LOOKING IN ON
Taking a tour inside your
kid’s head and heart
One recent fall weekend, I (Shaunti) went tent camping with
my family and some good friends. With four couples and
eight children under the age of seven, there was lots of laughter, not
much sleep, and plenty of great memories.
One memory in particular will be burned into my brain for the
rest of my life. After joining some other campers....a youth group....
on a hayride, we all piled out of the wagon and began strolling back
toward the camping area. One of the youth group parents smiled at
our small children. “Oh, enjoy this time, while they look like this,”
she said. Then she turned and gestured at the group of tall, lanky
teenagers now walking far ahead of us on the rolling country road.
“Because in the blink of an eye, they’re going to look like that.”
As if on cue, our little ones began to break free from our hands
and skip ahead, first walking, then running down the hill. The rays
of the setting sun seemed to capture a portrait of the small admirers
racing toward the super-cool teenagers…racing toward growing up.
I couldn’t stop the tears from leaping to my eyes.
Wherever You Are on the Road…
As I write this book with my friend Lisa, whose kids are long and
lanky and off doing their own thing most of the time, we’re both
struck by the fleeting nature of childhood and sobered by our role in
turning these dependent little people into healthy, independent adults.
Whether you’re the parent of a small child or you only have a
few months left until Junior leaves the nest, the goal of this book is
to help you understand several key things that are likely going on....
or soon will be....in the inner life of your child, some inner wiring
that you may have never understood before.
As any parent can attest, there’s a lot that we don’t “get” about
our children, a lot that leaves us feeling baffled. Why does a little girl
who wants to be your best friend one minute become painfully
embarrassed by your existence the next? What causes a normally
good-natured teenager to yell something hot-headed and even cruel,
then run to his room and slam the door? What provokes a firmly
grounded, responsible youth to start questioning everything your
family believes in?
Most important, what do we do about it?
In the chapters ahead we’re not going to focus as much on these
confusing....even infuriating!....outward behaviors and attitudes as
we are on the inner feelings, needs, and temptations that often lead
to those behaviors. And as we do, we’ll get a much clearer sense of
what our kids need from us.
As parents, we are often so busy putting out fires that it’s hard
to be settled and confident in guiding children along the ups and
downs of the road to adulthood. But our research has convinced us
that once our eyes are opened to how our children are wired, we’ll be
better equipped not only to maximize but also to actually enjoy the
precious time that we have with our children.
An ancient Hebrew proverb says, “Happy the generation where
the great listen to the small, for it follows that in such a generation
the small will listen to the great.” That encapsulates the reason we’ve
written this book. As we hear the dreams, concerns, and confusion
common to so many of our kids, we’ll learn how best to be an influence
in their lives for years to come.
The People Behind the Book
Before we go too far, we should give you a bit of background.
Shaunti is a public speaker, newspaper columnist, and the author of
many best-selling books, including For Women Only: What You Need
to Know About the Inner Lives of Men and its companion book, For
Men Only. Lisa is a screenwriter, a youth speaker and leader, and the
coauthor (with Shaunti) of For Young Women Only: What You Need
to Know About How Guys Think. This series has been dedicated
entirely to investigating and analyzing the key surprises about the
people most important to us. And as sometimes-bewildered parents
ourselves, we knew very early on that we needed to dig into those
things that we just tend not to “get” about our kids.
As with the previous books, the eye-opening findings in these
pages are entirely research based. We are not psychologists or family
therapists. Rather, we are trained analysts just crazy enough to try to
apply our skills and experience (Shaunti as a Harvard-trained analyst
on Wall Street, Lisa as an appraiser conducting high-level business
valuations) to helping people understand one another. And we think
the best way we can serve parents who want to understand what’s
going on with their kids is by taking you directly to the real experts:
the kids themselves.
At first, some observers questioned whether children could really
speak about their inner lives with any sort of clarity. But in our
research, we were amazed by the profound insights and often brilliant
analysis the kids (primarily teens and preteens) offered into
what’s going on inside their hearts and minds....and what they most
need from their parents.
At this point, you might already want to ditch a book that forces
you to listen to teenagers, especially if you’re having a bad week or
thinking ungenerous thoughts about your blessed offspring. (Or are
we the only ones who do that?) And we won’t deny that some of
what we heard from the kids was challenging. But overall, we think
you’ll be not only surprised by what these kids have to say, but also
encouraged and better able to relate to your own kids…at least most
of the time!
The Six Findings
So what are these surprising findings about the inner lives of our children?
The chart below shows six areas in which parents often misunderstand
what’s happening with their kids when they hit the ’tween
and teen years, and the surprising truths our research uncovered.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look
You might be wondering how we managed to wring all this information
out of a bunch of monosyllabic adolescents. Well, first we conducted
confidential focus groups with teens and pre-teens around
the country. We also held numerous kid-on-the-street interviews,
stopping teenagers in shopping malls, coffee shops, schools, and
arcades to ask what they were really thinking and feeling about all
sorts of issues. We dug into our files of input from hundreds of
teenage guys for our earlier book For Young Women Only and followed
up in more depth. Whenever either of us traveled for speaking
events....from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Saratoga....we talked to
kids to confirm that what we were hearing was fairly universal.
Finally, we conducted a groundbreaking, professional, nationally
representative survey with the help of two sets of experts: Chuck
Cowan at Analytic Focus....the former chief of survey design at the
U. S. Census Bureau....and Kevin Sharp and Kelly Puig of the internationally
renowned survey company Decision Analyst. In all, four
hundred and twenty-seven anonymous kids across the country....
ages fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen....answered roughly two dozen
questions about how they think, what they feel, and what they need.
The survey confirmed the results of our personal and group
interviews. Not only did we hear the same things over and over from
our young sages....reflected in the quotes you’ll find in the following
pages....but the personal stories and perspectives they shared with us
were backed up by statistically valid evidence. In the end, this book
incorporates the input and insight of more than twelve hundred kids.
We also asked some adult experts to help us make sense of what
we were hearing from the kids, and these consultants allowed us to
pepper them with questions via e-mail, phone calls, and in-person
discussions. These are not parenting experts so much as they are
experts in understanding what’s going on inside kids. We are indebted
to, among others, Dr. Julie Carbery, PhD psychiatrist and
child and family therapist who counsels troubled families; Nerida
Edwards, nationally certified middle-school guidance counselor;
Emerson Eggerichs, former pastor who now runs a national ministry
to help the sexes understand each other, and author of the best-selling
book Love and Respect; and Vicki Courtney, founder of the Virtuous
Reality organization for teen girls.
Before We Start
Before we take you inside your kid’s head, we need to emphasize a
- We are not endorsing the behavior or excusing the poor choices
described by some kids in these pages. Our goal is to serve as
your tour guides through the strange and wonderful world
of “teendom” and to give you new information to help you
understand what’s going on inside the kids, why they might
do some insane things, and how these facts can give clearer
direction to your parenting. We need to emphasize that just
because certain thoughts and behaviors are seen over and
over, we are not saying they are desirable or acceptable.
- Our findings are nationally representative, but we personally
approach parenting from a Christian worldview. We take the
Bible as our standard for living and aim to lead our children
toward choices that will help them reach their full,
God-given potential. We want to help you do the same,
but we also believe our nationally representative findings
and analysis will be helpful even if you do not share our
- This book is not just for parents of teenagers. Although we
were limited to surveying teens for legal reasons, and we
focused the book on the most intense application of these
truths in the ’tween and teen years, we believe parents of
small children will find this advance information immensely
valuable. As the mother of two young children, currently
ages four and seven, I (Shaunti) can already see the application
of several of these findings, and the value of laying the
right foundation before the teen years arrive.
- There are exceptions to every rule. When we say that most
kids appear to think a certain way, realize that most means
exactly that....most, not all. We’re making generalizations
out of necessity, and as the professional survey shows, there
will be exceptions. (In addition, since some exceptions may
include serious problems that are beyond the scope of this
book, we strongly urge parents in those situations to seek
guidance from a professional child and family therapist.)
- This book is not intended as a comprehensive overview of parenting
principles. Our sole goal is to open your eyes to several
critical things that are likely to be going on inside your
child; things that many parents tend not to “get.” But new
insights alone are rarely enough to change a life. Once you
recognize certain realities, you may want to investigate the
wonderful resources out there that address particular topics
in more depth....especially those that reveal God’s power to
transform the heart of each member of a family. (You’ll find
links to several resources....including our survey data....at
www.forparentsonlybook.com.) In addition, because our
“what to do about it” sections can’t cover the highly individual
situations parents will encounter, we strongly suggest
that you read with pencil in hand and make running notes
about how you might apply a particular insight in your
family. The companion For Parents Only Discussion Guide
can help you put your new insights to work.
One last point: as you read, give yourself a break. None of we
parents can possibly measure up to everything we think we should
do....or, for that matter, to all the things kids say they need. At the
end of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen,
the oldest daughter says to
her dad (played by Steve Martin), “You taught me that there’s no
way to be a perfect parent, but there’s a million ways to be a good
one.” We believe that if you’re reading this book, you’re already a
good parent. Please keep the big picture in mind and avoid the
temptation to judge your parenting or that of others. Because there’s
only one perfect parent…and we’re not Him.
Both of us believe that although we may encounter some challenges
along the way, there is also a heavenly Father guiding those
who seek the truth. That may or may not be your worldview, but we
hope our findings and analysis will be helpful no matter where you
are in your own parenting journey.
So are you ready? Let’s embark on a thrilling and sometimes
scary adventure…inside the head of your kid.