Communication: Be Willing to Go There
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If you want to connect with your teens, you have to be available. That’s the advice of author Jeffrey Dean. He gives parents some practical advice for effectively communicating with their kids.
Communication: Be Willing to Go There
Bob: When conversations between parents and teenagers start to bog down, Jeffrey Dean says there is one tactic/one technique parents can use that can sometimes break the logjam.
Jeffrey: Questions—that great conversation starter of asking questions—not questions that your kids can give a response with a “Yes” or a “No” answer—but: “What are they talking about in the locker room?” or “What’s your greatest struggle?” or “Who do you want to be?” or “What’s your favorite subject in school this year?” The opportunities are limitless.
We ask a lot of questions at the dinner table in hopes of sparking conversation—sometimes, controversial conversations/sometimes, our kids don’t want to go there—but questions can be so empowering and show our kids: “Well, Mom and Dad really do value my response. They value what I have to say.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 17th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What do we do, as parents, when it feels like our kids are pulling away/not listening to us anymore? We’re going to talk about how we reconnect some of those broken bridges today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m curious; if we were sitting with a group of teen parents—let’s just say we’ve got a table, and there are ten couples sitting around; they are teen parents—and they said: “Okay; we just have a little bit of time. Give me your one best piece of advice as I take my kids through the teen years—just the one thing.” Would you know instantly what that one thing would be?
Dave: I know for me.
Bob: You’ve got yours?
Ann: Yes. Do you have yours?
Bob: Okay; we’ll start with you. I’ll start—yes; I’ve got mine. What would you—
Ann: Okay; I guess I have a few. [Laughter]
Bob: Are we surprised?! [Laughter]
Dave: Well, that’s a surprise.
Bob: So if you had to narrow it down to one, Ann?
Dave: She is going to say the one in a multi-fraction answer.
Bob: She’s going to say, “I would say this and this and this.”
Ann: I would say, “Live your faith and love them.” [Laughter]
Bob: “Live your faith and love them,”—we’ve talked about this week—what would you add to that?
Dave: My first thought was: “Relationship, relationship, relationship.”
Dave: It’s really about—I mean, it’s about teaching them and modeling for them; but at the end of the day, they want a relationship with mom and dad. That is going to be the bridge through which all the truth is passed on; if there is no relationship, you’re going to have a hard time doing it.
But if there is—and I think it is on us, as parents, to pursue them for that relationship; because they are pulling away, which they should—but we pursue them in a loving, great way; but man, don’t miss that. You’ve got to build a relationship.
Ann: That was good.
Dave: What’s yours, Bob?
Bob: I was thinking about—we’ve talked about this this week—modeling for our kids what it looks like to walk with Jesus; but—
Ann: That’s mine; you stole it!
Bob: —but here is what I missed when I was doing it. When I was raising my kids, I thought modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus means always modeling what it looks like right. What I didn’t model well was how to handle it when you blow it. I mean, I didn’t show my kids: “You know, Dad blew it. Here’s what confession/here’s what repentance looks like.” I think I may have presented a glossy picture with the bad parts hidden—
Bob: —the airbrushed picture—
Bob: —which can cause your kids to go, “Dad never stumbles; there must be something wrong with me—
Bob: —“because I never see Dad doing this.”
Dave: But the truth is we have an expert in the studio with us today.
Bob: We do?!
Dave: He probably has a better answer than all of us. [Laughter] Welcome, Jeffrey Dean.
Jeffrey: Thank you for having me back. You guys are fun.
Dave: And why do we call you an expert?—because you’ve spoken to over four million people about this topic, raising teenagers—parents/kids. I mean, your book is just a great work on raising successful teens.
Every parent is wondering that/even kids are wondering, “What does success look like?” Answer Bob’s question: “What do you think is the most important thing for parents with teens?”
Bob: And you can’t pick any of the ones that we’ve picked. [Laughter]
Jeffrey: Well, I was going to say, “You all did a great job.”
Bob: Thank you.
Ann: Thank you.
Jeffrey: I agree with all three. I would add to that—maybe, the foundation of everything you said—communication: that we realize our kids are listening; “How are we using that privilege?” Tremendous responsibility; they are watching our lead: “How do we work at communicating effectively the things that we want to say?—the things we don’t know how to say, but we have to figure out how to say; because our kids are looking for answers.” If they can’t come to us, they will go somewhere.
Bob: This is an important theme in your book, Raising Successful Teens. We often feel like, when our kids become teenagers, the communication lines get jammed like: they are not hearing us; they’re not understanding us; they’re—
Bob: —they’re stuffing their fingers in their ears and saying, “Leave me alone.”
Bob: How do we persist in effective communication with teens when it feels like it’s all broken down?
Jeffrey: We realize exactly what you described will happen; and it will happen in a variety of ways and differently for each family. We ebb and flow that; we realize that how we communicated to them, when they were adolescent/when they were in elementary school, is going to be different/potentially, a lot different than in their middle and their high school years. We work to be effective communicators as the seasons change and as our students change.
I’m thinking, as my oldest/youngest daughter rather, called me from home—she’s at home today, in Nashville, sick—so we’re talking about the Grammy’s. We love music, and we’re talking about artists that win from year to year. I’m thinking how cool this is that my daughter wants to talk music with me; and she has a much greater knowledge of music, probably, than I; but what a great connection opportunity for me to engage in something that is important to her/something that she finds value in, and just to be on her level for a few moments. I love that.
I think for every parent listening today: “What is that thing your kid’s into that he or she does or likes to do? Are you effectively living that out with them?” If not, look for those moments—even if they are small nuggets of opportunity—just to talk about the things important to them. It shows them: “Mom and Dad are in it with me.”
Dave: Also, as you think about communication, makes me think this—because I read somewhere, years ago—research with teenagers said: “The number one complaint of teens about their parents is: “My parents don’t listen. They don’t really listen.” You’re talking about communication; that’s two-way.
Jeffrey: So good.
Dave: You know, one, obviously, is us, as parents, trying to communicate; but talk about “I’m all ears.” You put that in your book—one of the commitments of a parent—“I’m all ears,” which is obviously, “I’m listening.” It’s obvious from your story about your daughter, she feels heard—
Dave: —even in this area about music. How does a parent really make a teenager feel heard?
Jeffrey: Countless ways we could unpack here. Let me give you one that’s going to make sense to all of us because we all eat. Dinnertime can be connection time. Studies show us the average family has dinner together less than two nights a week. We’re all busy; I get it. I’ve got a 16- and 18-year-old living in home; they play three sports. They are involved in the student government. Sometimes, it’s crazy to figure out: “When are we going to eat?”; but dinnertime can be that connection time.
I talk about this in the book. We kind of have some rules in our home: “No TV; no phones; we pray before we eat; number four: no one leaves the table before they talk.” It’s been really empowering and fun. Again—a 16-, now, and an 18-year-old living at home—who still love point number four around the dinner table: “I want to talk about my day.”
We begin that early on in their lives. A parent listening today may say, “We’ve never done that before.” Well, pick it up where you are and go with it—of allowing opportunity for your kids to talk. Because you are so right—they need to hear from us—but equally, we need to hear from them. We have learned so much about locker room talk, about the best friends of my daughters/their families, who your kids sit next to in the cafeteria says a lot about where they are spiritually and where they are in life.
We learn those things by just listening. Looking for moments, just for listening to your kids, you can learn so much. In return—wow—just tangible moments to help you in that communication process of know how to respond to what they say and to know how to feed them spiritually.
Ann: That was really a priority for Dave and me. It was hard, especially when you’ve got kids all over the place in sports and extracurricular activities; so sometimes, we would eat dinner at 9 o’clock, because it was the only time we could all be together. We’d have a great snack and then we’d eat together.
Coach us on conversations; because I know, for me, that was fun. I would just throw out a topic: “Let’s talk about drinking tonight,” when they were in high school. “I know that this is going on; what are your thoughts?”
Dave: By the way, I’d be over there, going, “Let’s not talk about drinking”; you know. It was like, “I don’t even know if I want to go there tonight”; but she was always pushing us there.
Ann: I want to hear what they are thinking; I want to hear what their peers are saying. I would say that sometimes—if it’s tricky for them to say it—“What are your friends thinking about these topics?”
Jeffrey: You’ve given my answer. Questions—that great conversation starter of asking questions—not questions that your kids can give a response with a “Yes” or a “No” answer—but questions as to: “What are they talking about in the locker room?” or “What’s your greatest struggle?” or “Who do you want to be?” or “What’s your favorite subject in school this year?” The opportunities are limitless.
But we ask a lot of questions at the dinner table in hopes of sparking conversation—sometimes, controversial conversations/sometimes, our kids don’t want to go there—but questions can be so empowering and can show our kids: “Wow, Mom and Dad really do value my response. They value what I have to say.”
Ann: Is there a time and place where it’s appropriate, age-wise, to share our own stories as parents of, maybe, our failures? Because that’s always a risky thing—like, “If I share my struggles, and some of the sin that I got into, will that make it seem okay for my kids to get into that?”
Jeffrey: Oftentimes, in response to that topic of sex and dating—“Oh, I don’t want to go there; I’m afraid of what they might ask. I don’t want to bring up that topic, because I’m not worthy; because I failed in my dating years,”—reminding every parent listening—“This is so important that it’s okay to show your kids you’re vulnerable, and that you are imperfect, and to show them what you’ve learned from those imperfections. Wow; the story of God’s grace and forgiveness and the cross; and reminding our students that ‘We haven’t been perfect as humans; you aren’t either; but we are still in this together.’”
Bob: If your 12-year-old says, “So did you and Dad have sex before you got married?”
Bob: Would you say to a parent, “They just threw a hardball; you hit it!”?
Jeffrey: Yes; I would say, “Be honest.” It sometimes tough and awkward and may lead to another question; it may lead to a lot of questions—
Jeffrey: —but answering honestly. Wow; what a difficult, but equally powerful, moment to show my kids: “Dad wasn’t perfect, but he is still here. He is willing to talk about those imperfections with me.” That could be just really messy for some families listening right now; but it equally could be that moment to bridge a lack of communication and trust in the home in a way that shows your kids that you’re vulnerable/ you’re real—God can heal all hurts—and show the story of pain and forgiveness in your life, and how God has used that to help you be an even better person, and to grow your marriage and to help your kids potentially avoid some of those mis-steps along the way.
Ann: I had a good friend that was really at that point, where her daughter was pressing in and wanting to know her past. My friend said: “I don’t know if I want to share that with her. I’m afraid of what she’ll think of me. I’m afraid of what she will do with that knowledge.” We had really prayed about it. She did/she had that conversation; the mom cried, like, “This is what I did; I’m not proud of it.”
Later, I talked to that daughter; and she said, “I felt closer to my mom than I had ever felt in my life by my mom sharing, not only what she had done, but her remorse.” I think that we forget that our kids love us to be vulnerable. They already know we’re broken; they see it every day in us. To kind of be real/authentic, and share that, I think it opens our kids up.
Bob: Here is the fear parents have—and you know this—they are afraid: “If I say, ‘Yes; I was sexually-active before I got married. Your father and I/your mother and I were sexually-active before we got married,’ that the kids are going to look at the situation and go, ‘Well, it worked out okay for you guys. Therefore, I can go ahead on my date tonight and do what I want to do; because it’s going—I know you seem a little sad about it, and it might not be ideal—but it’s all going to work our okay anyway.’” How do we deal with that fear?
Jeffrey: Well, I think—and you guys have been parents longer than I—but I would/my response would—and I would say this: I can’t parent based upon how I think my kids will respond to my parenting.” There are going to be difficult moments. There are going to be conversations that might not end well and will lead to other conversations; but choosing to be honest is always the right way, even though it may not be the easiest way.
Dave: I did one time try to articulate that, Bob; because I was like/I was feeling exactly that: “If I say the truth—that I was sexually-active”—they are going to think what Bob said—“Well, you’re fine. Look, you’re married to Mom; and everything is wonderful.” Here is what came to me; and I don’t know if this is the best way to explain it; but I was talking about two things: one was sexual temptation; the other was pornography.
I remember, when we found pornography on our home computer and realized it was one of our sons—we had this conversation; he admitted that—I broke into tears; because it was that day, you know, where, “Wow; my son has just stepped into a world”—and I broke into tears because it was the day I said to him—“I’ve been down this road. I’m in tears because you’ve just opened Pandora’s Box; this is going to be darkness. Son, I’ve walked it; and now, we’re going to walk this together.”
The image that came to me about sexual—or any sin, really—is there is a fork in the road. One [fork] is purity—let’s say sexual temptation—one is purity; one is impurity. What I think I was trying to articulate is:
I’m standing on the road of purity now. He’s looking at me and saying, “You’re okay”; but what you can’t see is there are scars and blood all under these clothes, because I’ve been so wounded. It’s all covered/it’s actually healed, because there is a Healer named Jesus. But I’ve literally got my hand, saying, “Come down this road. Don’t go over there, because all of these scars come from that.”
That’s what I think has to be a part of that conversation: “As a parent, yes, I’m going to be honest and tell you the truth; because I think you deserve that; but you also need to hear the pain/the things nobody sees. You think I’m all good. It’s not what it appears; there has been some real pain in that.” Do you agree?
Jeffrey: Absolutely agree.
Dave: It’s like: “Man, they’ve got to hear both sides.”
Jeffrey: We’ve talked about foundational principles this week that we used to write this book. Number five: “You’ve got to be willing to go there.” Going there doesn’t always begin or may not even end in the way we want, but the willingness to go there is so empowering for our kids. We have to be willing to look past how, again, we think they are going to respond to what we have to say.
Our kids seeing us as real/seeing us as vulnerable—and even realizing, “Dad..” or “Mom blew it in this moment,”—we have no idea how the Holy Spirit can use our stories of marred past in a way that can build a foundation of success for our kids. The key to that—and that’s why we talk about this a lot in the book—is getting the Word/getting your family in the Word and allowing God’s Word to build a foundation, of confidence and peace in your home, even in the midst of these very challenging conversations; because there is no one right perfect way to tackle these things.
Jeffrey: But through God’s Word leading us, it sure gives us assurance He’s in it with us.
Bob: You’re talking to enough parents to know that gender identity and gender confusion is one of the issues that parents are concerned about and that kids feel like, “If I’m going to hold to a biblical worldview as it relates to gender identity and gender issues, I’m going to be a pariah. I’m going to be an outcast in my local school. People are going to think I’m terrible.”
You’re raising two girls in the midst of this. What’s your coaching for parents as we try to navigate this one?
Jeffrey: We have a chapter in the book where we just tackle top questions kids are asking. It’s tough to navigate that, and I say in the book that choosing this stand biblically is not going to be easy. I think it’s important that we prepare our kids for this and understanding that, when you choose to stand for what is right, there is going to be a push back. Helping our students understand that the world is not going to like your response, I think is a critical part of parenting.
Every parent listening today: “You have a child, who probably knows someone who has embraced an alternative lifestyle.” Challenging and encouraging—and taking your kid’s hand/by the hand—and helping them walk through this tangling season we’re in is not easy, but we have to be willing to go there. Again, back to the Word and what God’s Word says must be that foundation as we lead them in that conversation.
Ann: And if our kids aren’t agreeing with our biblical stance, and we’re having that conversation at the dinner table, how do you respond to that?
Jeffrey: I think—well, whether it be gender identity or whether it be how you handle curfew—of course, there are parents listening now, who have those conversations all the time.
I think it’s important for Mom and Dad—if it’s a two-parent marriage—to be on the same page, publically, even if you don’t agree privately; and letting your kids see that you are in this together. I think there are moments—we’ve all been there, as parents, where a husband might say one thing, and Momma doesn’t agree; or vice versa—but letting our kids see that we’re a united front, publically. Maybe, we have to have a conversation about that privately; but our kids need to see that unity.
I think it is okay to tell our kids, “We might not have this all figured out; we might not know yet how to lead you.” I think it is okay to be honest in that, and to be vulnerable, and to let that conversation be one that continues to unfold as long as, again, God’s Word is leading and founding that conversation; that’s so critical. We can’t lead our kids in this [on our own]; I mean, we’re challenged, at best, in leading them. It’s impossible to lead them if God’s Word is not leading us.
Bob: If mom and dad are on the same page; but your high school junior is saying, “Well, but I’m reading this other stuff online from Christians, who are saying, ‘This is okay’; and I hear what you guys are saying.” They’re not/your kids aren’t saying this; but in the back of their minds, they are thinking: “Boy, it would sure be easier if I could go with what I’m reading online than what I’m reading with Mom and Dad. If I can still be a Christian, and still be gay-affirming, that’s going to be a whole lot easier for me, as a kid, than if I’ve got to say, ‘I think homosexuality is wrong.’ That’s going to put me on the outs with everybody. I’m just looking for somebody, who will make it easy for me to say this. I want to be able to tune you guys out, and still be a Christian, but still be gay-affirming.”
You’re watching this, as a parent; you’re freaking out. Of course, you’ve got to not have on your freak-out face—parents have got to do all that in private—but this is where moms and dads get really nervous.
Jeffrey: Yes, they do; I’m nervous as we sit here and talk about it. [Laughter] It’s why we include, in the book, Foundational Principle Number Three—that: “No matter what is culturally cool or accepted, God’s Word is right, and truth, and absolute.” We have to keep coming back to the Word, even though it isn’t fun, and even though it is uncomfortable, and even though it may not end in a way that makes sense to our kids.
We stay that course with them, and we tell them, “You may not agree with where Mom and Dad land; but our hope for you, as we choose to take you”—as the subtitle of the book is How to Help Your Child Honor God and Live Wisely—“to live wisely first comes from honoring God; so back to the Word,”—back to the Word/back to Word—that’s our key/that’s our starting point with our kids on these very difficult topics.
Bob: You’ve got three points that you kind of wrap the book up with/three things that parents need to kind of keep as a foundation to what they are talking about. Share with our listeners what those three things are.
Jeffrey: We bring parents through this journey, in the book, of talking about this variety of challenges and issues, spiritually and culturally. I’m glad you brought us here, because we truly bring them to what really is the summary statement of the book. Number one: “I’m all in,”—reminding parents, listening today—“Your kids are counting on you; they are looking for you.” That story I shared that just hearing my dad’s voice—“Alright, son,”—just knowing that we’ve got the “alright.”
Number two: “I’m all ears.” Not only am I all ears to being attentive to all that’s going on in the life of my kids, but I’m listening to the voice of God—and He’s leading me because—why?—I’m all His. I am never going to be the leader He desires of me/that He created me to be if I am not, first, allowing Him to lead me as I lead my kids.
Bob: That’s good.
Dave: I now know what my next sermon is. [Laughter]
Bob: You’ve got the outline; don’t you?
Dave: I just got a vision from God. [Laughter]
Jeffrey: That’s so good.
Dave: No; seriously, those three points apply to our walk with God, to how we parent, and how we live; I mean, they are powerful.
You say in the title of the last chapter, “[All-in] Parents Never Give Up.” I know there are some parents, who are losing hope, watching their teens. I’ve been there; you just/you think: “This isn’t going to end well. They are never going to turn.” And there is a God—and it says [in the book]: “But God can do something, so don’t give up. Get on your knees and pray, and start living out these principles from the book.”
Get the book first, read it; then start living this out; and ask God to do a miracle. He is the God of resurrection. God never gives us permission to give up on our kids.
Thank you for the book. Thanks for the conversation. Thanks for ministering to—
Jeffrey: Thank you.
Bob: —millions of kids over the last—
Jeffrey: Thank you.
Bob: —three-and-a-half decades. We are making your book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners who would like to get a copy. They can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to request a copy; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. This is our thank-you gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation this week. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. Your donations are what make this program possible for you and for others.
Again, this week, if you can help with a donation, you can request a copy of Jeffrey Dean’s book, Raising Successful Teens. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; make your donation over the phone. Thanks for your support of this ministry; thanks for your partnership with us here at FamilyLife Today.
Now, we know, from talking with so many of you over the years—that this conversation we’ve had this week with Jeffrey Dean—we’re touching on things that are the things that matter most to us as parents. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife®, is here with us today. Parents care about how our kids are doing spiritually/how we’re doing in discipling them. We want them to thrive, spiritually, as they enter into adulthood.
David: Yes; our prayer is Psalm 145 often. We may not know that that weighs heavily on our heart; but Psalm 145 says, “One generation will commend God’s work to another generation.” I love how Jeffrey coaches us that that happens through thousands of conversations with our kids over time, and with a lot of transparency and honesty, and dependency upon Jesus.
I just want to take a moment to thank many of you, who are Legacy Partners with FamilyLife—you who give monthly to help ministry, like FamilyLife Today, happen. In a very similar way, you enable us to coach families through thousands of conversations, over time, in every stage of life. Thanks for being a part of ensuring we are helping families, with a lot of transparency and honesty, and with a great dependency upon Jesus.
Bob: Yes; we are grateful for those of you, who have faithfully supported this ministry for so many years; thank you for your partnership with us.
And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together—one way or another—with your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how couples, who experience conflict over money in marriage, they really need to understand that the issue is probably not money. There is a deeper issue there, and Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn will be here to talk us though that on Monday. I hope you can be with us for that as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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