sure, you can’t choose your teen’s friends, but you can make him or her less attractive to peers in fast circles. As Doris discovered, “a girl with a curfew is a drag in a group where nobody else has one; a kid whose mom can be counted on to verify that adults will be present at teen parties doesn’t get included in certain gatherings.”

Threaten to call other parents to counter “But everyone else is going!” “All I had to say was, ‘Really? Everyone? I think I’ll just call … ‘ to hear the screeches and backtracking begin,” Doris writes.

Don’t underestimate older siblings’ influence. If parents want to know where teens are getting dangerous ideas, look to older brothers and sisters, Natalie says.

Consider giving a chronic underachiever a “fresh start” at a new school. Friends and teachers with low expectations can help perpetuate low academic standards.

Do some research on what’s “normal” for teen behavior. After Doris discovered Natalie drank a mixed drink, a beer and two shots in less than an hour, she laid out the statistics and risks of binge drinking. To counter “everybody does it,” Doris pointed out that national surveys find only 1 in 20 high-school girls binge drink.

Don’t figure “good kids” don’t drink. “Alcohol is an issue for all of us: me, my friends and the friends of my friends,” Natalie writes. “We drink for basically the same reason adults do it: fun!”

Don’t assume a party is OK because parents will be home. One, parents sometimes provide the alcohol. Two, “unless a host could gather all the guests in one fully visible place and then station herself in the middle of them without blinking, teen parties had a natural tendency to combust spontaneously into a firestorm of mischief.” A rave is always a bad idea.

Expect teens’ friends to back them up , even if this means lying. “Since keeping secrets is part of what being a teen is all about anyway, there’s just not a lot of motivation to become a snitch,” Natalie explains.

Use the phrase “We have a problem” when discussing touchy subjects with other parents. Another helpful phrase: “You might want to ask (teen’s name) about. … ” This is nonjudgmental and doesn’t compromise your source’s confidentiality.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s nifty that cool parents can now pick up a few tips from Natalie and fight the good fight. Buy the book! Or better yet, get your kid to write one of their own. Something like this:

1) Mom, you might want to check that Oregano bottle in my room.

2) The excuse “I was holding it for my friend” is less and less true the more dangerous and illegal the subject matter in question.

3) If a strange, scantily clad, college-age, obviously inebriated woman emerges from my room, we weren’t studying calculus.

4) That ominous sound from my room that keeps saying, “Kill your parents. Kill your parents” is what I did with grandma’s Christmas money.

5) When I am wearing $500 shoes on a $10 per week allowance, something is amiss. (And I didn’t win the lottery.)

6) Asking for condoms for Christmas isn’t normal for a 12 year old.

So you get the idea. But may I have a word with parents for just a moment? Let’s all sit down here in the living room where you can hear me. Turn off the tv. Thanks.

Kids don’t raise themselves, people. They require a LOT of time, and a LOT of attention. Economically successful parents who think that a nice house, nice car, nice clothes, nice vacation, nice neighborhood and nice stuff are taking the place of your full-time interest in your child are FOOLS.

Youth culture isn’t the rosy myth of growing up we’ve perpetuated in America to make ourselves feel better. It’s a shark-infested swim, and the more gifted or gorgeous the kid, the more likely they will be the targets of the predators. Bad people want to recruit your children to do bad and stupid things. They think you are too dumb to know and too busy to care. Are they right?

Youth-oriented media count on you not watching and listening to what they are saying, selling and normalizing. They especially count on you not talking to your kids, or if you do talk to them, the media sharks want to make sure you fall for all the lines they’ve programmed into the game. All those images of teenage porn queens and violent, barbaric males treating women like meat- kids buy it, play it and live it. Unless you say NO; not in my family.

What is particularly sad about this book (which I haven’t read) is the likelihood that Natalie is acting out her side of a home with other, serious problems. Teenagers look for something to fill the anxieties of being young and human. They also look for ways to deal with their dysfunctional and absentee parents. A good parent NEVER buys into the lie that good grades or nice friends mean all is well. Youth culture is based on deception, lies and an honor code that would rather go to a funeral than tell an adult the truth.

You can’t let your children handle this on their own, I don’t care who you are, where you are or how good your kids are. God put you in their lives to be vigilant, involved and brave. Brave enough to say “What is this?” “Where are you and when will you be home?” “Who are these people?” “What’s in this movie?” You get the picture.

I’m happy for the book. I hope parents get the real point. Don’t freak out. Get to the battle and start being the parent your child needs.

(P.S. Christian parents who think all this isn’t going on in the mregachurch youth group or down at the Christian school are just as naive and out of it as Doris. Wake up people. Church youth groups have it ALL. Take it from me. I know first hand.)


  1. Growing up in the shadow of Rick Warren’s congregation, I know quite intimately the “bad” stuff that goes on…

    Of course, this kind of stuff happens in smaller churches as well. My biggest frustration in youth ministry is parents who either a) refuse to acknowledge that their children have screwed up or b) parents who simply shrug it off (and these are parents who are “pillars of the church” whatever that means).

  2. If I had a dollar for every time… ah well.

    1. If her parent is so clever now to be writing this book, where the heck has she been for the *last* 16 years?

    2. Parents should realize that youth groups are little other than opportunities for the worst sorts of behavior they can imagine. This is true of church youth groups, home-school youth groups, whatever. There are two exceptions, and neither of them are in your part of the country. (JN)

    3. Augustine told the whole story, but nobody will listen — we’re not “basically good” people, not us nor our kids.

  3. More and more Christian books and Christian teachings and Christian media are coming out with this type of thing. However, the rarely tell us if this is typical for Christian kids; or, if they are talking about the general American teen overall.

    It’s difficult for me to believe this is the norm for Christian teens. But, if it is, then we have failed BIG TIME and better fire all of our youth pastors and start over again..right?

    Pwrhaps the seeker sensitive program that centers around youth isn’t working? Ya think?

  4. Here’s are more pieces of advice:

    1. If you have a teenage boy, make sure you have a really, really, stupidly slow Internet connection and an old computer. Oh sure, he’ll TRY to look at porn, but after waiting 10 minutes to see half a naked breast, he’ll give up.

    2. Make sure that in middle school, your kid never owns anything trendy or cool. All the cool kids that get into all the trouble will make fun of him/her, so when high school starts, he/she’ll be solidly out of the social circles where all the “fun” happens.

    3. Smack your kids a lot while they grow up, that way they’ll fear transgressing your decrees and incurring your wrath.

  5. Josh –

    1. No way will he give up. Speaking as one who was a teenage boy in the days of ASCII-art and 75-baud modems, a teenage boy will wait longer than ten minutes to see half a naked breast, for sure.

    Er, at least I’m guessing so. 😉

  6. Perhaps we have ignored that the Bible has actually given us a pattern for raising our children. It was a command given to the Hebrews, the chosen people. Seems to me, if the chosen people were given advice on how to rear their children, it must be pretty good advice. I believe it is the concept of the fathers teaching their children and their children’s children the ways of the Lord. They weren’t instructed to let the church or the youth group or sunday school be the responsible party.
    Fire the Youth Ministers? Amen, every last one of them and quit absolving parents of their responsibility.

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