Amanda Millay Hughes, respected Episcopal lecturer and author, brings a poignant insight into adolescence through her own eyes as mother, mentor and educator. She takes the reader on a rapid journey of true stories, drawing from the experiences of her three children and the stories of many youth with whom she has worked. Cleverly woven through these stories are devotions revolving around Luke 2:41-52, the only gospel account of the adolescent Jesus.

Hughes writes: “Adolescence is hard on everybody. Adolescence is a time of distress and it is a time for enlarging the heart.” She continues, “If we [parents, youth and family] are to survive adolescence, we will do so only with unbridled compassion.”

Hughes, a sought after lecturer on adolescence, deals with a wide range of issues: the biology of adolescence, family dynamics, popular culture and “sex, drugs, and rock and roll!” She also shares a working theology of adolescence, grounded squarely in the gospel of Luke.

“Twenty years after being lost in Jerusalem, Jesus spoke to His followers about the lost sheep and the good shepherd,” she writes. “I wonder if He remembered His mom and dad when they found Jesus after three days of searching. Love always looks for the lost … this is compassion.”

Along the way, Hughes weaves a framework for sharing with young people and giving them space to explore, fail and regroup. The reader is sometimes left with the thought that this approach will only work if we are permissive and buddies with our children.

To that notion, she speaks openly: “My children [all children] needed a parent, not another friend. They needed someone able to set curfews, listen long enough to their music, watch enough of their movies, and travel the same roads.”

Yet, the best thing we can give our children is the “push-pull” of freedoms and boundaries.

Hughes draws several conclusions about how to parent and mentor today’s young people. She urges parents and teachers to explore the youth culture, listen to their records, watch their movies, understand some of the slang that comes from their conversations. Above all, she concludes, youth are good and worthy of our love and attention. Every day spend some time in the ritual of the meal-time question, “How was your day?”

This is a wonderful read for parents and youth workers. The insights shared by this mother and youth educator are helpful. The one shortcoming of the book is a lack of additional resources for reference. While reading about her interactions was enjoyable, a bibliography of additional sources would have made this stronger.

Having passed through adolescence myself, both as a young person and as a father of two daughters, I found myself laughing out loud at times and wiping tears at a few points too. And, I particularly appreciated her words:

“I know what it’s like to feel certain that you have made so many mistakes along the way that there is no chance your children will grow up normal, let alone well-adjusted and faith-filled.  Still, don’t give up!”

Mary and Joseph didn’t give up on Jesus. God doesn’t give up on us. Our teens deserve the same intentional love.

Bo Prosser is coordinator for congregational life for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, Ga.

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