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Braving Middle School Like a Boss

Braving Middle School Like a Boss

Best-selling author Jonathan Catherman and his teen sons, Reed and Cole, offer encouragement to parents and kids who are worried about leaving behind the familiarity of elementary school to transition to middle school. Our guests cover topics that include bullies, relationship drama, communication with parents, and much more.
Original Air Date: August 26, 2019



Child #1: I’m getting ready to start middle school, and I’m worried that I won’t have any friends.

Child #2: When I first started middle school, I was nervous but excited at the same time.

Child #1: I’m also worried about getting around because it’s a much bigger school.

Child #2: I was worried about being bullied or my locker not opening in gym class.

Child #1: I’m a little worried about the classes and how they’ll be hard on me.

Child #2: This year as an eighth-grader, I get to help the incoming sixth-graders.

Child #1: I’m excited about being an incoming sixth-grader because I’ll feel more grown-up.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, middle school is a time of transition. I think I heard the word worry in there at least seven or eight times. There’s a lot to worry about when you move from elementary school to middle school, to junior high. And we’re gonna ease some of those fears today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Uh, John, I can remember when Trent and Troy, uh, started middle school. I think it’s all that apprehension. You know, they don’t really have enough confidence yet. They’re trying to figure out what they’re good at, what they’re, uh, strong at doing. And there’s a lot of doubt, and that’s certainly true on the boys’ side. I can remember, I mean, some older kid kinda hit me in the chest in a PE class because he was defining for a friend of his how well-built he was (laughter) and how skinny I was…

John: (Laughter) And you were – you were exhibit A.

Jim: …Like, he cracked my sternum.

John: (Laughter).

Jim: And then he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you couldn’t take a light punch,” (laughter) which made it all the worse.

John: Yeah.

Jim: But that is – that’s kinda middle school. That’s what happens. I mean, guys – boys are trying to figure out the pecking order and who’s who and who’s a good athlete and all that stuff. And, uh, it’s rare for, uh, a young man not to go through some kind of torture there.

John: (Laughter).

Jim: But it’s – it’s great to hear…

John: Yeah.

Jim: …What many schools are doing, like in that clip we heard where older kids are mentoring the younger kids.

John: Yeah, I like that.

Jim: We didn’t have a lot of that growing up.

John: No, none…

Jim: The mentoring wasn’t healthy.

John: …Of that. When I was in middle school, it didn’t happen that way.

Jim: Right. And today, we want to give you some tools to help you guide your child, and you as a parent, through these transition phases, like from elementary school to junior high school. And, uh, you may be going through that right now. And we have some wonderful guests, uh, the Cathermans – Jonathan Catherman, who has two sons, Reed and Cole. And Reed are – Reed and Cole. And Reed and Cole are both middle school survivors (laughter).

John: (Laughter).

Jim: So that’s a good thing. And, uh, they have lots of great insights to share with us today.

John: They do. And they’ve, uh – they’ve written a book called The Manual To Middle School: The “Do This, Not That” Survival Guide For Guys. And, uh, we’re so glad to have them here. It really is, uh, an insightful book. Jonathan’s been here before. And, uh, it must be fun to have his boys with him on this journey.


Jim: Yeah, welcome to Focus. Welcome back.

Reed Catherman: Thank you.

Cole Catherman: Thank you.

Jonathan Catherman: Yeah, it’s great to be back.

Jim: Yeah, it’s fun. This is kinda unique, uh, you know, having a dad with his two, uh, almost-adult sons, right? You guys are on that pathway now.

Cole: Yeah.

Jim: How old are you?

Cole: I’m 15.

Reed: Eighteen, so I guess I am an adult.

Jim: OK, there you go.

John: There you go.

Jim:  You can vote.


Reed: Yeah.

Jim: OK, we’ll talk about that later (laughter). But welcome. And it is a good thing. How did you decide to – to bundle all this advice into one book for young people, young men particularly, who are about to enter middle school or who are in the throes of middle school? Whose idea was it?

Jonathan: So you remember when I was here last time, we were talking about The Manual To Manhood, and I had written that book for my sons.

Jim: Right.

Jonathan: And shortly after returning back home, and then I was contemplating, what’s our next project? These two guys were sitting at the dining room table over dinner, talking about middle school because Cole was just leaving elementary school, headed into middle school. And Reed was just leaving middle school, headed into high school. So over a couple of dinners…

(Laughter) Beautiful moments.

Jonathan: …It was like the, what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? And advice was flying. And I looked at each – at the guys, and I go, “I think we got another book here, guys.”

Jim: (Laughter). Yeah, right, no kidding. So, Reed, let me ask you. In that transition, especially into middle school, if you can reach back that many years now, what were those, uh, those feelings, those emotions that you had, Reed?

Reed: It’s all good. Uh, so going into middle school, um, so I think it was kinda stressful. It was like, what am I gonna do? I’d been in elementary school – how many – since kindergarten to fifth grade, so that’s about six years. That – that was where my home was. That’s what I was comfortable with. Going into, uh, sixth grade and into middle school, it was like, it’s such a – it’s a much bigger school. There’s way more kids there. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m worried that I’m gonna mess up or that I’m not gonna make any friends – that kind of thing, yeah.

Jim: Well, sure. And so fear…is one thing.   you don’t – the unknown.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: How ’bout you, Cole?

Cole: Um, I luckily had Reed to help me out…

Jim: (Laughter) Yeah. So you were watching…

Cole: …So I had that session of, like, OK, what do I do once I get there?

Jim: So you were observing your older brother.

Cole: Yeah.

Jim: Parents don’t always get that. We don’t know if you’re watching (laughter).

Cole: I had to watch. I was freaking out.


Jim: And what was causing you strain or anxiety?

Cole: Lockers were scary.


Cole: Like, you had to put your stuff in a box that was, like, behind a metal door that you can’t always open. That’s just freaky.

Jim: Yeah, and then you had to remember a combination…

Cole: Yeah, three numbers.

Jim: …Which you thought you’d never remember, right?

Cole: Yeah, exactly.

Jim: I can remember that. Also, just the – kinda the – for the guys particularly, that pecking order, what I alluded to in the opening, is true, isn’t it? I mean, it’s maybe unspoken, but you’re trying to figure out who – who’s who, what group do you fit in.

Cole: Uh-huh.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: Did you have some of that anxiety as well?

Cole: Yeah, I think so, um, because I had a friend. Uh, I think he was in seventh grade at the time, but he was talking to me about how, like, guys are gonna, you know, find out who they are and, like, they’ll kind of, like, mess around with you if – if – you know, yeah.

Jim: Right. Kinda what happened to me.

Cole: Yeah. Exactly, yeah.


Cole: If they think you’re weaker or that you’re smaller…

John: Oh, yeah.

Cole: …Or you’re a little bit different, then they’ll kinda, like, you know…

John: Target you.

Cole: …Mess around with you. Yeah, exactly.

Jim: I mean, that’s not – sometimes that’s very serious, so I don’t wanna make too much light of that. But there is something about the male orientation that, you know, you just – you’re testing each other. You’re trying to figure out who’s the guy.

Cole: But – yeah. He was nice to me, uh, and he kinda, like, helped me through that. And he was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll make sure that nobody messes with you.”

Jim: Yeah. Well, you know, Jonathan, being the parent, let’s go to that part. Why is it important for parents to even pay attention? This is kinda the stuff that normally happens. And do we really have to be that engaged? ‘Cause kids are kids, and they’re gonna learn the ropes.

Jonathan: Well, these are some really critical, formative years both for, uh, how they are thinking and how they’re acting. And going through middle school, I think a – a lot of it is a whole bunch of experimenting on, does this work? And should I repeat it? And does this not work? And how do I never do this again? So as a parent, to give our kids the kind of advice that we believe is gonna work, but we can’t force them. It’s kinda like, you can – you can direct, but you can’t steer for ’em. And so what kind of direction can we give our children as they make that big transition between elementary school and middle school to set them up for the best potential success? Now, they’re gonna have to give it the go. But if they don’t know, often today, they’ll pull back and just not even engage.

Jim: Right.

Jonathan: So I’m gonna give them the best advice I can and – and share with them in any way I know how without forcing it down their throats so that it’s their experience, not my told-them-to experience.

Jim: Yeah.

Jonathan: I think that every parent needs to go through the sharing versus forcing their kids.

Jim: And I would think that you’ve got to build that relationship, so it’s not just happening at – at the middle school transition. I mean, in other words, the happening is the conversation. You’ve gotta build – as a parent, you gotta build that trust and that open dialogue. And how did that work for you three? I mean, let’s really unveil it here. Did you guys have a good kind of communication line with Dad?

Reed: Yeah, we had a good relationship with Dad.

Cole: We’ve always been open with our family. It doesn’t really matter. There’s no huge walls between us ’cause of all…

Jim: Don’t you think that’s the ground floor?

Cole: Yeah.

Jim: You gotta be able to communicate. What happens in a family where there is a lack of that communication?

Cole: There’s a distrust between the parent and the kid. And there’s not the ability to, like, talk about your feelings to the parent, which is always not good for the kid.

Jim: Yeah.

Reed: It’s hard to speak up. And, like, that can build up, and that can crumble relationships…

Cole: Yeah.

Reed: …In a matter of time, you know.

Jim: So I’m sure you’ve had friends that fit that description. Do guys talk about it at that level? When you’re sixth, seventh grade, eighth grade, do you guys – did you remember any conversation…

 Reed: That’s kinda behind closed doors.

Jim: Yeah.

 Reed: But then once we’re – once – like, I realized that once I went into high school, that’s where we started to become comfortable talking about family life and, like, what’s actually going on…

Jim: Interesting. Yeah.

Reed: …And the truth, not just, like, brushing it over like, “Oh, yeah, everything’s fine. This happened, but it’s OK.”

Jim: Yeah.

Reed: But in high school…

Jim: Little more open in high school…

Reed: …It’s like, “I need help.”

Jim: Right.

Reed: “This is what’s going on here.”

Jim: No, that’s good. Um, Jonathan, let me go to the faith component because that plays an important role, obviously, the role in Christian homes. And, uh, I guess the right question is, what role does faith play in preparing for middle school? How does a parent make sure that their kid is grounded? How many moms – let me just speak to the moms listening – are fearful of that moment, especially when their son – and we’re addressing sons today, uh, but you can apply these things to daughters, obviously – but when their sons are making that transition, I’m sure a lot of moms are going, “Wow.”

Jonathan: Right. So let’s kinda go back and look at faith. The context to faith means you’ve got to believe in something that isn’t necessarily always seen, and – and it can’t always be proven. Now, think about this. If you are consistent in your faith in your family through elementary school, and then you get into middle school with your kids, and they hit that 13-year-old age. And let’s just call it what it is. It’s cray-cray.

John: (Laughter).

Jonathan: Thirteen is the craziest age ever. And you’re thinking, what did I do wrong? Because now everything I’ve shown them seems to be thrown out the window or in my face, or – or I can’t do anything right as a parent. And don’t take it personal, but to be faithful through the time – the message you shared growing up to this time, the message you’re gonna share as they move through those – some of those chaotic ages of their life, that – that middle school and high school time. So the context of faith – love the Lord, your God. Love your family. Be consistent. I think that’s the biggest thing. Don’t try to then do a massive course change because you now have a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old. You’ve got to just simply be faithful through your process that has worked to this point and continue ’cause that – OK.  Raise a child up in the ways they should go, and when they’re old, they will not depart from it. Notice in that scripture, it doesn’t say in the middle.

John: (Laughter) Yes.

Jonathan: It says when they’re old. If they were – if you were to add to that, which we’re not going to, but it says, “Raise a child up in the way they should go. And when they’re in middle school, they’ll go crazy. And then, when they’re old, they’ll come back around.”

Jim: Yeah.

Jonathan: But the reality is this is a tough time. So the faith component in the family is consistency.

Jim: Yeah, I like that. And that’s probably the best way to approach faith, is that consistency, so your kids see it, right? And they may not always follow it, I guess, is my point. I mean, your boys are doing well, it seems. And there are families where there’s gonna be struggle. And, John, uh, you know, you home schooled your kids. So that’s a – a whole different environment. But when, uh, your young people are in public school, you’re being exposed to a lot of things that maybe your faith contradicts. What about that component, with friends, and what were some of the drama aspects of your junior high years?

Jonathan: One thing we saw as a parent observing our boys and their friends is they begin to find their voice. And guys, you can now speak to this ’cause one thing that we expect in our family is that you can say anything. You just need to do it respectfully. And agree or not agree with you, I’ll – we’ll still hear you out. There’s nothing you can do to make me love you any less, right? And I think that plays into the component of faith too, parents, because that’s the way that Lord has a relationship with us. Think about how many times we’ve disappointed God, yet he loves us no less. In fact, I’d have to believe every day there’s more there, considering grace and – and forgiveness. And as a parent, we’re supposed to be modeling that. Now, these guys take that message and go to school, and their friends are all finding their voice. But there’s not always that respect factor there.


Jonathan: Because I think we’ve had a few conversations about that.

Reed: Yeah, I think – like, it’s not, like, one particular drama. It can just be, like, spread throughout middle school.

Jim: Yeah, pretty much (laughter).

Reed: It’s a theme of, like, if you don’t do something that somebody wants, or if you’re doing something different, but you used to be friends, they’re going to, like, kind of poke and prod at you if you aren’t exactly the way that they thought you were that they want you to be.

Jim: Sure. I mean, that – that’s got to be some pressure.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: Social media is big pressure, as well.

Reed: Yes.

Jim: So, I mean, how do you manage that, uh, with your friend groups?

Reed: Luckily, in middle school, that was whenever, like, Instagram was – I mean, it’d already come out.

Jim: It was just starting.

Reed: But it wasn’t, like – yeah.

Jim: Yeah.

Reed: I wasn’t allowed to have until a little bit later on into middle school.

Jim: Yeah. How about you, Cole?

Reed: (Unintelligible) what was going on?

Cole: (Laughter) I don’t know.

Jim: A little more impact with social media?

Cole: I mean, I didn’t really care about social media that much until I got older. I mean, like…

Jim: Well, what about your friend group in junior high? Did they – were they already diving in? Does…

Cole: All my friends had social media. Like, Snapchat was a big thing for everybody.

Jim: Right.

Cole: I didn’t get that for much after everybody else did, so I was kind of behind on the curve.

Jim: Right.

Cole: Yeah.

John: One of the things that I – I remember, uh, seeing in the book is that you had a group that you called The Squad.

Cole: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, The Squad.

John: And that was pretty important to you.

Cole: Yeah. I liked that friend group, and then after a while, kind of everybody just split off. And…

John: How did you form, though? I mean, what’s the genesis of that?

Cole: So, um, it was just a bunch of people with similar likings. And then, uh, I met one person from The Squad, and then I kind of got, like, grouped in. And then it just grew from there. It’s started out with, like, five people and grew to, like, almost 16, about – uh, about that. And yeah, it just went from there. And then in the end of, like, eighth grade, middle of the way through eighth grade, it kind of just split off because everybody had different classes. And…

John: Yeah, but that’s a tribe that you get to be a part of.

Cole: Yeah.

John: …Particularly important as you enter middle school.

Jim: Jonathan, how much intentionality did you and your wife apply to the friend development – side? I mean, these are the pillow talks parents have about…

Jonathan: Right, right.

Jim: “Do – do you know the friend Reed has? Aren’t you worried about him? I mean, have you noticed what he says and does over at our house?”


Jonathan: OK, so – so to that point…

Jim: “Jonathan, come on. You’ve got to do something.”

Jonathan: Yeah, to that point, here’s something Erica and I did when the boys were still in elementary school. We started telling them things that we knew would stick and one day wouldn’t – would – they’d have to contemplate. One of the phrases we’d say is, “Be more influential than you are easily influenced.” And I would believe the best compliment a parent could hear would say, “Will you have your child spend more time with my son, my daughter, because your child would be a good influence on them.” I’ve never quite understood, “I don’t want you hanging out with little Tommy over here because he’s a bad influence.” Sorry to anybody that’s name is Tommy.  Sorry, if anybody’s name is Tommy.

Jim: (Laughter) Yeah. Right.

Jonathan: “No, but I don’t want you hanging out with that kid because he’s a bad influence.” Basically, I’ve just told my sons, “That other child, that other middle-schooler, is more influential on you than you are on yourself and more influential on you than we can be.” So I gave them the power. Be more influential than you are easily influenced. That means you can be friends with anybody.

Jim: Right. I like that.

Jonathan: …And possibly influence them for the positive.

Cole: Yes.

Jim: And did that work out for you guys? How did you apply that?

Reed: For sure.

Jim: When did that light come on that, “OK, I get what Dad’s telling me”? 

Reed: Yeah. The way that they – they raised us – sorry – they raised us with those sayings, it just helped us find people who were – like, who were kind of close to what we liked. Like, I liked theater in middle school, so I found people like that. But I also wasn’t afraid of, like, oh, are they into something different or something that’s a little bit sketchy? No, I can influence them more than they will influence me. I won’t do anything that I would not want my parents to not see or that I wouldn’t want my parents to not hear me do. Like, I would want to do – or what I’m trying to say is, like, I would do anything with my friends that I would do with my family, you know?

Jim: Right.

Reed: I wouldn’t want them to be embarrassed or ashamed or…

Jim: So you wouldn’t anything that you wouldn’t do…

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: …With – with your family watching.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, that’s a good axiom, and that’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: Did you always follow it? (Laughter).

Jonathan: Yeah, did you always follow it?

Jim: No, I…in front of dad…

Reed: Pretty much, yeah.

Jim: You know, it’s just, sometimes those are difficult spots.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: And in junior high, what typically, uh, young people lack is the confidence to be that influencer. So Jonathan, as a father, how could you – even in addition to what you said, which is one thing – half the time – and I don’t know about you boys – but half the time you’re not even sure your sixth-grader or seventh-grader’s actually listening. You know, they’re doing something else.

Jonathan: Right.

Jim: And you think they’re hearing you. But I’m – you know, on behalf of many parents that are having these discussions with them, sometimes it sounds like a lecture, and they kind of turn off rather than a dialogue. Is that fair, Cole?

Cole: Uh, that’s fair sometimes.

Jim: You’re reacting to that, OK.


Cole: Sometimes it’s like, I – I’m in a bad mood or something; I don’t want to listen to what he has to say. But it’s usually important. But it’s just kind of going in one ear and out the other, and that’s why you kind of have to repeat it sometimes.

Jim: Yeah.

Cole: Even if it gets annoying, it’s still in there somehow. And then you remember that, and it’s…

Jim: Let me ask you this question. How as young people – and, you know, fresh off of the junior high experience – I mean, you’re 15, so that’s not long ago.

Cole: No.

Jim: Um, what would you say, in coaching parents – how can we do a better job communicating?

Cole: I think that – yeah, I think that, like, you got to communicate to your child or to your middle-schooler through love and understanding and, like, understand where they are. Talk to them, ask them – or, instead of saying, “Go do your homework,” or “Go read your book,” you – you know, ask them, “How can I help you?” You know, “What’s – what’s giving you some troubles?” “Do you need help with that?” You know?

Jim: Yeah, that’s good advice.

John: And this is Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller. And our guests today are the Catherman men.

John: Uh, we have Reed, Cole and Jonathan Catherman. They wrote the book The Manual To Middle School: The “Do This, Not That” Survival Guide For Guys. There’s, um, a lot of great stuff in here, and we’re gonna encourage you to get this. We’re gonna bundle it with a CD for, uh, you to review and maybe listen to with your kid. And, uh, the website is And our number is 800, the letter A and the word family. 

Jim: You know, in the book, I think it’s you, Cole. There’s an incident where you did some damage to the garage door. Or was that Reed? OK.

Reed: That was him.

Reed: Yeah, that’s me.

Jonathan: (Laughter).

Cole: He blamed it on me, though.

Reed: (Laughter).

Jim:  That’s you, OK. I thought – probably both of you did some damage to the garage door.

Reed: We’ve both done damage to the house.


Reed: But I was the garage door, so…

Jim: Kind of explain the garage door problem…

 Reed: Oh, gosh. OK.

Jim: …And what that taught you.

Reed: So, um, for context, I was into bow and arrows, you know, shooting a bow and arrow. Don’t know what got into me – thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like to shoot – or, like, pull back with the opposite hand.

Jim: Yeah. It doesn’t work well with a bow and arrow.

Reed: Doesn’t work well, and you shouldn’t try it with an arrow in the – you know, I don’t even know what – the technical terms.

Cole: In an enclosed area. (Unintelligible).

Jim: Yeah (laughter).

Reed: But it shot off, went into the garage. And I was like, “I’m gonna die.”


Reed: Like, my parents are gonna kill me. Luckily, they didn’t. But what happened was, they were doing a renovation on their bathroom, so my smart self – not really (laughter)…

Jim: Yeah.

Reed: I went to the bathroom, got some of the, like, wall putty thing – it’s, like, drywall putty, is it?

Jonathan: Spackling.

Reed: Yeah. Put it onto where the hole was and kind of, like, textured it, put some dirt on it to make it blend in with the garage door, you know?

Jim: (Laughter).

John: Nice.

Reed: And then, you know, it was good for a couple weeks. And then we were driving into the driveway, and my dad was like, “Is that a bug on the front door?” And I was like, uh, “I don’t know what that is.”


Reed:  “No, there’s something on the garage door.” And we went up and checked, and of course, it was the bump from the exit hole (laughter).

Yeah, it was on the other side.

Reed: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

Jim: Yeah. Whoops. What was that? So then what happened?


 Reed: So OK. So instead of yelling or instead of getting mad at me – I mean, I guess he was like, “Why didn’t you tell me weeks ago?” (Laughter) But, um, after that, he taught me how to fix the problem, and we did it together, you know?

Jim: Yeah.

Jonathan: All right.

Jim: And so it worked out?

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: So Dad’s…

Jonathan: Now – now, from Dad’s perspective here…

Jim: (Laughter).

Cole: Parent’s perspective.

Jonathan: Driving up and seeing the garage door with this dimple on the outside, I knew immediately what had happened. And we asked, “Does anybody know what happened to the garage door?” And of course, nobody could remember what happened to the garage door.

Jim: (Laughter) Thank you for that honesty. Thank you.

Cole: Genuinely had no clue.

Jonathan: Yes, yes.

 Reed: (Unintelligible).

Jonathan: So this is what I appreciate about the boys, is I could see in their faces, they both knew, but they weren’t ready to tell me.

 Cole: I didn’t know. I had no clue.


Jonathan: I – I – I don’t know. OK, so either way, Reed shows up shortly thereafter and says, “I have to confess. I shot an arrow through the garage door.”

Jim: That’s awesome.

Reed: Yeah.

Jonathan: And I could see the fear in his eyes. And this is where you go, OK, yes, discipline, right? So it’s time to be disciplined. Now, we believe that you are either self-disciplined or somebody else has to discipline you. Either way, you need to be disciplined. And so I said, “All right. Well, you need to be disciplined. And the discipline on this is you need to fix the garage door the way the garage door needs to be fixed, and I will show you how. And we’ll discuss from there what follows.” And I was thinking, OK, it’s going to depend on his attitude now. Does he, you know, go off the deep end and tell me something, I’m so bad for making him fix the garage door? He dove right in. That garage door got the full treatment. It looks great. I mean, he had multiple layers of paint on there.

Jim: (Laughter).

Jonathan: …The whole thing – it was – he did a great job.

Reed: Thank you.

Jonathan: So he learned a really good lesson. Now, Jim, a moment ago, you asked about confidence. And is middle school – are boys in middle school – is confidence important? It absolutely is important, but how do we get confidence?

Jim: Right.

Jonathan: I believe confidence follows capabilities. So if we can teach these young men capabilities – they know they’re able – that means their confidence level increases. So using – I – I don’t care about garage doors. I mean, I do; it’s my house. But he is more important than a garage door. And I know he’d already learned a lesson about firing an arrow through the house into the garage.


Jonathan: But it’s the, what can we do with this now? Can I teach him something to make him more confident through a capability – which would be, in this case, repairing the garage door – and also maintain our relationship? Last thing I want to do is fix the garage door and break our relationship.

Jim:  Let me – on that serious subject that we, you know, handled a little lightheartedly, the – the bullying issue – because boys can be really hard on each other, especially at the junior high age, which is what we’re talking about – did you ever encounter that? Uh, how did you deal with it? Maybe Jonathan, from your perspective, as Dad, how did you even inquire about whether or not it was occurring? So let’s start with the guys here. Did you ever experience it?

Reed: Um, I had a couple people who were mean to me. But it was, like, more of trying to pick at me to see how far they could go till I got, like, really mad.

 Jim: Yeah.

Reed: And I had, like, patience enough to not care. And – but there were some kids that just really got on my nerves. And I would yell back at them, like, not anything bad. I would just get mad and be like, “Shut up. Shut up. Be quiet” – and nothing really past that.

Jim: Yeah.

Reed: But some kids were just picking at you to get on your nerves so they could, like, be better than you somehow.

Jim: Right.

Reed: Yeah.

Jim: No, that’s true. I mean, it’s a tough time of life.

Cole: Yeah. For me, it was more name-calling and just, like, you know, just dumb names. And so I think that my experience with that and my, uh, memory of that is just that, love and, um, trying to see what’s going on in their lives is more powerful than hate and trying to break down somebody else’s life.

Jim: Yeah.

Cole: And so I’ve actually made a few friends. Um, yeah. I’m not naming names. But (laughter), you know, somebody was picking on me. I talked to them, saw what was going on and found out that, like, you know, they weren’t having a great time in their life at that point. And we became friends. And we – we’re…

Jim: That’s incredible.

Cole: …Still friends till this day, you know?

 Jim: Hats off on that.

 Cole: Yeah. And then also just, the other people, we may not be friends. But, you know, some other people – I’ve just talked to them, uh, and it stopped because just communication and simple acts of kindness can change…

John: That really jumped out at me – is that you suggest even being kind to the bully.

Cole: Yes.

John: Engage that person. Disarm them.

Cole: Mmm hmm.

John: And that seems counter intuitive to most of us, especially, at that age. But it sounds like it really worked out.

Cole: Yeah.

Jim: Jonathan, how did you, as a dad, stay in touch with Reed and Cole? I – and I try to do that. The reason I’m asking the question is that I’m intentional about it with Trent and Troy. I’ll ask them, especially during the junior high years, you know, “Is everything OK? Is anybody picking on you? Anybody bullying you?” And their response was typically, “You know that doesn’t happen at our school.” I’m going, “Right – it’s happening. You may not be seeing it.” But they never really came back with any experiences of being bullied except one where, uh, my older son was in junior high. And, you know, he had a – there was a boy on the playground. And he came after Trent. And Trent basically pinned him down and just said, “Stop bugging people.” And Trent’s a big kid. So, I mean, I think – that was the end of that, I think. But there’s all kinds of ways to handle it.

Jonathan: The one thing that – that we approached our boys was they’re – they are givers. They give to people who are in need. And when they would have a need to talk to a friend or message with a friend or see a friend because that friend is being bullied, that both of the boys have experiences where they’re giving care and comfort to somebody else. To me, that was then the opportunity to say, “OK. Yes. Go help your friend, or talk to your friend, or message your friend.” That opened the door. Then how ’bout you? Is everything going OK with you? Um, so – and then they would share if something was wrong or if everything was OK. And I think that because they are confident young men, they are – they are less likely to be bullied than others. And this is the hard part for many parents, I think, to hear is ’cause they’re sitting thinking about their own children, well, my child’s maybe not as confident as that. That’s a stage. Help them work through the stage of building their confidence so they become less of a target and become the giver of comfort to others.


 Jim: Yeah. Well, this has been great. And it’s a – a good start. And I really want to encourage parents, particularly dads with their sons, to engage. And, uh, Jonathan and the boys have written a wonderful book, Manual To Middle School: The “Do This, Not That” Survival Guide For Guys. And, uh, like you said, a hundred aspects of how to – you know, help your young man get more confidence is just an example of that. So if you’re in that spot – maybe you’re grandparent, and you have that fifth, sixth-grader grandson who needs a boost. This might be a nice little gift to give to your adult son to say, “Hey, this is a good tool to use in your fathering.” That’s the kind of thing we want to be able to provide for you. So, uh, get a copy. We can provide that for you right here at Focus on the Family. In fact, just make a gift of any amount, and we’ll send a copy of the book as our way of saying thank you.

John: And you can get in touch. Donate and get the book and the CD that we’re bundling it with when you call 800-A-FAMILY, or stop by 

Jim: Uh, John, let me also mention, uh, one of those things to help your young person in building their faith is something we do every year here at Focus on the Family. It’s called Bring Your Bible To School Day. And this year, it’s going to be October 3. And it’s real simple. You can go to our website to get more information. But we’re hoping almost, 750,000, a million young people will participate by bringing their Bible to school to kind of exercise their freedom of religion. And we’ve gotten some powerful testimonies back of how it’s opened up dialogue in public schools. We have now hit 35% of public schools. I’m excited about this.

John: That’s a superb participation rate. And we do hope that you will step up and help your child be an influencer, as we heard, from Jonathan. Let your child – as – as we heard from Jonathan, help your child influence others with the simple act of taking their Bible to school. It’s legal. It’s not, uh, confrontational. It’s very positive. And it really can open some great doors. You can find out more about Bring Your Bible To School Day – that’s October 3 – at the website. As we said, uh, get the book, uh, and the CD as well. Uh, the site again –   Be sure to join us again tomorrow.  John Ortberg will challenge you to think differently about your salvation in Christ.


Jim Ortberg:  To understand that Jesus’ core message is not primarily about something that will just happen when you die; it’s about something right here right now. 

End of Teaser

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The Manual to Middle School

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