Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
ILove Being a Girl! was a rite of passage for all the fourth graders in my public school. The youngsters, all dressed in their prettiest feminine dresses and shiny leather shoes, excitedly joined the fifth- and sixth-grade girls for this “Girl’s Day.” The faculty smiled as they welcomed us and then showed a film on menstruation that made many of us grab our tummies in disbelief and fear. The adults tried to take the edge off by giving all the girls some free sanitary pads and cookies. The older girls took the cookies; the younger girls ran for their mothers. The assembly was at the end of the school day so the freaked-out girls could at least travel home with their moms and debrief. (We are glad some kind of education is offered, but it is so much better for parents to be the first educator and then use any educational programs to back up what you have already shared. It is emotionally hard to be surprised by the explanation as you face all the facts and all your peers at once.)
I couldn’t help but be anxious the first time I saw the film. There was blood involved! But I was also relieved and comforted to learn that tampons would allow me to keep swimming, dancing, and doing gymnastics even when I was on my period. I remember feeling grateful for scientists, who, I was sure, had to be very smart women.
When I was in sixth grade and my little sister in fourth, her response was very different. After the movie, she skipped past the cookies and ran to the car. I ran after her because she was so pale I feared she might pass out on the way. When Mom got in the car, my sister shouted, “I hate being a girl! It’s not fair! I will not do that! I will not bleed and I will never get married and I will never have a baby—I refuse! I want to be a boy! This girl thing is too hard!”
My mother tried to calm my sister. “But sweetie, you love babies. You are a wonderful babysitter. Someday you will want children of your own to love.”
With arms crossed over her chest as if to keep breasts from developing, my sister huffed out, “Then I will adopt!”
“That’s definitely an option. But let’s just give it some time. You might change your mind. Once you fall in love, love kind of changes everything.”
My sister retorted, “If I have to have sex I will never ever fall in love!” At this point my mother and I were both holding back the giggles…but then my sister burst into tears and uncontrollable sobs. I patted her back and gave her a big “it will be all right” hug.
Mom also tried to comfort my sister as she drove. “Once you are married, you might change your mind. But you have a long time until then, so let’s just help you get through your first menstrual period.”
“Can I go to the doctor and put that off—like ’til I’m a hundred?”
“No, honey, you can’t put it off, and not for that long, but it will be a few more years before you start—probably. Now, shall we go for ice cream?”
“Okay.” The ice cream did calm her—or at least distract her. She had three years from that dreadful day to get used to the idea of menstruation before she actually had to deal with it. When she started getting curvy and all the boys in her class were falling all over themselves to give her attention, having a period suddenly became a small price to pay. And she did eventually fall in love, marry, and have children—and she was much younger than 100 when it happened!
Yes, body changes can feel traumatic! But they can also feel great!
Our middle son, Zach, went through an awkward, pudgy stage from about ages 10 to 13. Peers are merciless at this stage so we worked hard to bolster Zach’s self-image. I knew from experience that puberty can eventually transform a person struggling with “baby fat.” My own brother went from roly-poly doughboy to growing 12 inches in less than a year! We just had to wait for testosterone to kick in. We looked for a place where Zach could excel and we found a haven for him in extreme sports. The boy was fearless on a skateboard or a bike. We kept him active and begged God to send the magical mighty testosterone quickly! Finally, in Zach’s freshman year of high school he went from fifth string on a football team to starting Varsity in one season! He went from awkward to an adult. Yes, puberty can be a cruel master or a beloved friend!
If you carefully prepare your child, puberty is a little easier to process. There will still be a lot of emotion along with it, but a good plan can help your son or daughter survive the roller coaster ride of body changes. Let’s look at the remaining areas of change to prepare for.
Physical: Understanding Body Changes
There are two choices in the “big reveal talk.” After explaining clearly what sex is, you can continue to explain body changes (you are on a roll, so just keep surfing the wave) or you can set another time later in the year to plan a fun activity and teach your children about the rest of the equation: body changes.
You might wonder, Why talk about body changes at the same time as the big reveal of what sex is? Won’t our son or daughter have a dazed look or intake overload? Perhaps. But we have seen that usually one topic leads to the other and the questions are naturally right on the surface, so you can begin dealing with them at the same time.
You might transition the conversation from “What is sex?” to changes in an adult’s body with something like:
“Because sex is worth the wait, God takes His time preparing your body. Your body is made by God to get ready for marriage. As you get older there will be some changes in your body. Mom doesn’t look like the girls in your class, does she? And Dad doesn’t look like the boys in your class, does he? That is because everyone goes through a special change that God also created. It’s called puberty. Let’s go over those changes one by one then you can ask us any questions you have about the ways your body is changing.” Then go over all the changes of puberty first in your child’s gender, then in the opposite gender. We took a little bit of a “divide and conquer” approach. After we did the big reveal, we let that information sit as we planned the next layer of puberty teaching. This time we each took a piece. Bill planned a time away (typically on his yearly father-son trip), and I planned a “date with mom.” Bill would explain all the changes our son would have happen in his body in puberty. I explained all the changes that happen in a girl’s life and prepared them to be gentlemen, handling well this “insider information” he now owned.
Change Is Good
Let’s go over the physical changes you will want to enlighten your child about.
When our sons were about ten or eleven, we would give them either for a birthday or Christmas, a shaving kit. Now we knew they would not shave for a few years. However, we gave the personal toiletry kit to signal to our sons that they were moving from little boy status to manhood. They definitely needed the toiletry kit, and as a parent you will know when to give it! Sometime between eight and ten boys really start to stink up the place! Whew! The body odors can get downright rank. In the toiletry bag we included items like deodorant, foot spray, body soap, and men’s cologne or body spray. We also added in a manicure set, pumice stone, callous file, and nose hair clippers. We placed it all in a very cool bag with an invitation to use this overnight kit on an adventure with Dad.
While they may or may not be excited about the kit, they will be thrilled with the time planned around something they love to do! But they do need the kit! Boys at this age really try to avoid personal care. Heaven to them is a place with no showers and plenty of dirt, some frogs, snakes, hammers, nails, any kind of a ball, maybe some video games, trading cards, and anything with wheels that can go fast! And boys have one deep love—food! Girls, for the most part, are not their top priority.
Early in the oasis time, girls are “the enemy” and boys seek to win any competition with them at all costs. But there comes a day when all this changes, and it seems to sneak up on you as a parent overnight! For example, one year when our son Caleb was going into sixth grade, we were speaking at Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center. We began the week with a son who thought it was a waste of time to take a shower because, after all, “I go in the ocean every day.” Then we started hearing about his pal, Sam, who he had met in the children’s program. Seems Sam was great at basketball, pretty talented at throwing a football, and winning footraces and game time competitions. One day Caleb said, “Hey, can we go to the bonfire tonight and make s’mores? Sam’s family is going.”
We should have been clued in because Caleb took a shower, did his hair—with gel—and wore his clean gym shorts and clean sweatshirt. You guessed it. We showed up and met Samantha and her family! (Sam was beautiful, godly, and, yes, very athletic, but we could tell Caleb’s admiration for her was for things other than her ability to throw a spiral!) Caleb had been preening like a peacock in front of every mirror in our room. We had both noticed that Caleb had been looking at his reflection more often as we passed by plate glass windows and checking the size of his biceps—a sure sign that a boy on the brink of manhood has discovered the appeal of the opposite gender!
The Changing Landscape of Manhood
There are many changes coming for your son as puberty hits, and it’s best to make him aware of them early on:
• Get taller
• Shoulders broaden
• Muscles enlarge and strengthen
• Perspiration increases in amount and odor
• Skin and hair get oilier
• Arms and legs get hairier
• Hair grows in pubic area and under arms
• Pimples or acne can appear
• Voice begins to change; it may “crack” as it lowers
• Penis and scrotum grow larger
• More spontaneous erections occur
• Wet dreams or nocturnal emissions can occur
• Sexual feelings begin
• May experiment with masturbation
I (Pam) remember looking down at each son’s legs and feet and thinking—he’s a man! Gone are the pudgy toes and smooth legs and in their place are man feet and hairy legs! At this same time pubic hair grows in and there will be hair appearing on his upper lip, chin, and maybe some initial sideburns as well as hair under his armpits. While their body is changing, their view of themselves as an adult is latent, yet to be developed or embraced. It is wise for a father or the men in your son’s world to talk to him and treat him as a young man.
An honest conversation needs to happen man-to-man about wet dreams being normal and how to handle the spontaneous erection that might occur when thoughts drift to something sexual. (We will deal with pornography and masturbation in another chapter, and this might be a good time to talk over the important mind-body connection and how a son can guard his heart and mind, thus guarding his own sexual future.)
I (Pam) thought it was a humorous day but neither my neighbor, who was my age, or her ten-year-old daughter were laughing. Kristie, the daughter, was often at my home because I had a new baby who she loved to play with. She was a terrific mother’s helper. However, this day all she seemed to do was complain about her mom. “She’s so grumpy! She’s so bossy! I can never please her! She’s always picking on me!” I spent the morning encouraging Kristie to give her mom the benefit of the doubt and a liberal helping of love and grace. When I got my baby down for a nap, Kristie said she needed to go home because her “witch of a mom” (her words) left the dishes for her to do. “I’m just like Cinderella—but without the ball gown!” She dragged herself across the street and I went to my computer to write.
I had barely written a paragraph when her mom, Karen, opened my front door. “Yoohoo, friend! Are you home? I brought mocha!”
I gave her a hug and before I could sit down with the mug, Karen let loose. “I just don’t know what’s up with Kristie. She used to be such a nice daughter! I don’t even know her! She is moody, whines all the time, is talking back, and is so lethargic. She used to be such a help around the house but just now she said I was treating her like a Cinderella slave! It’s like I have a teenager in the house…but she’s just ten!”
I smiled and gave Karen a sympathetic hug.
“She’s ten,” I acknowledged. “Seems like her figure has been changing. Has she started her period?”
Karen let out a long sigh. “No, not yet. But that gives me hope!”
“Hope? Menstruation is hope?” I said, puzzled.
“Yeah. When her period starts at least I can track the moodiness and it will just be once a month, not every day! Wow, I am glad I came over—I bet all this drama is just the buildup before the menstruation flood.”
“I think you might be tracking on this,” I concurred.
“I can’t even be angry with her bad behavior because I recognize myself in some of it. The PMS flu is what I like to call it.”
“Yeah, it does take a while to learn how to control our emotions during PMS,” I added.
“Control them! No, I indulge them. Isn’t that why God created bubble baths, dark chocolate, and spas?”
We both laughed and then prayed for Kristie, and we continued to chat about creative ways to welcome her into the wonderful world of womanhood.
The Changing Landscape of Womanhood
In puberty a girl:
• Begins to gain curves
• Might also gain some weight
• Sees her breasts grow and they might become tender
• Observes hair growing in pubic region and under her armpits
• Grows hair on legs or a slight fuzz on her upper lip
• Could develop acne or pimples
• Has growth of her labia and it gets redder in color
• May sense spontaneous lubrication in her vagina
• Experiences the beginning of menstruation (typically about a year after her breasts begin to grow)
• Also experiences cramps, moodiness, headaches, fatigue, and other PMS-type symptoms
• May experiment with masturbation
• Begins having sexual feelings
Personal: Understanding Feelings
While the oasis is a calm time for the emotions, it is a little like sailing on a lake. At any moment the wind can whip up and everything changes! Hormones can rage and tweens hitting puberty become unrecognizable! In Got Teens? co-author Jill Savage and I (Pam) describe these changes:
Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Health has been conducting a 13-year study into the mind of teens…[and has] discovered some interesting insights. Researchers once believed that a child’s brain was nearly complete by age 12, but Dr. Giedd has discovered what all of us [parents] of teens have known all along—they aren’t all grown-up yet! (He might have also experienced this at home—he has four teens too!) The good doctor found that the brain undergoes dramatic changes well past puberty. The medical community is looking at how brain development might impact those traits we as [parents] are so aware of: emotional outbursts, reckless risk taking, rule breaking, and toying with things like sex, drugs, and alcohol.
…The brain seems to develop from back to front…“The very last part of the brain to be pruned and shaped to its adult dimensions is the prefrontal cortex, home of the so-called executive functions—planning, setting priorities, organizing thoughts, suppressing impulses, weighing the consequences of one’s actions. In other words, the final part of the brain to grow up is the part capable of deciding, I’ll finish my homework and take out the garbage, and then I’ll IM my friends about seeing a movie.”
According to UCLA neuroscientist Elizabeth Sowell, “Scientists and the general public had attributed the bad decisions teens make to hormonal changes, but once we started mapping where and when the brain changes were happening, we could say, Aha, the part of the brain that makes a teenager more responsible is not finished maturing yet.”
The brain matures on a schedule, even with the onset of early or late hormonal puberty. Dr. Ronald Dahl, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh calls this the “tinderbox of emotions” because feelings hit a flashpoint more easily, but teens also tend to seek out situations where they can allow their emotions and passions to run wild. “Adolescents are actively looking for experiences to create intense feelings. It’s a very important hint that there is some particular hormone-brain relationship contributing to the appetite for thrills, strong sensations and excitement.”
“The parts of the brain responsible for things like sensation-seeking are getting turned on in big ways around the time of puberty,” says Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg, “but the parts for exercising judgment are still maturing throughout adolescence. So you’ve got this time gap between when things impel kids toward taking risks early in adolescence, and when things allow people to think before they act come online. It’s like turning on the engine of a car without a skilled driver at the wheel.”
And do you ever wonder why teens misread your emotions and say, “Don’t yell at me!” or “Why are you always mad at me?” There is a reason for that too. In a series of tests by Harvard, kids and adults were both asked to identify emotions displayed in a set of photographs. “In doing these tasks, kids and young adolescents rely heavily on the amygdala, a structure in the temporal lobes associated with emotional and gut reactions. Adults, rely…more on the frontal lobe, a region associated with planning and judgment.” Adults made few errors assessing the pictures, but kids under 14 tended to make more mistakes. Young teens frequently misread emotions and place anger and hostility where none exists.
And why do teens do more stupid things when with friends than when they’re alone? Yep, science has an explanation for that too! In a driving simulator, when teens and adults were asked to make a decision to run a yellow light or not, both made wise choices when playing the game alone. Teenagers, however, took more risks when playing the game with a group of friends. Statistics show that most teen crimes occur when kids are in a gang or with friends. And it isn’t just peer pressure that makes a teen vulnerable to sex, drugs, and alcohol experimentation. Rapid changes in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain make them more at risk to the addictive effects of these factors.
Why is it so hard to get your teens off the sofa to take out the trash? Their nucleus accumbens, a region in the frontal cortex that directs motivation and reward seeking—you got it—is still under development! James Bork at the National Institute on Alcoholism explains, “If adolescents have a motivational deficit, it may mean that they are prone to engaging in behaviors that have either a really high excitement factor, or a really low effort factor, or a combination of both.” His suggestion to us…is this: “When presenting suggestions, anything that parents can do to emphasize more immediate payoffs will be more effective.” For example, telling your teen son that if he drinks he will be kicked off the football team is more impacting than telling him he may end up on skid row.
And there is a reason you find yourself waiting up for your teen. Their melatonin levels rise slower, so their “nighttime” comes later. For years, studies have…shown that teens learn better later in the day. And they really do need more sleep as their body is changing drastically, so letting them sleep in on occasion on the weekend might make you all happier!1
And their sexual feelings are also awakened with a flip of the built-in hormonal switch. Mark Laaser explains it this way:
The physical dimension of healthy sexuality assumes that sexual desire is a God-given part of our biology, that there is a natural biological basis to our sexual feelings…Physical desire is built into the chemistry of our brains. We need to have it because it is the life force that drives us to reproduce and keep humankind from extinction…sexual desire and sexual response are intended by God, in the context of a loving marriage, for procreation and pleasure. We should never be afraid or ashamed of natural attraction or desire…at the same time, we must explain [to our children] that our natural brain chemistry is not intended to drive us like mere animals. Biblically, going back to the Garden of Eden, it is the work of the devil that takes human desire and turns it into selfish demand for immediate gratification. God, also, therefore, has created us with a spirit and has given us a set of instructions that can help us override our biological chemistry, a matter that requires discipline and practice. We need to teach our children that while it is normal to have sexual desire, people must learn to focus their desire on one person.2
Emotional: Understanding Body Image
Both boys and girls will be uncomfortable initially with all the morphing their body will be going through. Your daughter will be struggling to adjust to menstrual cramps, headaches, and feeling like she has the flu every 28 days. She may also feel self-conscious and have anxiety during her period, wondering if her “secret” will be exposed in an embarrassing way if a leak should occur. She will need to handle feeling more mature as she grows breasts or deal with feelings of inferiority if she is a late bloomer or if nature doesn’t endow her with the same sized bosoms as her friends. She may gain weight and feel fat and unattractive. This can lead to anorexia or bulimia. In addition, her skin may be blotching up with acne. Life might appear unfair if she feels like an ugly duckling at the same time as she is beginning to be interested in boys.
If she is an early bloomer, she might be getting unwanted relationship attention. The expectation peers and others have on her might be beyond her inner maturity, even though her body says otherwise. Girls who mature early often get attention from older boys and feel ill-prepared for their advances. A wise parent will be close at hand to reassure her and equip her in the constantly shifting social changes that accompany her body changes. Teach your daughter to value modesty and dress to cover the 3 Bs: breasts, bottom, and belly. There are even fashion ministries that show “modest is hottest!”
The Guys Have Feelings Too
Boys, because they tend to mature later, may begin to feel inferior as girls start to pass them in height, the ability to communicate, or their ability to navigate the social circles. If your son is a late bloomer physically, just seeing (let alone showering after PE with) other boys and their bulging muscles will be a blow to his fragile ego. On the other hand, if he is an early bloomer, the days of enjoying the activities or expectations of a little boy are long gone. People will expect him to act like a man if he looks like one. Young men who mature early may experience a bravado and confidence that can turn a sweet boy into a bossy jerk. A boy can grow to enjoy the power nature has handed to him, and he will need to be instructed on how to best use his physical benefits in a God-honoring way.
To help young men and women navigate puberty, we suggest looking for ways to equip and celebrate them as they face the changes that are coming their way. By weaving fun and new experiences together with your advice and life lessons, you can expand a child’s and a teen’s ability to receive your wisdom and the advice of mentors you might also want to invite into your son or daughter’s life. By being proactive and planning a few key memory-making activities, you gain a window to speak truth into his or her life. You also give the message that you care, are clued in, and are the best person for them to talk with if any questions or issues arise.
We encourage you to leave your trademark (TM) on your child’s heart with traditions and memories. Traditions are things that happen year after year to reinforce core principles. Memories are those once-in-a-lifetime events that mark a moment or drive a point home.
Rites of Passage
We believe it’s important to celebrate the milestones in your child’s life. Here are some rite of passage ideas you can use in the pre-puberty years up through young adulthood.
Man of Honor: Give your son two gifts: a sword to hang on the wall and a new Bible to remind your young man to turn to the sword of the Spirit, the Bible, for strength as he serves the King of kings. You might even include a “knighting” ceremony! This can be done at any age—from 12 up through 21. You choose the moment of manhood you want to mark. Inviting important men to participate extends your message into your young man’s life through voices that echo your values.
Draft Card Dinner: Use registering for the draft as a way to mark manhood. If he is old enough to die for his country, he is definitely a man. Celebrate him and give gifts to help him be even more responsible: a briefcase, a business card holder, his own checking account, etc.
Walk into Manhood: Counselor Earl Henslin shared a tradition with us that we have incorporated in each of our son’s lives as they headed off to college. (It also can be done for eighteenth birthdays or graduation.) Mentors, family members like grandparents and uncles, and older male friends and role models (coaches, schoolteachers, youth group leaders) are invited to a special celebration in honor of the eighteen-year-old. Before the event, the honoree is taken to a designated spot. It can be a forest trail, a lakeside, a beach, or even a track. The male members of the family have been given designated spots to stand along the trail. The father and son walk the first mile (or less) together and Dad imparts any last words of advice. He shares what he believes is the meaning of manhood with his son. Each man, in turn, walks and talks, imparting words of wisdom, affirmation, and a gift needed in adult life. At the trail end, all the men gather and pray over this young man as he enters adulthood.
For our oldest, a quarterback, we used a football field as he was going off to college to play football. For our middle son, it was a drive into manhood at a racecar track. Our youngest son is now planning his. As he is an outdoorsman and an athlete, it might be a kayak ride into manhood or a mountain climb into manhood. Each mentor brings a quote or a Bible verse to go in a scrapbook. We take a picture with each mentor and add in their addresses and phone numbers, ensuring that our sons will have plenty of wise mentors to call on if they need some guidance or advice in the journey ahead.
Shaving Rituals: Giving a tween or early teen all the goods for shaving when his voice begins to crack is a nice touch (as we have already mentioned). But a nice addition to the gift would be to accompany the present with a meal out with “the men” of the family: older brothers, dad, uncles, grandpa, etc. Each person can share a story starting, “I knew I was a man when…”
Here are a few ways to celebrate your daughter and her step across some of the thresholds into womanhood:
Modern-Day Princess: In this rite of passage, a mom or a mentor walks a tween or teen girl through seven weeks of preparation in areas such as friendships, relationships with parents and mentors, makeup and manners, what God says about boys and men, how to grow with God, how to serve others, and the traits of a godly woman. The program culminates with the night of celebration where the father (or a father figure) reads a blessing that he has written and personalized for the young woman. He then places a crown on her head, declaring her a modern-day princess, a daughter of the King of kings.3
The Beginning: Beginning menses can be a traumatic experience. But a mother can turn trauma into triumph with a little tender loving care. Take her to get her first grown-up silky nightgown or a precious set of pearls. If she is older when she begins, have her makeup done at the department store makeup counter. Plan a special dinner at the fanciest café in town. Present her with a delicate charm bracelet that you can add to with every future big moment in her teen life. Somehow, some way, celebrate her beginning moment as a true woman.
Julie Hiramine, president of Generations of Virtue, wrote the Beautifully Made series to walk a girl through puberty. In the first book in the series, Approaching Womanhood, Julie explains how God is changing a girl’s body and relays a positive message on menstruation. Julie says, “I try to celebrate with my girls when their period starts. I have found it a good idea to get prepared ahead of time by filling a gift bag with a selection of pads and items they will need when they begin their first period. I include the second book in the Beautifully Made series ([which] is designed to give to them when they start their period, with practical advice, and answers to common questions that every girl wants to know) and some fun little gift items that I know that particular girl would enjoy. Then I place the bag in the very top of my closet and wait for the day she comes to tell me her period has started.” For an extra touch, Dad could bring his daughter flowers—a subtle, sweet celebration on a sensitive day.
Terrific Twelve. You might be able to beat your daughter to the starting line of womanhood by making her twelfth birthday a celebration packed with firsts. (For some early bloomers, you might need to move this up a year and do a “Double Digits” party at 11.) Buy her that first bra, a razor to shave her legs, her first set of high heels, or her first makeup set. You might take her to get her ears pierced. You choose whatever next step you feel is age-appropriate for your family. She might voice a desire for some form of activity to mark the movement into womanhood.
Once a Girl, Now a Woman: One family we know took their daughter on a weekend trip when she hit the “double digits.” They flew to New York City and took her to the American Girl museum to get a doll made that looks just like her, making a memory of her appearance as a little girl. Then the next day, they went to shop for a grown-up outfit and went to a nice restaurant for dinner…and the next segment of “the talk” escorting her into womanhood.
For your daughter’s Sweet 16, try one of these ideas to mark this big moment (or adapt it to whenever you feel she is ready to date):
On the Town: Host a formal dinner party where her closest friends (guys and gals) dress to the nines and eat the fanciest gourmet food you can afford. Play classical music—maybe you’ll even go the extra mile and hire musicians!
Dance the Night Away: Host a dance where couples learn some classics, like the waltz, swing, tango, and two-step. You will have to spring for a band, dance instructor, and food, but it will definitely be a memory.
High Tea: Take your daughter and a few of her closest friends (and maybe their moms or all the female relatives) to high tea. Bring along photos of her growing-up years—and yours. Hand down a piece of jewelry that has been in the family for several generations.
Spiritual: Understanding God’s Call
A tangible gift can be nice as you talk about the upcoming changes: a locket, a heart necklace, or a grown-up music or jewelry box for a girl or a cool tool like a Swiss army knife or a jersey with the number of his favorite Christian athlete (Tim Tebow’s #15 comes to mind). However, no gift is as precious as your equipping your son or daughter for their future leadership role in society.
When our youngest son was about to enter junior high, we presented him with a beautiful wooden box inscribed with a verse: “All these were…heads of families, choice men, brave warriors and outstanding leaders…men ready for battle” (1 Chronicles 7:40). We wished we had thought of this sooner and had given this to him on the day of the big reveal a few years earlier since we talked so much about what a privilege it is to be a father. We told our son that is why a man must be ready and prepared for the responsibility, working on his character all throughout his growing-up years so he is ready for this vital role and task God entrusts to men. (We also gave these boxes to our older sons that Christmas—we thought it was a good enough idea that we could make up for lost time!)
Each year on Father’s Day we give each of our sons something to put in the box that will help them be a good dad someday: a Bible, a book, a CD, a tool, or a gadget. Now that our oldest son is a great father of three, he’s putting all those gifts to good use!
A Man Ready
Look over 1 Chronicles 7:40 again. This verse contains vital information to share with your son. Why not plan a father-son getaway to do this a little later during puberty, maybe with one of the rites of passage listed above? Let’s look at each role and you can best decide when to communicate this:
• Heads of families: “Head” means the beginning point, the brain, the source, the chief, or head leader. We need to prepare our sons to step up as leaders.
• Choice men: “Choice” here means pure or purified. We need to equip our sons to be moral leaders with integrity.
• Brave warriors: This can also be translated “mighty men of valor.” We need to prepare our sons to be heroic, brave, courageous, and confident in the face of danger, threat, or the need to protect others. “Valor” means both physical strength and wealth. So we should also be equipping our sons to produce income and be good stewards of money, time, and physical fitness. (We thought of this verse when all of our sons wanted to spend so much time weight lifting!)
• Outstanding leaders: This means “head of princes or rulers.” It is imperative to train sons to be comfortable leading other leaders and mentoring others to become leaders. Put your son in situations where he can meet and interact with people in charge of something and serving others in a variety of ways.
• Men ready for battle: Literally, this simply means they are prepared for war. (And could be interpreted as a positive command for military service.) But the “war” is on many fronts, so we also need to help our sons gain the ability to debate, stand up for their convictions and beliefs, and defend the truth.
Our friend Jack works for the sheriff’s department. One day while pursuing a suspect, the perpetrator pulled a weapon and aimed it at Jack. His wife, upon hearing this terrifying story, asked, “So what did you do?”
Jack replied, “At that point you don’t get ready, you are ready.” Point well taken. We prepare well, we train, and we equip on the calm days so that we are all up for the battle when life smacks us in the face with a tough call or a split-second decision. That’s your most important job as the parent of a boy: preparing him for the life-altering decisions and battles that are sure to come his way.
Let’s look at just two of the many Bible passages that can help pave the way for your daughter’s noble role. In the first, I have added the meaning of key words into the passage in parentheses:
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent (proper, religious, sacred) in the way they live, not to be slanderers (wicked or devilish) or addicted (enslaved) to much wine, but to teach what is good (teaching what is right, beautiful, commendable). Then they can urge the younger women to love (show friendship and kindness to) their husbands and children, to be self-controlled(moderate, prudent) and pure (holy), to be busy at home (a home keeper, a heart for their home), to be kind (moral, generous, good), and to be subject (rank themselves under like a military officer) to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:3-5).
A girl is to be equipped to have a strong relationship with God, her future husband, her future children, her female mentors, and those who will experience the hospitality of her home and the kindness of her character. This is the place for showing that femininity can be modest, pure, and gentle.
All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11).
The word noble can be translated woman of excellence, a woman who has strength of character, a woman of virtue, valiant, full of valor, strong, or mighty. In Scripture the same word can also refer to a capable and elite army of powerful warriors.
Both young men and young women are encouraged to be servants of people and warriors for right. It is equally good and godly for a young woman to gain courage, confidence, bravery, and the willingness to go to battle for God’s principles and protect the people on God’s heart. Strong women attract strong men, so empower your girl to be bold for God.
As you talk with and train your daughter, helping her navigate the drastic body changes of puberty, you’ll also have the perfect classroom to forge her people skills, her character, and her ability to gain the confidence and inner strength derived from a powerful connection to God.
By talking honestly and celebrating their transitions into the adult world, you build your relationship with your teen. Tweens and teens are drawn to adults who treat them like grown-ups.
So get ready, Mom and Dad, your child will be changing! And their change will also change your life. But the good news is that no matter how we as parents or our kids feel about the rolling tide of changes, the God who never changes is the Lord of infinity, and no change is out of His control.
Answers to Have Ready
You are definitely not alone in your pursuit to firmly establish wisdom in your child’s life. Many organizations offer helpful tools and traditions. In addition to the ideas mentioned previously, here are a few more options to investigate:
Passport to Purity: Take your tween away for a special weekend with the parent of their gender. Using Family Life’s “Passport to Purity” resource, discuss changing body issues and the new season of life that’s coming. Add in an activity that reflects something your tween would like to do when he or she grows up. Help them picture the life they can live if they continue to make good choices during their teen years.
Suddenly They’re 13: Dave and Claudia Arp describe a series of “Teenage Challenges” in their book Suddenly They’re 13. Before his or her thirteenth birthday, the child is motivated to accomplish a series of challenging assignments, all of which teach vital life skills, in order to get a much desired reward. The idea of taking a year to prepare a child to cross into adult life is rooted in the Jewish heritage and the Bar Mitzvah celebration, as well as a few other cultures that take time to groom a youth for the responsibilities of adult life by giving them many of those experiences as they are tutored to success. Your family culture or heritage may also have a form of a rite of passage, and it is good to include or adapt these to your family. Building a bridge between generations serves your child well as they then have more people to go to if they hit a rough patch in the road of life.
Gift of Abstinence: The desire to help teens wait until marriage for sex cuts across culture, race, and party politics. In a 2012 study nearly eight out of ten Democrats and nine out of ten Republicans supported abstinence education.4 It is because abstinence education is working: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 1988 and 2010, the number of sexually active girls between 15 and 19 dropped 8 percent. The number of boys who’d had sex dropped 18 percent!5 A study by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reflected a lower likelihood of pregnancy for girls taking virginity pledges.6 The True Love Waits ministry started helping teens make virginity pledges in 1993, and now a variety of ministries and organizations offer programs, pledges, and tokens to mark the commitment. The pledge reads, “I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my Creator, that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God’s perfect plan for my life.” The card pledgers carry is inscribed with 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”
Studies have since found a few factors help the pledge be more successful:
• if the teenager made the pledge from the heart instead of going along with the crowd
• if other peers have made the pledge and can provide support and accountability
• if parents are involved in supporting the pledge
It is also important for a teen to clearly realize that a virginity pledge should also include a commitment to avoid both oral and vaginal sex. These factors tell parents it is good to make the pledge both a private and a public experience, and that it is beneficial to have your tween and teen in youth ministries that will cooperate in reinforcing the values you hold dear in your family.
Many ministries—as well as your local Christian bookstore—offer purity rings. You can also create your own tangible reminder or gift. Later we will share what we did to help our sons make this vital choice.
Parent to Parent
One of the most brilliant parenting ideas we have heard of came from a set of small town parents. A mom had the brilliant idea of gathering all the parents in her church who had kids the same age. They began meeting the year the children were ready to enter first grade. The parents agreed to meet each year in August, right before school started, to talk through expected transitions and traditions for the coming school year. They tried for the most part to keep similar values and expectations on when certain privileges might be extended to their children. This way the kids couldn’t use the “Everyone else is doing it!” line, because, well everyone else was not doing it! As the students entered the teen years, this group of parents all agreed to be the cool parents. They sponsored after-game gatherings and after-prom parties and were the chaperones for school and church functions.
While each family had their own methods for handling dating relationships, they decided as a group on a minimum age they would all stick to before allowing their children to date. They would attend conferences, planned father-son and mother-daughter trips, and rites of passage celebrations together. For the most part, because the parents became such great friends, the kids preferred to do things as a group too. They delayed dating naturally until later because they enjoyed being together as a group and didn’t feel any pressure to single date.
As we lunched with several of the parents, we heard what their now-grown children had become: doctors, lawyers, educators, pastors—all with college educations, and many with master’s and doctoral degrees. And all of them, each and every one of the kids, still had their faith intact and had lived a moral life of sexual integrity until marriage. They were Christian leaders and role models in their places of employment and communities. This meeting of the minds took a little effort each year, but it was well worth the time and energy because the fruit was so sweet!
Answers for Your Heart
This is the oasis time as a parent—a time to make precious memories with your child. Josh McDowell and Dick Day write, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion; relationship without rules leads to confusion.”7 This is the season to build relationship with your child so as he or she goes into puberty and then their teen years, you will be seen as the strongest voice and the most powerful influencer (after God). Later, when rules and guidelines are decided on, your relationship will have the strength to handle it—and your teen will desire to please you. Here is a worksheet to brainstorm some ways to build relationship with your child during the oasis season:
My child’s favorite food:
My child’s favorite color:
My child’s favorite sport:
My child’s favorite music or musician:
My child’s favorite Bible character:
My child’s favorite location in town to visit:
My child’s favorite vacation spot:
My child’s favorite member of the extended family:
My child’s favorite dream day (something he/she has said he/she would like to do someday):
My child’s favorite dessert:
My child’s favorite role model:
My child’s favorite activity at home:
My child’s favorite friends:
My child’s favorite spiritual activity or church activity:
Now look at the list of favorites and begin to brainstorm ideas to build a relationship with your child at age…
8 and 9:
10 and 11:
12 and 13:
Journal your feelings and prayers about your child leaving childhood and entering the teen years. How do you feel about all the changes ahead for your child and how they may affect you? Write down your feelings and then commit your requests to God in prayer, knowing He will be faithful to you and your child:
• To the faithful you show yourself faithful (Psalm 18:25).
• All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant (Psalm 25:10).
• Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell (Psalm 43:3).
• For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:5).