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Review: Hot Buttons: Image Edition by Nicole O’ Dell


Some issues are so sensitive, controversial, confusing, and potentially life-changing that youth culture expert Nicole O’Dell calls them Hot Button topics.

She has written the Hot Buttons books to help parents talk to their teens about hot button issues like image and many more.  How I wish I had had these books years ago!

Image is an important Hot Button topic because “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are,” as Malcolm S. Forbes pointed out.

In the preface to Image, Nicole writes

So much about choices and the power to make good ones comes from self-confidence.  How a person feels about appearance, self-worth, social status, and everything else that contributes to one’s self-image significantly impacts daily choices.

Now, this should not be true; we should find our self-worth completely in God.  However, the fact of the matter is that the above quotation is true for many people, and especially for the young.   Therefore Nicole suggests parents should work with their teens and tweens to do the necessary prep work before image issues become a serious problem.

I agree in one sense, but talking about anorexia and celebrity influence with my tween would be foolish. I would be putting ideas into her head.  On the other hand, I should perhaps discuss some of these issues with my teens so that they don’t make mistakes out of simple lack of knowledge and preparation, but there’s a fine line between putting ideas into their heads and preparing them.

Nicole points out we as parents also need to be prepared, watchful, and proactive.  The solution is not to insulate our children from the world (and here’s where a classical education, challenging as it may be, comes in handy), but to fill their lives God’s Word and with wholesome rather than negative activities.  Our purpose is “to safeguard our kids from the wiles of the enemy who whispers lies into their young, eager minds.”  We need to pray, be approachable, speak the truth with love, and deal with our own issues.

In Hot Buttons:  Image Edition Nicole deals with popularity, self-esteem, body image, eating disorders, celebrities, and the media, each in detail, with personal stories, tips, and encouragement.  By the time I finished this section, I was pretty overwhelmed.

Then, however, the book gets really practical.  “There are five aspects to fighting the image battle (and all the parenting battles) in our teens’ lives:  time, communication, example, consistency, prayer,” writes Nicole.  She then gives practical recommendations and walks the reader through putting on the armor of God.  Because, although we often forget it, in all hot button issues we’re fighting against an enemy who seeks to destroy in any way he can, and we cannot fight him on our own.

In the next section she walks parents through 15 “Strategic Scenarios” that they can share and discuss with their children.   Some of these stories are about boy-girl relationships, some about clothing, some about friends, and all, in some way, are about image.  Each one comes with a list of possible responses and discussion points.

Finally, Nicole has prepared a discussion of confession and forgiveness for both parents and teens, complete with a guide to welcoming Jesus into your life, prayers, and applications for both ages.

Am I planning to work through this book with my teens?  I’m still not sure.  As homeschoolers with an incredible group of friends, my kids currently don’t face many of these issues in a dangerous way, although I’m sure they are present in a mild form.  So probably we will not go through it formally.  Besides, that’s just not our style.

However, after reading this book I’m certainly more aware of image issues, and I will look for opportunities to weave these topics into our conversations.  The image-issues preparation I will continue to do with my children is to love them, to keep them from filling their minds with unrealistic media expectations, expose them to the truth of God’s Word and all that it means, and help them find their interests in life so that they have a goal and a calling.

On the other hand, as an experienced mom who has made significant mistakes, I’ve discovered that I need to lay the ground work for myself, alerting myself to red flags and thinking through issues ahead of time.  As Nicole points out, danger signs can be subtle and they often require immediate attention.  Woe to the parents who miss them!  This book can help with that.

Even if you do not choose to work through this book formally with your teens, it is a good idea to deeply understand the many aspects of image issues, and this book provides a lot of insight.  It is certainly worth getting for a community, church, or homeschool library and probably even for your home.

The bottom line is that you as a parent do want to read Hot Buttons:  Image Edition.

Note that my review of Hot Buttons:  Bullying Edition will be posted in a day or two, and it is closely related to the Image Edition.

One negative point:  Hot Buttons:  Image Edition, has an unusual square shape and many colors and font changes.  I know that is supposed to make a book more readable, but I find it distracting.

This is yet another book in the in the 2013 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday ReviewsEncourage One Another Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday and Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure: This book has been provided by Kregel for the purpose of this review; the review represents my own honest opinions.


  1. Laraba says:

    Note from Annie Kate: When my comment system was down, Laraba emailed me this insightful comment, and I have her permission to post it here so you can all read it:

    I’m finding the image book interesting though really NOT very applicable to our family life as homeschoolers. It does encourage me again that homeschooling is such a good option. Our kids do not have much exposure to media, and everything they do see is considered ahead of time by me or my husband. I am not obsessed about weight and exercise, and never ever make comments about being thin except to encourage healthy living as it makes our bodies work better. I feel sorry for 99% of celebrities and I think that is obvious from our (very rare) discussions of celebrities. Our kids and I never read gossip magazines. We talk a lot about healthy living and how many people in our world do live ungodly lives – which doesn’t mean we despise them at all, but that we realize that being rich and good looking is not the key to being joyful. Following the Lord’s instructions lead to joy.

    One thing I would love to hear your comments on are the whole issue of “keeping the kids busy”, which the image book author strongly encourages. She basically says, “Keep your kids busy with sports and outside activities so they don’t mope around at home feeling lonely and depressed.” I totally, completely, disagree with that philosophy. I believe activities can be valuable but to JUST have your kids busy for the sake of “busyness” doesn’t allow enough time for family life and contemplation and being at peace. I think it sets up our kids to be adrenalin and busyness junkies. Being able to just be alone (or with a sibling) and hang out is a GOOD thing. Plus we have plenty of work to do around here with school and chores and caring for little ones. I know you and your family are much more active outside the home than ours is, but part of that is likely that your children are older than ours? Or do you see as the kids get older that they DO need plenty of activity? Have you seen signs of depression when life was too quiet? We are still busy with toddlers and naps, and I don’t have the energy to truck people here and there and everywhere.

  2. Annie Kate says:

    Thank you so much for this comment, Laraba, and for letting me share it with others.

    I think that the Image book is not that relevant to many homeschoolers’ daily life. In fact, the less you are involved with the modern culture, including youth culture, the less of an issue it is. (Of course, some homeschoolers are almost as involved as public school kids.)

    Your style of parenting and homeschooling gives your children a good foundation of healthy image while they are in their formative years. This is crucial, because the younger children are when they are exposed to all these image issues, the more it can affect susceptible ones.

    But as teens grow up, many of them will become involved in the culture at university, college, or work…and for some this will be dangerous. That is why even homeschooled parents should read this book and think about the topics it raises, just as you did.

    I will respond to your thoughts about keeping kids busy in a blog post in a week or two. In short, though, I think very few homeschooled kids have time to be bored because they are able to follow their own interests without worrying what their friends will think of them. So it gets right back to the image issue.

  3. Laraba says:

    Thanks for the reply, Annie Kate…

    In reading over my comments, I’m afraid it sounds like we’ve got this whole “image” thing under control and I’m sure we don’t, 100%. I reacted quite strongly to the book because parts of it seemed SO over the top. I am sure what the author describes DOES happen, but it is just so sad! One of the scenarios at the end described a situation where your teen is invited to a party, and she knows she’ll be teased if she doesn’t wear a new outfit to the party, and what should she do? 2 of the possible options were to shoplift a new outfit, or steal money from her mother’s purse (not for the first time, it notes) to buy a new shirt. I did let our eldest daughter read the book and we talked that scenario over in awe and shock. It really makes me SAD that any peer group would be so hung up on clothing that a teen might feel pressure to do either of those things. I know adults struggle with image issues as well, but none of the adults in my sphere are so obsessive about clothing that they would do something stupid to have a new outfit for a party. Most of us are too busy raising kids and keeping food on the table and practical things like that to care tremendously about new clothing — or at least that is my impression. So going off that, I hope that shielding our children from some of the craziness of the teen years will be helpful, though we also need to prepare our children for the culture’s obsession with looks and money.

    Thanks again for reviewing the book. It is very interesting, in a shocking way.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thanks for your insightful comments, Laraba!

      I think that most adult Christians will not be obsessed with image, but some are and there are often difficult issues in their past that encourage such obsessions.

      Those of us with wholesome backgrounds are blessed more than we realize. And, as you pointed out, being busy in God’s service reduces the opportunities for such image obsessions tremendously.

      Some kids are completely unaffected by the whole image issue, but others base their whole self-worth and identity on what others think of them. In that case, image and self-worth issues can become a deep spiritual problem. Shielding does not help in that case, and professional guidance may be necessary. But first I would use this book.

      1. Laraba says:

        Yes, and it is obvious from this lady’s background that she had some very hard times and so these issues hit her with special force. I do have friends who battle very real problems with image — one I can think of is literally model beautiful but struggles mightily with worry about her weight (she’s incredibly thin.) So these are real issues for some teens and adults alike. My own preteen and teen years were difficult and social problems abounded, but I guess maybe I rebelled against social failure by refusing to even TRY to conform. I was blessed with a stable and mostly happy family life, but school was miserable and I still feel some of the effects of that. So again, that may be why I struggled a bit with the book because it reminded me of some of the sadness of my ps junior high and high school years. It really grieves me that so many young people endure bullying or bully others to feel better about themselves. Well, we live in a fallen world, for sure. I do agree it is a valuable book because it helps us to be proactive talking about issues that WILL come up.

        1. Annie Kate says:

          Yes, it is a valuable book for that reason, and also because it gives us moms a chance to discuss these things.

          That’s a very good thing, and I wish we lived close enough to get together once in a while. 🙂

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