[Book Review] Preparing for Adolescence

Since late last year, my daughter and I have been working through the book Preparing for Adolescence, and it's accompanying workbook, by Dr. James Dobson. The best part of this process has not been the material itself, though it does have its positive points. What I especially have appreciated is how it has helped my daughter and I to grow closer together.

Each week (give or take) she reads a specific section of the book (I have already read the whole thing). Then, we discuss and work through a few activities in her workbook. These regular, pre-bedtime discussions have deepened and strengthened our relationship. For that, I am thankful.

That's not to say that I agree with (or even discussed with her) all of the material. But most of the teaching has been solid and helpful. Here is a summary of what I like and don't like about this book.

Prepare to Be Equipped   

First, I'm glad that most of these discussions on puberty, relationships, and sex have been pro-active conversations. Even the section about peer pressure is less applicable (for now) to Hannah than to other girls her age, since she is homeschooled. But we talked about needing to think through situations before she is in them. As with this parenting series about sexuality, I find that most of the material is above her age. But I'd rather err on the side of being the first to talk with her, rather than us playing catch up.

As explained in the following video, a snippet of a sermon from Grace Church, we parents need to be the first to discuss sexuality with our children:

The discussion on love in Chapter 4 is mostly good (see below for an exception), as Dobson explains the difference between genuine love and short-lived infatuation. We also found the chapter on emotions to be informative and helpful.

The book concludes with a transcript from an open discussion with a few teenagers (Chapter 6). I wish I had material like this when I was a pre-teen and teenager. This chapter will help an adolescent understand that he or she is not alone in any of their struggles.

Prepare to Be Disappointed

While I liked the book as a whole, there were some parts that I strongly disagreed with. For example, while I think that the overall discussion on love was good, I don't understand why Dr. Dobson talked so much about teenage marriage. Maybe it's a bigger issue than I realized or have encountered in my context. Do you think that this is a big issue today?

Another topic that I disagreed with (and I skipped this section with my daughter) was about the issue of masturbation. According to Dr. Dobson, masturbation is OK because God doesn't want us to feel guilty. While I think there has been bad teaching in the church on this topic (especially the wrong application of Genesis 38:8-10), this reasoning of "Don't feel guilty" can be dangerous. For example, can I say, "God doesn't want me to feel guilty about using drugs, so it's OK for me to use them?"

Probably the biggest recurring issue I have with this book is the lack of emphasis to trust in Jesus for our struggles. Yes, this encouragement is given once or twice, but I think it needs to be more of a primary focus for teenagers, and for everyone.

For example, in Chapter 1 ("The Secret of Self-Esteem"), Dobson encourages the reader to develop a skill as a way to overcome low self-esteem. While skills can build confidence, the problem is that this leads us to make skills our idol and hope. We need our hope to be in Jesus, not in doing things well.

This idea resurfaces in Chapter 5 ("A Notion Called Emotion"). Again, Dobson encourages the reader to find skills and interests that he or she can enjoy. That's fine, but before that is done, I would encourage a young person to know that his or her identity is in Jesus.

Recommended, With Reservations

As I already said, the best part of this resource is just having material to go through. This book has been a great tool to connect on a deeper level with my child. What we do as parents -- the methods we use -- is not nearly as important as just doing something to lead. We need to continually reach out to engage. Whatever good you are doing as a Christian parent, don't stop.

That being said, I recommend this book, with reservations. While it has its shortcomings, I need to remember that it is my role as a parent to adjust tools like this to the individuality of each of my children. I plan to use Preparing for Adolescence (and buy another copy of the workbook) for my son Elijah in a couple of years, and then my son Sender years after that.

And the next step for my daughter? I have already ordered Passport2Purity. My wife and I will listen to that series, and then come up with a plan to incorporate this resource in the discipleship of our children.

Want to learn more? Here are some other helpful resources to equip you as parents to discuss sexuality with your children:

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