Book Review: Understanding Your Young Teen


This Winter I taught a class for parents who have young teenagers and those who are looking for a head start in getting their head around this topic.  Over the last 15 years I have accumulated a wide variety of resources on this topic and in preparation for this class, spent a considerable amount of time sifting through old books.  What made this process easier than I had anticipated is the recent addition of a couple of fresh books on this topic.  Mark Oestreicher's latest book, Understanding Your Young Teen, became one of the foundational books for this class and an incredibly helpful resource for worried parents. MarkO has over 30 years of youth ministry experience and has been a part of just about every major conversations regarding youth ministry for the last decade. He is an expert on culture, adolescent development, and church systems.  Not only is he an expert in his field, his heart is naturally inclined towards early adolescents.  He doesn't see them as the smelly, crazy, kids who wreck our ministries and families, but the budding young adults who are entering an entirely new world of development and self-understanding.

This book is conversational in tone which makes it incredibly easy to read.  Every chapter has great stories to hook the reader and practical help for handling the many different topics discussed.  Additionally, MarkO has invited other youth workers from diverse backgrounds and contexts to share their insights as well.  These voices give a well balanced view for each topic and add just the right amount of variety to each chapter to keep the book from being monotone.

A potential danger is to take the casual and conversational tone as being a simple book with simple solutions.  But don't be lulled into this way of thinking.  While every chapter has clever stories as their hook, the meat of each chapter is built on a solid foundation of experts in their respective fields.  The combination of credible sources combined with MarkO's contextual expertise, makes this book the perfect resource for the parent and youth worker.

MarkO resists the natural inclination to scare the reader into a "sky is falling" world view with the awful statistics about teenagers, at risk activities, the crumbling of morality, and the secularization of society.   Instead, he leans into the goodness of God and reminds the reader how we survived this crazy time of our lives as well.

The picture MarkO paints of early adolescence is one of wonder and chaos.   He explores hormones, cognitive and emotional development, relational change, independence, spiritual development and the changing and not so changing youth culture.  In every chapter, the reader is left with a hope-filled impression that the early adolescents in our lives are going to be OK.  And, just in case our current realities are seemingly hopeless, there are practical helps to move the reader into action.

This book became the foundational book and syllabus for my class on Preparing to Parent an Adolescent.  As a youth worker, I found the information incredibly helpful and real.  I was able to use the format of the book to prepare my own class with only minor tweaks so as to adapt to my context.  For me, MarkO is a trusted resource and therefore an easy read.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that through the course of the class, many parents have purchased the book and every single one of them have had the highest praise for such a helpful and honest book to have as a resource.

Whether you are a  youth worker or a parent of an early adolescent, this book is a must have for your library.  I trust that you will find a renewed love for these young adults who are just now entering into a completely fresh way of understanding the world and relating to others.   While they may crash and burn as they work out these newly gifted hormones and brain function, we can now be equipped and prepared for these awkward growing edges.  We can also find comfort in the normalcy of this awkwardness as well as having tools to help our young adolescent friends not simply survive this season, but actually thrive.

Thanks MarkO for this amazing resource!  Keep 'em coming.