Grand Theft Childhood: Violence and Video Games

Youth culture is changing at a dizzying pace. Many of us raising teens, for example, didn't grow up playing video games. We hear about murderers who played hours of games before setting out on a shooting spree and anxiously watch the backs of our sons heads. Should we let them play? Which games will damage them? How much is too much? Are they losing precious hours of childhood that should be spent instead on playing Kick the Can with the neighbor kids?

If you've asked yourself questions like these about your gaming teen, take heart from a new book, GRAND THEFT CHILDHOOD: THE SURPRISING TRUTH ABOUT VIDEO GAMES AND WHAT PARENTS CAN DO by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson (Simon & Schuster, 2008).

Kutner and Olson, cofounders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, organized a $1.5 million federally funded study on the effects of video games. They gathered written surveys from more than 1,200 middle school students and over 500 parents, and interviewed dozens of teen and preteen boys and their parents. This book sums up their findings.

Why do kids love gaming so much? Kutner and Olson discovered that they game for the same reasons I play Scrabble on-line or you root for the Red Sox -- for excitement, escapism, and to relieve stress or boredom. Here's something else the researchers discovered that might be surprising: video games are an important social tool for young teen and tween guys:
Children viewed video game play as largely a social activity, not an isolating one. It did more than provide a topic of conversation; it provided a structure through multiplayer games in which they practiced and improved their verbal communication skills ... Two of the key tasks of adolescence are improving social skills and interpersonal communication ... the structure of the games allows them to test social boundaries and relationships in ways that they might not recover from as easily in face-to-face discourse.
Gaming connects them with their peers, giving them something to talk about. Interestingly, a total lack of exposure to video games was actually associated with getting bullied. But does that mean anything goes? Should we let them play as much as they want without any banning or limits? May it never be, as the apostle Paul once said, as do these Harvard educators. So what advice do they give to parents? In a concluding chapter, they echo what many of us have been harping about all along.

Stay involved in your child's gaming and on-line activities. By all means set boundaries and guidelines, but talk to your son as you do, which means learning some of the language he uses. Do you know the difference between a "first-person shooter" and a "third-person shooter"? Ask him if you don't. Use games to start conversations about the exploitation of women, gratuitous violence, racism, and even the arc of a hero's journey or the desire to protect and defend.

And here's an extra tip from me, learned at the University of Hard Knocks: watch your son play for a decent length of time, cheering him on in his quest, before saying anything about content. And don't let the discussion disintegrate into a one-way diatribe about demonic content. Key word: discuss. Family therapists use gaming to restore father-son relationships because it's the one place where a boy can be better than his Dad at something. It's a chance for them to teach us something for once.

The book closes by reminding us that gaming can provide insight into our child's real-world problems. They can be a place to notice a growing trend of anger, stress, boredom, or loneliness. And as a result, we can intervene with love and pray more specifically -- powerful age-old parental strategies that don't change over time.

Jordin Sparks Gets Salty At The VMAs

If you want a taste of what it's like to be a teen, here's a tip: tune into MTV's Video Music Awards.

This year's host, Russell Brand, decided to take on the Jonas Brothers' pledge of purity -- a move that's been discussed by culture watchers throughout the media in the last couple of days.

The squeeze to laugh at meanness, to laud the culture's cynicism about faith, to enjoy watching someone labeled an "innocent" squirm at the hands of a "funny" bully -- our teens face that pressure every day in the halls of their schools, on the web, and everywhere else they assemble. Even at youth group on Sundays.

That's why I loved Jordin Sparks' feisty improvisational response to Brand's bad boy riff. "It's not bad to wear a promise ring because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut," Sparks said, standing tall at the podium. Her tone rang with assurance, her expression stayed sweet, but she used tough, simple language that was easy to understand. And best of all, what she said was true.

The audience applauded. The host came out and apologized ... sort of. The handful of Sparks' peers trying desperately to avoid getting smashed by the express train of celebrity sat up a bit straighter.

Nineteen or twenty words. That's all it took to turn the tide.

As my high-schoolers, their buddy, and I witnessed the atmosphere in the theater change and felt our own hearts lighten, we talked about the power of truth. My prayer is that like Jordin Sparks, our teens will have the courage and skill to wield that weapon well.

Put Church on their College Applications

I wasn't raised in the church -- I didn't become a follower of Jesus until I was nineteen years old. That's why I've marveled at the myriad of benefits my kids have enjoyed as they grow up in our church community's circle of love and support. Recently my gut observations were vindicated as University of Iowa researchers recently discovered that church attendance has as much effect on a teen's GPA as whether the parents earned a college degree.

The study identifies several reasons church-going students do better in school:

  • They have regular contact with adults from various generations who serve as role models.
  • Their parents are more likely to communicate with their friends' parents.
  • They develop friendships with peers who have similar norms and values.
  • They're more likely to participate in extracurricular activities.
One reason I'm a stickler about regular church attendance is because I didn't get these advantages. As our boys enter the later teen years, attending church and youth group is staying first on our rapidly shrinking list of non-negotiables.

Our goals? By the time they leave our nest, their relationships with adults and peers at church will be so tight that they'll want to come back every chance they get. And hopefully down the road they'll look for a similar type of faith circle where they choose to settle, because they'll see that the blessings don't stop coming -- even once you're done getting graded.

The Power of Ancient People

One of my friends lives in a two-family house with her parents' half on the other side of a wall, a set-up that's fairly typical here in New England. When her teen sons used to come home after school, they'd ask, "What's for dinner?" If the answer wasn't to their liking, they'd pop next door to see what Grandma was cooking. Usually, my friend tells me, the food over there was better, the welcome more unconditional, the rules not as stiff, and the ambience twice as relaxing after a hard day of high school. Usually, they stayed next door.

My own parents are all the way on the other coast, but my seventy-something immigrant mother has mastered the art of instant messaging so that she and Dad can chat with our boys at least once or twice a day -- always at my sons' initiative, because one of their greatest delights is to imagine my parents using their mad one-fingered typing skills to send a blessing through cyber-space. "WAT R U COOKING 4 DINNER?" is a standard (albeit wistful, since they can't benefit so many miles away) question the boys use to start a cross-generational cyber conversation.

I was reminded on Mother's Day of the power of ancient people in proclaiming life-changing grace to young men and women when the boys took me to see Young@Heart, a magnificent film chronicling six weeks in the life of a senior choir. My favorite scene took place in a prison, where our valiant protagonists belted out a poignant, slow rendition of Bob Dylan's Forever Young to a group of young men who were already reaping the consequences of past mistakes. Listen to a part of the blessing those prisoners heard:
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.
As the old people sang, young faces softened and grew still with the intensity of listening and receiving. Why? For two reasons, I think. First, because the kindness of God leads to repentance, and second, because the messenger matters just as much as the message. A grizzled messenger who has lived and suffered many decades can speak a blessing with power that we middle-aged folks have yet to acquire. But our time is coming, sooner than we realize. And that's good news, because I'm often reminded by my parents that the real reason to have kids is to delight in the grandchildren.

Teens, Tunes, and Traveling Together

Should I let my daughter download that song on iTunes? I can't understand a word from start to finish. What about that hip-hop radio station he loves? Should I ban it? 

When parents ask questions like these, I can't offer definitive answers. So much depends on the particular teen and the state of the heart. But two lessons from my past have encouraged me to venture boldly with my sons into the realm of their generation’s music. 

The first is not to fear. God already knows what’s out there, and is creative enough to use it in the divine pursuit of the human soul.

During my high school years, I memorized lyrics by musicians like the Beatles, Cat Stevens, the Who, and of course, the Rolling Stones. Later, while studying overseas in Europe, in the throes of a search for spiritual truth, I visited the site in Moscow where the Czar and his relatives had been brutally murdered. I’d been wrestling with the question of human suffering, but didn’t consider that a diabolical, personal enemy might be playing a significant role behind the scenes.

I wandered through the opulent galleries of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, replete with art commandeered from the Hitler and the Nazis. Portrait after painting after mural depicted the suffering of Christ. One particular piece caught my eye — a rendition of Jesus agonizing in a garden. Instantly, the words to a Rolling Stones’ song sang through my mind: “I was around when Jesus Christ had his moments of doubt and pain. Killed the Czar and his ministers; Anastasia screamed in vain.” Sympathy for the Devil, the song was titled.

Suddenly, I was electrified by the possible existence of an evil tempter who delighted in human suffering — and especially in the suffering of one particular Man. While this example may sound trivial in the re-telling, I know that God was powerful enough to use Mick Jagger’s song in my journey of faith. The same can happen with today's music and this generation.

The second lesson is that regular parental companionship is crucial.

When I was about twelve, I was belting out a hit song in the shower: “Having my ba-a-aby. I’m a woman in love and I love what’s going through me. Having my ba-a-aby. What a lovely way to say how much you love me.” Paul Anka’s song was playing non-stop on the radio and the catchy tune engraved the words in my mind.

Leaving the bathroom, I overheard my parents talking (in Bengali, my mother tongue):

“What is this ‘having my baby’ song?”

“Oh my goodness. Do you think she knows about what she is singing?”

Mortified, I realized how the words of the song had sounded to my parents’ ears. I wasn’t having anybody’s baby, for goodness’ sake. Why, then, was I singing about it at the top of my lungs? Thanks to the magic of listening through my parent’s ears, I was confronted with the absurdity of one particular song’s lyrics.

As we accompany our children into the world of music, everybody's hearing is sharpened. Our presence in listening to their generation's music, perhaps even more than our opinions, provides clarity in their process of discernment. This means reading the lyrics on CD jackets, looking them up on the internet, and tuning into their radio station in the car -- even when they're not around. And talking about it.

Music is powerful, as Martin Luther noted:
For whether you wish to comfort the sad, terrify the happy, encourage the despairing, humble the proud, calm the passionate, or appease those full of hate — and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? — what more effective means than music could you find?
So should you ban that radio station? I have no idea. But I can encourage you not to fear the unknown, because God can use all things for good purpose. I can also tell to travel with your teen as much as possible into pop culture. Where two or more are gathered in Jesus' name, He promises his company, too.

And who knows? You might even find yourself belting out some catchy new tune in the shower. A word of warning, though: once you start calling your wife "shorty" or "boo," you've gone too far. Your exasperated teen will be forced to rebel by downloading the Best of Bach.

Senator Obama's Speech and the Generational Divide

Senator Obama's recent speech about race was an Emperor's New Clothes moment for our nation. A lot of Americans had been feeling pretty darn good about our progress in racial reconciliation, embodied by our first viable biracial presidential candidate. But this speech and the split reaction to it revealed the true condition of race relations in America: generally, white people still don't get how black people see things, as Nick Kristof eloquently argues.

That is, if we're over twenty-five or so.

Mr. Kristof's thesis might not hold as true for young Americans. Teens and twenty-somethings think and talk about race so differently that it's almost as if our country's divided by age instead of race. Granted, I live in Boston, which likes to think of itself as this society's hub but might actually be a strange little island unto itself. But tune in to the humor about race in youth culture, where the pain is processed in a raw, real way, proving perhaps that laughter can be good medicine. Meanwhile the majority in my generation secretly wonder if it isn't time to move "beyond the issue," while many older minorities can never think of racism is a joke.

Senator Obama tapped into those views when he told us earlier in the campaign that there's "no black America and no white America, only the United States of America." Most people my age seemed to like that. But in this recent speech, the Senator told the truth: there are still two ways of viewing history in the past and history in the making.

Barack Obama with his maternal grandparents
Photo courtesy of the Munoz Family via Creative Commons

The pivotal moment in the speech was when he talked about his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, pictured above, who is still alive and living in Hawaii:
[She is] a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
In his book Dreams From My Father, he also told of his paternal grandfather who "didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman." Why not quote them equally? Because the heart of the speech was to show that he gets how middle-aged and older blacks see things.

Ending with a story about a twenty-three year old white woman and an older black man coming together around his campaign, Senator Obama spoke to young people, repeating his hope that one day we might indeed move "beyond racism." But, as he reminded the whole nation, that day is not here yet. With new polls showing him falling behind, taking that risk could prove costly. Naming the naked Emperor makes an unseeing crowd feel foolish, and typically we take it out on the messenger. 

Thankfully, a new generation is coming of age, my teens among them, so maybe the Senator's right. The phrase "racial reconciliation" might someday move from the oxymoronic to sounding anachronistic. This century, I pray our churches can speed the process instead of hindering it.

Unique to Books: Cogency and Privacy

The argument for us glass-half-full types is that literacy isn't tanking at all. No, these days stories are morphing away from the printed page and emerging from other vessels like screens, or entering our souls through the ear rather than the eye. And it's not just teens -- I do more and more of my reading online and my consumption of podcasts is rising exponentially. We're reading, I scoff at the doomsayers, just differently, that's all.

But then I left my computer for ten days and discovered the truth of Howard Gardner's two sad postscripts in an otherwise upbeat take on literacy:
Two aspects of the traditional book may be in jeopardy, however. One is the author's capacity to lay out a complex argument, which requires the reader to study and reread, following a circuitous course of reasoning. The Web's speedy browsing may make it difficult for digital natives to master Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" (not that it was ever easy). The other is the book's special genius for allowing readers to enter a private world for hours or even days at a time. Nowadays young people seem to have a compulsion to stay in touch with one another all the time; one of the dividends of book reading may fade away.
The latter gift of extended privacy, which I think comes more from fiction while the gift of cogency from non-fiction, is exactly what I enjoyed during my recent reading extravaganza -- each novel was a journey to another place and time, vacations within a vacation, solitude my soul relished even while enjoying time with family.

So now I'm wondering how my digitally native sons are losing out. Will their click-here-and-there minds lose the capacity to understand long, complex arguments? Will their facebooked souls know what to do with extended solitude? Or in the future will those particular skills become as anachronistic for young adults as classical rhetoric or knightly chivalry? And how will this literacy shift affect their reading of the Bible -- will they manage to grasp Paul's cogent arguments in the Book of Romans, for example, or take the solitude they need to meditate on the Psalms?

Vote For My Parental Unit!

Why The Candidates’ Kids Matter

First Kid wannabes have been in the public eye like never before. Josh Romney drove through all 99 counties of Iowa in an RV to stump for his Dad. His brother Craig used fluent Spanish to voiceover a campaign ad about “papa.” Cate Edwards hit the trail diligently even though she was a busy second year Harvard Law student. Meghan McCain blogs and vlogs to connect the younger generation to her seventy-something father. And even the famously private Chelsea Clinton is taking a break from her hedge fund job to stump for Mom.

Americans are fascinated with the offspring of candidates for several reasons. First, nobody knows a person better than his or her kids. When Chelsea got choked up and admitted how proud she is of her mother, we believed her. A heartfelt endorsement from an adult child isn’t something you can buy. It’s something you earn after years of loving service and commitment.

Second, this campaign is turning out to be more cyber intense than even the geekiest pundit could have predicted. The twenty-something children of candidates have managed to connect and engage a web-savvy generation of voters. We tuned into Romney’s five sons’ updates, watched videos of Sarah Huckabee bragging about her father at Youtube, tracked Chelsea’s visits to college campuses, and read Meghan McCain’s posts about the campaign whirlwind -- along with her makeup tips.

Third, we want a President who can laugh. Nothing reveals a candidate’s sense of humor better than the good-natured banter that goes on between the generations. When Cate Edwards, responding to a question about her father’s good looks, joked about how dorky he is, we got that John Edwards didn't take himself too seriously. Even Emma Claire teased her father at an event by slyly saying she was going to vote for another candidate. And when Matt Romney staged a call to his father from the governor of California, Americans watched the video and laughed along.

Did this yen for connection with a candidate’s children hinder Rudy Giuliani, whose kids played it cool? Will it affect those with children too young to stump, like Barack Obama? Judging from the buzz and hype surrounding the more vocal young adult First Kid wannabes, a public cheer -- or some friendly teasing -- from a son or daughter can give any candidate’s campaign a boost.

Mitali Perkins ( is the author of two novels for teens about a candidate’s daughter, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). Her main character, Sameera Righton, described by Publishers Weekly as “an intelligent, witty and prepossessed heroine,” is keeping track of the hype around the REAL First Kid wannabes at To learn more about the books, visit


Political Parenting

Want to engage young adults in this election without losing your mind? Practice these five tips:

Be teachable. A conversation isn’t about one person sharing knowledge and information with another. That’s better known as a lecture. Listen to your kids, allowing them and others to inform your opinions.

Be honorable. It’s okay to take issue with a candidate’s positions, but disparaging his or her character is a definite turnoff to teens and twenty-somethings. To everyone, in fact.

Be flexible. Your candidate isn’t Jesus. Our sons and daughters appreciate hearing how we disagree with the person we support. Give them the grace to do the same, and don't take differing opinions personally. Endorsing another candidate doesn't mean he or she is repudiating you as parent.

Be controversial. Surprise and provoke your offspring once in a while by saying something radical, starting with “I totally disagree with _____” or “I 100% agree that ____.”

Be passionate. Caring deeply about an election is contagious. Young people who watch us thinking deeply and talking freely about our opinions will be more likely to do the same. And they’ll be more likely to vote now and in the future if they see us faithfully trekking to the ballot box during primaries and elections.


Mitali Perkins ( is the author of two novels about a candidate’s daughter, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). Her main character, Sameera Righton, described by Publishers Weekly as “an intelligent, witty and prepossessed heroine, is keeping track of the hype around the REAL First Kid wannabes at To learn more about the novels, visit


Parenting For Dummies: The Call To Do Nothing

My teenager's math teacher called to warn us that our son might get an incomplete because of tardies.

"You could get them cleared up with a parent's note," she informed me, sounding like a recording. We live in a town where you can virtually hear the roar of parental heli-blades hovering over the heads of most of our high schoolers.

"No, thanks," I said. "He needs to learn to be on time."

The teacher was silent for a long minute. "I'm 100% supportive of that decision," she said, and her voice rang with conviction.

It's tough when our peers take moral shortcuts right and left to help their teens "succeed." To stand firm, we need to remember that suffering and failure can be phenomenal teachers. One great task of parents of young adults is to do nothing when they're in pain except stay beside them in silent prayer. And then cheer like crazy when and if they decide to totter back on the playing field, hopefully equipped with a bit more wisdom and strength.

Facebook Etiquette For Parents

If your teen has "friended" you on Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site, consider it a huge compliment, but tread carefully. Here are some dos and don'ts for parents of high-schoolers who've been given access to their teenager's site:
  • Don't leave reminders on his page about chores or homework. Tell yourself, refrain, desist, resist. Whatever it takes, because this is not the appropriate venue to remind him to brush his teeth after he eats his snack.
  • Do read, listen, and learn about her world, tastes, choice of friends. What a chance to find out a wealth of stuff about your teenager without interrogation or argument!
  • Don't post a dorky photo of yourself on your site. In fact, skip your own mug altogether and exploit a funny photo of your teen's favorite pet. Or stick to the default question mark. And don't post photos of your children on your site without their permission.
  • Do keep your own page updated and active, so that it doesn't look like your only raison d'ĂȘtre is to spy. You might find out that social networking can be fun, as more and more adults are connecting through the web these days.
  • Don't react to anything you find on his page with negative commentary or critique (see exception below).
  • If something does trouble you about your teen's page, wait for the right moment to ask about it. Start with something like: "So, what'd you think about that note X left on your wall?" or "Hey, I've never heard of that song (or movie or video game) before. What's so great about it?"
Remember, your son is giving you the same information he's giving his friends, and he's giving it freely. Abuse the privilege by using that information to manipulate, to share as gossip or joke fodder with your own friends, or as a source of parental lecture material, and you'll lose it in no time. 

If you're not on your son or daughter's list of invited insiders, what are you waiting for? Set up a page of your own and once you have about ten other friends on your list, send a friend request to your teen. Then hold your breath and pray for the gift of an open door to her online presence. If it comes, give loud, vociferous thanks to God and a quiet, understated, two-day-later thanks to your teen. If it doesn't, wait for her "Mom, what are YOU doing on MySpace?" to start an interesting, new dialog about the Internet  -- with the learning and listening going both ways, as usual.

Buy Nothing Friday

The poet William Wordsworth put it well: "The world is too much with us; late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." This Thanksgiving Weekend, during what is usually the biggest shopping holiday of the year, people in as many as 65 countries will take part in the 15th annual Buy Nothing Day, a global fast from shopping. Why not join the bandwagon of resistance against one of the most insidious temptations in our culture? The lure to buy and own more stuff is so much a part of the way we operate that it's hard to see how it keeps us away from our true selves, one another, and our God.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to hurt retailers and those who work for them, but it's only been a few decades since blue laws kept us from buying and selling one day each week. Economists have yet to prove that one day off each week, let alone one day a year, can damage a healthy economy or ruin a good business. It's hard to say that to a small business owner who counts on Black Friday for a significant part of his revenue, but maybe Buy Nothing Day requires a riskier sister phenomenon called Sell Nothing Day, during which all of us trying to "get and spend" take a break and focus on gratitude.

Sex Ed: Why We Opted Out

I'm not usually the type to ban or censor or separate. My "ambassador" philosophy is to travel together with our teenagers into almost every arena of culture, listening, teaching, discussing, praying, discerning. That's probably why it wasn't an easy decision to opt them out of the freshman health and sexuality class required by their high school. After all, several families of faith told us the class was "no big deal." As one parent said, the subject matter gave them even more opportunity to discuss issues relating to sexuality. But three realities informed our decision to opt out.

First, ninth grade is hard enough. During a developmental period when being like everybody else is a driving emotional need, how many fourteen-year-olds enjoy being in a context where their differences are underlined? By the time teens are juniors or seniors, we can expect the emergence of the strong sense of self needed to dress, act, and think independently. But the pressure on freshmen at school to conform is immense, and most fourteen-year-olds don't have the guts to go public with fledgling beliefs. Especially if a teacher and the majority of other students might label those emerging convictions as prudish or wrong. Why put our sons in a position to be challenged before they're mature enough to stand up for themselves?

Second, they're already informed. In my family of origin, where sex was never discussed, I was grateful for teachers who told me about menstruation, pregnancy, human development. But that was twenty-five years ago, when the "facts of life" were still mostly spoken about in whispers and pseudonyms. Our sons were raised in a home where discussions about sex commenced at an early age, mostly in response to a sex-saturated culture. In music, on television, in films, in books, on the news, in our home and at church, different views of sexuality have been and continue to be the topic of conversations galore. The boys don't need to head to the local drugstore with their classmates to buy condoms (a course assignment); that aisle has already served as the venue of several spirited family discussions.

Third, one of the class goals is to alleviate discomfort in talking about sex, but the truth is that the subject matter is funny, and wonderful, and well, just plain strange. In our company, the boys could giggle about the names of the different condoms even as they raised questions. At school, they might not feel free to joke or chuckle over anything related to sex for fear of being perceived as "hateful" or "sexist." Let's face it, none of us could have invented the nuts and bolts of procreation -- the universal responses to discovering how babies are made have always been laughter, shock, and awe. Doesn't a matter-of-fact, academic approach strip away some of the wonder, shifting sex from the realm of the marvelous into the mundane and pedestrian? The course syllabus doesn't include Song of Solomon in the list of required reading. And embarrassment is a natural response, too, though perhaps not an ideal one. Humans throughout history and across cultures have tried to cover some or all of our sexual parts, and the few exceptions only prove the rule. Yes, the church has been guilty of generating unnecessary, destructive shame, but the school's well-meaning attempt to eradicate it altogether is about as effective as a fig leaf.

In the course of making our decision, I stumbled across a New York Times article published in 1999 by Wendy Shalit, author of Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good (Random House, June 2007). Shalit, a self-described feminist whose Jewish parents opted her out of sex ed in elementary school and beyond, wrote these words when she was twenty-three years old:

In retrospect I can see that, more than anything else, it is the fact that I escaped sex education which separates me most from other kids my age. It doesn't matter whether they're liberal or conservative -- if they're around my age and they've had my generation's sex education, it's very hard for us to understand each other in some fundamental way ... The mindset that concerns me is not political but cultural. Anyone who's been through the mill of my generation's sex education has trouble understanding why I'm concerned about the things I'm concerned with -- indeed, to have my kind of concerns, I'm told, is "unhealthy" -- and I for my part cannot understand how they can be so unconcerned, so cavalier. When I hear the words that they use, "hang-ups," "hook-ups," "check-ups," for example, it's as if we lived in different worlds.

"Usually when adults start shoving condoms in our faces," Shalit concludes, "we would much prefer to giggle." By opting out of sexual education at school, we're giving our ninth graders the space to giggle, and marvel, and question. We're also not squirming out of the hot seat, which is the rightful place for parents whether we home school or enroll our kids in public or private schools. No matter how much they've learned before adolescence, it's our job to teach our teenagers about healthy sex -- and love -- in a society where people are trashed by abuse, lies, and exploitation. God be with us as we do.

Parenting Well Behind Their Backs

I'm at a church barbecue chatting with another parent. He doesn't want to confess the pain over the growing intimacy gap between him and his daughter, and so he resorts to a joke ... with an edge.

"Hey, you've got sons," he tells me. "That's easy. Try talking to a human hormone machine instead. The Little Diva's refusing to go to the annual Father-Daughter dance with me this year. She threw a fit about it last night."

I don't laugh. Why do we say something negative about our teen to a peer that we'd never say to our child's face? To diminish hurt over rejection? To minimize a fear of failing at the vocation of parenting? Or maybe we sense hatred in our hearts, and those sappy commercials tell us we're supposed to feel tender and affectionate -- all the time.

I'm not saying that joking can't lighten the burden of parenting, but slander never works. Confession, however, does.

"My heart's aching because my daughter and I aren't as close as we used to be."

"I'm terrified that he's turning away from God."

"I don't like my teen at all these days. Please pray like mad for an outpouring of supernatural love."

And for those of us who prefer dry humor to passionate outpourings, self-deprecatory comedy can serve as the chosen vehicle for confession.

Take stock of your recent conversations with other parents. How we talk about our children when they aren't around is a litmus test of the relationship. If you've been "joking" about teenagers, or about adolescence, or even about your particular child, what's really going on?

Why Tweens Need High School Musical 2

As Zac Efron danced around the New Mexico rocks and sang his revelation that relationships and integrity are more important than racing hard after future success, I caught myself cheering wildly. Not out loud, mind you; parental silence is golden when a cultural icon is teaching a life lesson so nicely.

In Disney's made-for-television smash movie success, High School Musical 2, the main character's remorse over his bad choices is downright prophetic these days. Thanks to us, some of our kids and their classmates are so obsessed with the future that they forfeit the particular joy, health, fun, rest, and friendships that only come with being young and not in want. No wonder American tweens and teens responded to the story penned by Peter Barsocchini (who used to produce the Merv Griffin show and is writing High School Musical 3, scheduled for release as a full-length feature film.) You go, Disney and Mr. Barsocchini, and thank you; I'll stop griping about the High School Musical franchise now.

Surf's Up: The Joy of Sport

We live in a neighborhood where trophies abound on shelves, first-graders wait for spots to open in soccer leagues, and top-notch public high schools send a steady stream of jocks to Ivy League colleges. That might be why our family loved Sony's animated movie Surf's Up.

The film uses the power of good storytelling to remind us that sports were created primarily for fun and friendship, not triumphs and trophies. A fun, witty, well-edited hero's journey, Surf's Up features the voice talents of Shia LaBeouf and Jon Heder, making it a PG movie that works for the whole family -- even the deluded teen who's convinced that a "cool" movie has to have a PG-13 rating.

Photo Source: idealterna

American Idol Showcases Paternal Love

Hats off to Phillippi Sparks and Dallas Lewis, who modeled the power of loving, committed fathering for the whole nation during this season's American Idol. They've each been married to the same woman for years, Sparks to his wife Jodi and Lewis to his wife Dinah. The Sparks still attend Calvary Community Chapel in Phoenix, the church where they were married, and also demonstrate the beauty of their strong, interracial marriage to a nation still wrestling with the evil of racism.

Jesus Followers and Pop Culture: Separate or Permeate?

It started way back when with a debate about faith-based education versus public schools. Bit by bit, we set up the parallel universes of Christian music, television, radio, books, and magazines, followed more recently by a fledgling attempt at creating "faithful" movie companies. This separate-but-never-equal trend continues on the Internet, where the success of any site in the world spawns a "Christian, safer, friendlier" version, like conservapedia (vs. Wikipedia), or zigvid (vs. YouTube), and now social networking sites like Xianz (vs. MySpace and Facebook).

As parents of faith, we're often warned to keep our kids safely within such church-generated places, whether real or virtual, but is that how they'll learn to exert influence and represent our King? Let's go back to the ancient advice in the book of Proverbs instead, where we're instructed to "train up our child in the way he should go." This means knowing whether our child is able to be a diplomat in difficult places, or if he'll be tempted to revoke his Kingdom citizenship and run for the hills.

A handful of brave young people are able to shine like beacons in the most stressful of arenas; some need a watchful eye as they travel here and there; a few require constant parental companionship; and at the far end of the spectrum, other lambs must never step foot in certain places (which, for a certain kind of person, might even bear a Christian label). It's up to us to discern the state of our children's hearts. God be with us as we do.

Presidential Candidates as Parents

We debate about a presidential candidate's faith, but what about his or her family life? Is it important to you that your next President has a solid marriage? Good relationships with his/her children? Is there a correlation between good parenting and strong leadership in the White House?

To engage teens in the '08 presidential campaign, Sameera Righton, a.k.a. Sparrow, the main character of my two forthcoming young adult novels, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton / June 2007) and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton / June 2008), is blogging (positively) about the real First Kid wannabes and their parents at I'm hoping that young people will enjoy her take because like many of them, Sameera can't vote but still wants to make a difference.

I'm also quite curious about the candidates' track record in the home, as my instinct tells me that if you want the measure of a person, watch how s/he treats his mother, spouse, and kids.

Verbal Sticks and Stones

The word of the day from Urban Dictionary is "butterfaith," a noun derived from the slang insult for a girl with a great figure but an ugly face (butterface). If your daughter gets called "butterfaith," it means that guys think she's "a girl who's fun, intelligent, beautiful, perfect in every way... except she's devoutly religious." That wouldn't be a bad name compared to some of the others teen girls hear on a regular basis at school. In fact, being teased is their number one worry. Arm your daughter with the truth and some practical advice, and try and make sure that insults and name-calling don't happen at home, which should be a haven from slander and malice. The truth is that words wound, and the tongue is a fire.

GodTube and Conservapedia

GodTube (the YouTube Christian alternative) and Conservapedia (the evangelical version of Wikipedia) have been making the news. I understand the motives behind the creation of these kinds of sites, but worry that (a) pop culture is defining the church once again instead of vice a versa, and (b) Christians are pulling out of two of the most popular communally-created sites on the web instead of staying put to represent Jesus. What do you think?

Dressing Up For Church: Trolls and Truth

"Go right back upstairs and put on collared shirts."

That used to be my boring Sunday morning mantra until I read Trolls and Truth (New Hope, September 2006) by Jimmy Dorrell, pastor of the The Church Under The Bridge in Waco, Texas. The book should have come with a warning label: "If you don't want to be confronted with prophetic truths spoken by the poor to comfortable churches and people, don't open this."

Founded in 1992 as a Bible Study with five homeless men, the The Church Under The Bridge now draws 300 people of many races and economic backgrounds who meet outside under the same interstate bridge each week. Dorrell tells the stories of some of these changed lives to remind us of 14 realities in Jesus' upside-down Kingdom, giving fresh, revolutionary meanings to words we take for granted like "family," "giving," "work," "friendship," and "worship."

Book in hand, I approached our teen sons about our on-going tussle over what they should to wear to church.

"I've always thought it's important to honor God by wearing our nicest clothes on Sunday," I said. "But listen to this quote: 'When asked why they don't go to church, poor people list clothes as the number one reason.' What do you think about that?"

"So if we dress up, we might make people who can't buy clothes feel unwelcome?" one of my sons asked thoughtfully. I could almost hear the background noise of wheels spinning inside his brain ... and heart.


"So you're saying we've been right and you've been wrong?" The other one asked. He looked shocked.

"Maybe. But it's more about why we're wearing the clothes, not the clothes themselves. I need to ask if I've been dressing our family to impress others. And you should probably ask if you've been dressing to indulge yourselves. Both of us would be wrong."

When they came down the next Sunday, one son was dressed in his everyday faded-cargo-pants-and-sweatshirt ensemble. "I'm thinking about the poor, Mom," he told me, grinning.

The other was in a collared shirt. "Let's go," was all he said. "We're going to be late."

For once, I didn't say anything. Trust me, there might more changes to come for the Perkins family, because you can't listen to prophets like the ones in this book without "acknowledging the hardening process that our sin and culture have on us," and asking God to transform your status quo.

Youth Specialties, Racism, and Facing the Pain

The Christian organization Youth Specialties this week modeled how to confess and turn away from prejudice, even when it's costly and more tempting to let things ride. Other Christian organizations and churches should take note of this heartfelt, humble example of listening to our brothers and sisters, especially when it comes to issues of race.

Why Teens Need Memoir: Left To Tell

This generation of young people is starved for the stories of older survivors. They've been cheated. They've had no equivalent of the village gathering around a fire to recount fearsome accounts of fighting off lions. Most don't live near extended family, so they don't get to relax on front porches with icy glasses of lemonade to laugh with uncles or grandmothers recalling younger versions of themselves back in the day.

That's why I want to recommend Left To Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir of survival and devastation during the Rwandan holocaust in 1994. The power of this starkly honest story is that it doesn't leave the reader fearful and devastated. As Immaculee's tender, tough voice recounts her suffering, teens will realize that they, too, can receive grace to confront and endure evil without succumbing to it. They, too, can even experience the amazing power to forgive those who inflict evil.

In a culture where vengeance, violence, and suffering can devastate a high school or middle school community, and where lifestyles of self-indulgence and entitlement are flaunted and celebrated, teens need true stories of forgiveness, sacrifice, courage, and survival. Watch the movie Hotel Rwanda with your high schoolers. And let them read this story that Imaculee believes she was Left To Tell.

Katherine Paterson on Faith, Fiction, and Film

Check out an interview with Katherine Paterson at Christianity Today where she reveals her thoughts about the upcoming film from Disney and Walden Media based on her book, A Bridge To Terabithia, her son's writing of the screenplay, the infamous preview, and faith and writing in general. An excerpt from the interview:
Christianity Today: There's a trend lately to provide books and films for Christian audiences that are "safe for the whole family." Perhaps your books have been challenged because they're not necessarily "safe" for children. What do you make of the idea that children's books should be "safe"?

Paterson: Well, don't give them the Bible, then, because it's certainly not a safe book. Safety and faith are different things. If you want everything to be safe, then you can probably just totally do without the imagination. If you're so afraid of your imagination that you stifle it, how are you going to know God? How can you imagine heaven?

Red and Yellow, Black and White

You remember the song ... red and yellow, black and white ... they are precious in His sight ... Jesus loves the little children of the world. Sadly, humanity doesn't come close to demonstrating or celebrating such color-blind love.

I recently bought a 7-minute film written and directed by a sixteen-year-old filmmaker, Kiri Davis, and produced by Media Matters. Be prepared. It may not be comfortable to watch, but we must face the truth about racism if we hope to engage a generation that is grappling with it in a new way.

Bon Voyage, Rickshaw Girl

Some of my ambassador families blog visitors may not realize that along with being a mother of teens and a pastor's wife, my other full-time vocation is writing fiction for teens and tweens. Now you know why I have such dark circles under my eyes, right?

I'm happy to announce the release of my third novel for young readers, Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge). Unlike the first two books, which were for teens, this one's for kids ages 7-11. So ... if you're near Boston, Massachusetts or in the San Francisco Bay Area, you're cordially invited to one of my book launch events:
Saturday, February 3rd at 3 p.m. at Wellesley Booksmith, 82 Central Street, Wellesley, Ma (781) 431-1160.

Saturday, February 10th at 10:00 a.m. at Towne Center Books, 555 Main St., Pleasanton, Ca (925) 846-8826.

Sunday, February 11th at 4 p.m. at Cody's Books, 1730 4th St., Berkeley, Ca (510) 559-9500.
I’ll be reading from and signing copies of Rickshaw Girl at all three events. As a California-added bonus, my mother, Madhusree Bose, will be joining me for alpana drawing demonstrations. And in Wellesley, Charlesbridge is serving up chai and samosas, and you might get to draw your own alpanas with sidewalk chalk. If you can't make it (okay, I get that it's a four-day drive from Mississippi), you're welcome to download a classroom discussion guide, an excerpt, and a Q&A about why I wrote Rickshaw Girl, as well as read a bunch of reviews. Thanks for your support and prayers!

Go, Little Miss Sunshine!

My son gave me a DVD for Christmas -- one that he knew I would love. This was unusual because he so rarely hears me rave about a contemporary movie, especially one rated R (for language, some sex and drug content). But I enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine thoroughly, and am delighted that it's been nominated for an Academy Award in the best picture category. (The show airs on February 25, 2007, and once again I invite you to join me in my second annual praying the Oscars extravaganza.)

Here are three of my favorite scenes in Little Miss Sunshine, pivotal moments when so-called "losers" make winning choices:
  • Dwayne, the teenaged son, after his dream of being a fighter pilot is dashed, breaks a nine-month vow of silence to scream obscenities and insults at his family. "Leave me alone! I'm not getting in that van with you LOSERS!" he shouts (my paraphrase). But as soon as his little sister Olive walks across a field to join him in his pain and silently puts her arm around him, he gets up. "Let's go," he says, helping her up the hill to where his parents, uncle, and grandfather are waiting. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I was wrong."
  • When the entire crowd of pageant organizers and attendees are shouting at Richard to get his daughter off the stage, he glances back and forth between them and his daughter before deciding to join Olive and throw himself into in her dance. Ironically, Olive doesn't realize in the least that her dance is sexualized or inappropriate -- she's dancing joyously, like a child, while the other contestants, despite their "cute" talent offerings, are eerily dressed and made up to resemble adult women.
  • When Richard's dream of landing a book deal is dashed, his profane, porn-and-crack addicted father climbs up from the back of the van to put one hand on his son's shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Richard," he says (my paraphrase again). "You tried. And so many people don't even do that." Richard, who is obviously tense and resistant to any condolences, visibly melts as he squeezes his Dad's hand.
I watched the movie with my teens, fast-forwarding through one or two brief scenes, and we talked about how it poses one of humanity's central questions: "Am I a loser?" And, as the film so beautifully demonstrates, the answer isn't as simple as our culture tries to make it.

Last but not least, Little Miss Sunshine provides us with a brilliant metaphor for the church -- a broken-down van full of people who look like losers at first glance but who have you cheering for them wholeheartedly until the end of the story.

Top Awards For Great Kid Reads

I'm delighted to announce that Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, a graphic novel, has won this year's Printz Award for Young Adults, and The Higher Power of Lucky, a wonderful read by Susan Patron, has won the Newbery Medal.

The Melancholy of Parenting Teens

If you find yourself slumped on the couch clutching an ancient McDonald's Happy Meal toy and staring off into the distance, you've got it.

If, while dusting, you stop to gaze intently at a small grinning face in a homemade popsicle-stick frame, you've got it.

If you flip the radio station violently away from the oldies station playing Harry Chapin's classic "Cat's In The Cradle," you've got it for sure.

I call it Parental Melancholia.

The primary symptom is a twist of sadness that takes your breath away and makes you lose your balance. It comes with the realization that ... they're done with childhood. Those days of diapers and midnight feeds took place a decade and a half ago; the only sleepless nights you endure now are when you worry uselessly over their driving, dating, debt, or discipleship habits.

It's okay to grieve our losses, however small, and that includes saying farewell to our children's childhood. Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed the desolation we feel about the relentless passage of time in his classic poem, Spring and Fall:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

But that's what parenting over the long haul's all about, isn't it? Easing yourself out of the way so that Margaret turns to Jesus when she mourns.

The Way To A Teen's Heart ...

... is definitely still through his stomach.

During holiday visits, our sons devour their grandmothers' cooking, whether it be chicken curry (my mother's) or turkey and cranberry sauce (my mother-in-law's). But lately, I've been noticing that the boys' interest extends beyond the product to the process -- they hover around watching spices being ground (by my mother) or gravy being stirred on the stove (by my husband's mother). They chat, tease their grandmothers, argue over ingredients, chop, and sample, and both kitchens steam with congenial, intergenerational company.

Apparently, my kids aren't alone -- their entire generation is into the old-fashioned preparation of hearty meals. According to an article in Businessweek magazine, I Want My Food Network, more and more young people are tuning into culinary shows:
Young girls seem to be cooking more than the previous generation did. Trendspotters say the organic craze, as well as all the talk about an obesity epidemic, is prompting many youngsters to take responsibility for eating better. "They're making decisions in grocery stores," says Laura Caraccioli-Davis, who runs the entertainment marketing division at Starcom, a Chicago media-buying firm. "There's a lot of talk about health and wellness among kids." College guys, meanwhile, scan cooking shows to pick up tips to impress dates. "Any time a girl sees guys cooking something delicious," says Kates, "it definitely helps out."
But the popularity of the Food Network among young adults doesn't stem only from health concerns -- it's also about the women hosting the show:
How to account for the younger generation's abiding interest in all things culinary? Putting engaging hosts on the screen is a major part of it.
As I watched my sons banter with their grandmothers, I can see them reveling in the cooking, the eventual consumption of delectable dishes, and the company. Bottom line, in my opinion: a celebrity host on the little screen, no matter how engaging (or scantily-clad), can't compete with the actual presence of a delighted grandmother hosting you in her kitchen.

Five GREAT Websites For Parents of Teens

As my Christmas present to you, I give you five websites that every parent of teenagers or tweens should bookmark (listed in no particular order):
  1. Pluggedinonline: The informative reviews of movies, games, and music on this Focus on the Family site are timely and empowering. (Tip: Order the print magazine for you and your older teens and and talk about whether or not you agree with the reviews.)
  2. Center for Parent and Youth Understanding: Founder Walt Mueller's compassionate heart for young people is evident in all the resources and reflections provided on this site. (Tip: Subscribe to Engage, The Journal of Youth Culture and order all of Walt's books, including his newest release, I Want To Talk With My Teen About Music, Movies, and More.)
  3. Youth Specialties: Established by the late Mike Yaconelli for youth workers, the site has wonderful articles about the spiritual formation of teens. (Tip: Sign up for their free YS e-updates and read Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli)
  4. Understanding Your Teenager: Turn to Wayne Rice's excellent advice when you're stuck in a parental rut.
  5. Ypulse: I know it's primarily for secular marketing types, but Anastasia Goodstein's daily take on youth culture is a rich source of information for savvy parents, as is her partner site about teens online written especially for parents, Totally Wired.

Reality Television and Authentic Faith

No wonder our family enjoys reality shows like American Idol or Little People, Big World. The Parents Television Council's new study, Faith in a Box 2005-2006, is a review of how religion is portrayed on prime time broadcast television. One of their findings was about reality television:
Reality shows are more positive towards religion: The format of the program was a significant factor in the portrayal which religion received. A majority (57.8%) of the positive portrayals of religion were to be found on reality programs. By contrast, an overwhelming percentage (95.5%) of the negative portrayals of religion came from such Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs; only 4.5% of negative portrayals of religion were found on reality shows.
Examples in the report include:
  • Cindy Teas, who started a summer camp for handicapped children, states: “I thought about how many times I felt like God held my hand and walked me through this walk of faith…and there were all those little hands I’ve had the opportunity to hold.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition October 16, 2005)
  • Dunstin, who is suffering from cancer, says: “I just trust in the Lord to take care of my children and family…Sometimes you wonder, why me? But then…you give thanks to the Lord, pray, and move on.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, March 19, 2006)
  • P. Miller says: “You gotta pray and you gotta thank The Man up above for just givin’ you the opportunity to do some of the things that you wanna do.” Miller and his dance partner Ashly are shown holding hands in prayer before their dance performance. Both say “Amen” at the conclusion of their prayer. (ABC, Dancing with the Stars, January 27, 2006)
  • Danni leads her group in prayer to Jesus, giving thanks for their meal. (CBS, Survivor: Guatemala, October 13, 2005)
  • Mandisa tells Simon Cowell that she has forgiven him for his rude remarks about her weight because of the grace she was given through Jesus Christ. (Fox, American Idol, February 15, 2006)
  • Melony states: “I’ve been blessed to still be alive this year, and God gave me life. He gave me another chance, and I’m going to live and live it healthy!” (NBC, The Biggest Loser, January 4, 2006)
  • Carly, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was four years old but recovered, says: “A lot of people prayed for me and I think that really helped me.” (NBC, Three Wishes, September 30, 2005)
  • The Weaver family prays and asks God to keep them safe. Mrs. Weaver is heard in voice-over stating that it was the family’s relationship with God that enabled the family to get through her husband’s death. Throughout the episode Mrs. Weaver prays for help in accomplishing her tasks. (CBS, The Amazing Race: Family Edition, September 27, 2005)
Brent Bozell, President of PTC, finds this ironic:
"...(In) reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Amazing Race, where real characters freely express themselves, faith and religion are positively portrayed. But in scripted shows, where Hollywood writers express their worldviews, faith and religion become four letter words – to the tune of 95.5% negative portrayals. This is an industry that is completely out of touch with reality."
I'm not so sure he's right about that last statement. After all, producers edit reality television for public consumption, and the references to faith cited above could have been cut. They could have been used to denigrate the characters rather than endear them to the viewing audience. But they weren't. Could profit-driven Hollywood actually be responding to the spiritual hunger for authenticity in our culture by shifting positive expressions of faith into reality television? As Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse puts it:
(Young people are)... more cynical when it comes to marketers' motivations, more savvy about what is authentic or cool or offers real value, and a much tougher audience to reach in general. There's just so much noise.
Is it any wonder, then, that our culture prefers a simple declaration of faith from people of genuine faith to a slick, scripted profession articulated by writers and actors who don't believe a word of it?

The Nativity Story: Romance 101 For Teens

If you haven't yet taken your teens to see The Nativity Story, you're missing a superb teachable opportunity. We dragged our boys to the theater on Friday, even though they didn't really want to go (negotiations included their choice of restaurant afterwards), and I was so grateful that we'd chosen to fight this particular parent-offspring battle.

The character of Joseph provides a role model of nobility and character rarely seen in today's teen boy culture. In contrast to the mooks, geeks, and sex-obsessed studs in other movies, director Catherine Hardwicke's Joseph serves, protects, provides for, encourages, and honors the object of his affection. And the movie's strong and courageous Mary comes to love, respect, and admire him, along with most of the teen and tween girls watching, I'm sure.

As he portrayed Joseph in the movie, talented Guatemalan-born actor Oscar Isaac came to realize the importance of humility in both romantic love and in the love of God, as he revealed in an interview with Rebecca Murray:
...(The movie) is this big epic journey with this kind of little intimate love story. It's kind of the story of how these two people that are forced together — I guess one more than the other — how they ultimately become a family. I think that in itself is a fantastic story. Also, the fact that it's about humility and it's about love ... that God decides to come to earth to the most ostracized and oppressed of people — particularly two people who are ostracized by their own community in the little hick town of Bethlehem — in a cave, I think that's what the message is. It's not the powerful and the rich and the proud that are exalted, but the humble and those that act out of love that God exalts.
As I watched the love story of Joseph and Mary unfold, I was reminded that the feminine heart is still hungry to be cherished, and the masculine heart designed to offer sacrificial love, despite what the culture teaches about male-female relationships. And God continues to call young men and women to great things, serving side by side to play key roles in an epic, dangerous, world-changing Story. This movie will help our teens to see where their instincts are right, and where the culture, as they might put it, is just plain "messed up."