Spotlight Interview with Kara Powell: Growing With
Kara Powell is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women you should know. Kara is the co-author with Steve Argue of Growing With: Every Parents Guide To Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family and Future. She loves young people and the church, and believes that faith-filled young people can change the world.
Carmen LaBerge: Welcome back to Mornings with Carmen. I’m your host, Carmen LaBerge, privileged to be joined today by Dr. Kara Powell. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kara’s work, let me direct you to her website which is KaraPowell.com. She’s the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Kara is named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women you should know and she serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange. She also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences.
Carmen LaBerge: Kara, welcome to Mornings with Carmen.
Kara Powell: Well thanks. It’s great to be with you, Carmen.
Carmen LaBerge: Well it’s great to have you and you have co-authored a book with Steven Argue entitled Growing With, Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future. So we’re going to just talk about it as Growing With and people can check it out at GrowingWithbook.com.
Carmen LaBerge: Let’s just start with why do we need another book on parenting teens?
Kara Powell: Yeah. Great question. Well first let me say I’m a parent of teenagers myself. My kids are 18, 16, and 12. And as I think ahead to not only being a parent of teenagers, but also as they age into young adulthood, there’s a part of me that’s afraid that as my kids grow up, our family is going to grow apart. And not only that, as my kids grow up, my kids might grow away from God and those are two fears that I have. And so, Steve Argue and I wanted to write a book to help parents counter those fears with really practical research-based ideas to help parents know how, in the midst of kids maturing, they could continue to deepen their relationship in their family, as well as they could continue to help their kids deepen their faith journey.
Carmen LaBerge: So one of my observations in reading this book is this idea that, as a parent of a teen, I am actually behind them in a lot of things. They are ahead of me. They know more about a lot of things. They have access to … So when you use the term growing with, this is not just about me as an adult helping someone else grow up. It is really about a family system growing together. Talk about that.
Kara Powell: Yeah. And you know, Carmen, that really ties well into how Steve and I define Growing With. We define it as a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trust God to transform us all. So you’re absolutely right. It’s a mutual journey. I mean we as parents, we’re constantly learning and growing ourselves. I think parenting is one of God’s great curriculums for us to teach us more about ourselves and what it means to follow Jesus.
Kara Powell: And we can share that with our kids and we can learn so much from our kids in the midst of our growing faith relationships and our family relationships.
Carmen LaBerge: So how is it different for kids today than … I’m 50. Obviously I grew up in a different world than teenagers are growing up in today. How does their experience differ from the experience of their parents?
Kara Powell: Yeah, in so many ways for kids it feels like they’re growing up faster. It’s like there’s this gas pedal. Life is faster. There’s less institutional support. Families are working harder to make it. So they’re marinating in an environment of stress and anxiety. So, you know as we say in our book Growing With, for young people today, 14 is the new 24. Kids today, in some ways, are growing up faster than ever. But simultaneously, in the midst of this gas pedal that kids are experiencing, there’s also this brake pedal, especially for young adults.
Kara Powell: Many of the typical markers that have signaled a young person’s transition to adulthood are happening five or more years later. And this is from US Census data. Young people are getting married five years later, having babies five years later, becoming financially independent five years later, finishing school five years later. And so, as a result, just as 14 is the new 24, and kids are in some ways more mature faster, simultaneously, 28 is the new 18 and they’re taking longer to reach adulthood.
Kara Powell: So, you know, if you’ve ever driven in a car with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake pedal, that’s a pretty herky jerky ride and that’s what it feels like for today’s young people and that’s what it feels like for today’s parents as they’re trying to navigate this new season for teenagers and young adults and they need some help.
Carmen LaBerge: So I have a 15 year old. I’m currently teaching her how to drive. I was physically experiencing what you were just describing. So that is-
Kara Powell: Did your heart start to beat a little bit faster there, Carmen?
Carmen LaBerge: Okay. So you have this verb that’s called withing. We have a verb in our family called nervousing and so I will tell her periodically, I’m like, “You’re nervousing me.” And that means I am responding to what you are doing with a rising level of anxiety. And so, I appreciate the way that you and Steven have approached this in the book. And let’s just remind people the book that we’re talking about is Growing With. It’s Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future. Kara Powell and Steven Argue are the co-authors. You can check it out at GrowingWithbook.com.
Carmen LaBerge: Kara, let’s talk about that verb withing. What do you mean by withing?
Kara Powell: Yeah. Well that is a verb that we made up and as we looked at all the research on families’ relationship with each other. And by withing, we mean a family’s growth in supporting each other as children grow more independent. And you know, as parents especially of teenagers and young adults, as our kids are maturing and starting to move away from us and Carmen, you’re probably seeing this as a parent of a 15 year old, they move away in many ways. They move away emotionally. They move away relationally. Eventually they probably move away physically.
Kara Powell: And as a parent, sometimes we take that personally. Sometimes we’re tempted to withdraw because our feelings get hurt. We feel rejected. And so the image that we wanted to paint is in the midst of your child’s normal process of independence, how do you keep journeying alongside them? How do you, and I tell this story in the book with my 16 year old, how do I be a wall that she can come back to? In the midst of my teenagers hurting my feelings, in the midst of normal everyday conflict that we have in our family, how can I be that wall that she and that my other daughter and that my son can come back to? How can I be that stable, supportive, consistent presence in their lives?
Kara Powell: And so, you know, we interviewed 75 parents from around the country and got so many practical ideas. If I can just share one of the things that great parents were quick to do in order to establish withing, they were quick to say two words. I’m sorry. They were quick to apologize to their kids. And I’ll tell you, thanks to our research, I feel like I’m apologizing to my kids about every 48 hours.
Kara Powell: And if you were to read a transcript of what I say, the words aren’t all that terrible. It’s usually my tone of voice that is my problem. And so, I’m constantly apologizing to my kids because I want to keep the slate clear between us and them. And I want to also give them a picture of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ and that we can constantly seek forgiveness from our Lord and Savior when we blow it in relationship with Him also.
Kara Powell: So, you know, one of the keys to good withing in a family is that parents lead the way by apologizing to their kids and in front of their kids.
Carmen LaBerge: I just love it. Kara, let’s continue this conversation in just a moment. You are listening to Mornings with Carmen. I am Carmen LaBerge. My conversation partner, Kara Powell. We’re talking about the book Growing With and we’ll be right back.
Carmen LaBerge: Welcome back to Mornings with Carmen. I’m your host, Carmen LaBerge, continuing my conversation with Kara Powell about the new book, Growing With. She co-authored it with Steven Argue. The sub head is Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future.
Carmen LaBerge: Kara, we’ve already touched on withing. You’ve got some other verbs in here, faithing and adulting. I would love to explore those as well.
Kara Powell: Yeah. Absolutely. Well faithing is not a verb we made up. haron Deloth Parch, another wonderful researcher first used the word, to my knowledge. But the word that Steve Argue and I define faithing is as owning and embodying our journeys with God as we encounter new experiences and information.
Kara Powell: For your listeners who don’t remember that definition, here’s what I would love for them to remember about faithing is that it’s not just a noun. It’s a verb because faith is not just a noun. It’s a verb. And a lot of times as we’re parenting teenagers and young adults, we see shifts in their faith and that can fill us with anxiety. When in reality, that’s just a normal part of a young person’s faithing process.
Kara Powell: You know, it’s a normal part of them coming to own their faith, then coming to question their faith, then coming to wrestle with their faith, then coming to say choose their own church and faith community instead of the one that was inherited from their parents. And so, in a really core to faithing is that we, as parents and grandparents and step-parents and caring mentors, that we’re okay with our kids’ tough questions about God.
Kara Powell: You know in other research we’ve done at the Fuller Youth Institute, we’ve seen that 70% of youth group graduates have tough questions about God. 7 out of 10 admit to having big questions, big struggles in their faith. Now before our research, that would’ve freaked me out as a parent and as a pastor. Oh my goodness, so many young people are walking around with tough questions, but here’s what we’ve seen in our research. When young people have the opportunity to express and explore those tough questions, that’s actually correlated with greater faith maturity. Or put more simply, doubt isn’t toxic to safe, silence is.
Kara Powell: So as a parent trying to live out our research, one of my favorite questions to ask my teenagers is, what do you no longer believe that you think I still believe? And in the inverse, what do you now believe that you think I don’t believe? Because I want to communicate to my teenagers especially as they become young adults and get ready to move out of the house that, “Hey, your faith is a journey, it’s a verb. It’s going to keep growing and evolving, and I want us to be able to talk about it.”
Carmen LaBerge: Okay. Let’s do those again. What do you no longer believe that you think I still believe? And what do you now believe that you think I don’t believe? Those are two great questions.
Kara Powell: Yeah. Yeah. Aren’t they? And I learned them from my co-author of Growing With, Steve Argue, who has been asking his teenager and young adult daughter those questions for years. And you know, sometimes, your kid will say, “Actually, you know, my faith hasn’t changed that much. You and I are still on the same page.” But, recently I asked my 18 year old that question and he had a couple bullet points for us to talk about. And I was so glad that I asked the question and that he could calmly, not in a heat of the moment, but as he and I were driving the car together, he could explain to me some of how his faith is shifting because his faith is a verb. And by the way, so is mine.
Kara Powell: So, you know, when we paint in our families faith as a verb, it also gives us as parents more opportunities to share about our own faith journey and the lessons that God is continuing to teach us.
Carmen LaBerge: Well Kara, I think it’s just honest that as adults we would acknowledge that, you know, we have questions that probably went either ignored or pushed aside when we were young and some of those questions we still have today. And so, why do we think or expect that our kids wouldn’t have really serious questions? They are living a much more culturally diverse and religiously pluralistic environment than any of us ever lived in a generation ago. And we don’t even inhabit it in the same way they do now because we’re not in nearly as a diverse environments as they are. Can you just talk a little bit about the reality that teenagers and young adults are living and how it differs from the one that you and I live in as maybe full-blown adults?
Kara Powell: Yeah. Absolutely. You know, teenagers and young adults, they’re just exposed to so much more. They’re carrying around a computer in their front pocket that, Carmen, you and I didn’t have access to. And so they know so much more about different faiths. They know more about what’s going on in the world. I try to tell my kids some news story as we’re driving to school and they’ve already heard it because they saw it on Buzzfeed or they already got the message about it on their phone before I even have a chance to tell them at 7:20 in the morning.
Kara Powell: And you know, one of the … And there’s a lot of upsides to that. I think there’s so many gifts to technology and how our kids are exposed to so much and so many diverse cultures. One of the things, though, that we’re certainly seeing with young people is a rise in mental health challenges. And you know, as somebody who studies adolescence and works with parents and church leaders, I don’t go a day without somebody asking me a question or me seeing new research on suicide, anxiety, and depression.
Kara Powell: And we certainly do talk about that in our Growing With book because when I was in high school, if I wasn’t invited to a Friday night party, I maybe heard about it on Monday when I showed up at school. For teenagers today, when they’re not invited to a Friday night party, they see it unfolding in real time on their devices while they’re by themselves in their rooms on Friday night. So you know, interestingly, the risk behaviors that young people experience with others tend to be decreasing.
Kara Powell: And this is something to celebrate. Teenage alcohol use, teenage sexuality in terms of sexual intercourse, teenage partying behaviors. Those behaviors have actually slightly decreased in the last eight years. But teenage suicide, anxiety, and depression, which tend to be risk behaviors that a teenager experiences on their own in isolation, those have actually increased.
Kara Powell: So a lot of parents and church leaders are looking for help and looking for answers because they don’t know what to do when they’re seeing their young person stressed, feeling isolated, and feeling anxious.
Carmen LaBerge: So if you are in that category of humanity and you want some resources to help you grow with your young person, we’re really excited about offering the Growing With book. And I actually have some copies to give away. You can text me at 877-933-2484. You can email me email@example.com to enter the drawing for the copies that we have of the Growing With book. You can check it out online at GrowingWithbook.com. You can connect with Kara at KaraPowell.com.
Carmen LaBerge: Kara, in the minute or so that we have left, I just want you to encourage not only parents, but other adults because I know that the young people who I have access to are not just my own kids, but every other kid who just needs an interested adult. So can you just speak to that?
Kara Powell: Yeah. Parents, I have great news for you. There is nobody who loves your kid like you. There is nobody who knows your kid like you. And God has put you in your child’s life to shape, form, influence your child. And that’s a marathon. That’s not a sprint. And especially for parents of adolescents who that can be a tough season, research shows that as your child leaves adolescence and becomes that young adult, your relationship with them is going to improve and you’re going to see some even more hope and even more relational connection. So just keep being faithful.
Kara Powell: And not only do kids need amazing parents who unconditionally love them, but kids need other mentors. And so for every adult who’s listening, whether or not you’re raising a kid or have raised a kid, you probably know a child or a teenager or a young adult. In fact, you’re probably thinking of them right now, who could use a text from you today saying, “Hey, I’m thinking of you and I’m praying for you.” Who would love it if you showed up to their swim meet or their Girl Scout event or showed up at the next play to cheer them on and just for them to know that you are on their team.
Kara Powell: So, I’m sure all of us could think of adults or most of us could think of adults who did that for us when we were young people and now we have the chance to do the same.
Carmen LaBerge: Kara Powell, thank you so much for joining us today on Mornings with Carmen. The book is Growing With, you can check it out at GrowingWithbook.com. We’ll be right back.