Connecting With Your Kids
About the Guest
How many times does your family eat dinner together? The answer might be more important than you think! Rebecca Ingram Powell dishes up some simple ways for parents to connect with their kids, including family meals and parent/child dates.
How many times does your family eat dinner together?
Connecting With Your Kids
Bob: You hear a lot about young people during the middle-school years who start going out, or start going together. How good an idea is that? Rebecca Ingram Powell thinks it’s a mistake.
Rebecca: I have never wanted my children to be going out at twelve and thirteen years old. I just think it’s wrong for us to sanction those relationships—for us to put a stamp of approval on it by saying, “Who are you sweet on?” and “Who is your boyfriend?” I just think it’s nuts. Parents think that this is harmless, but I don’t think it is.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday May 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about some wise parenting practices when your children are passing through the middle school years.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, I ran cross-country in high school…
Dennis: You’ve said that many times on the broadcast.
Bob: Did you know I was also a sprinter on the track team?
Dennis: You’ve said that several times as well. You’ve even given your times here on the broadcast.
Bob: I have. I have been both a sprinter and a distance runner.
Dennis: There are not many of those on the planet. You are a remarkable man.
Bob: I was not good at either one…
Dennis: Have I told you that recently?
Bob: Thank you very much. The reason I bring it up is…
Dennis: You can always tell when you’re over the hill because you start calling to mind your accomplishments when you were really young.
Bob: If you were to come to me today and say, which would you rather do again? Would you rather run long distances or would you rather run a sprint.
Dennis: I’d like to see you run a long distance.
Bob: I would just like to go as quick and as short as I can. I bring that up because, when it comes to parenting…
Dennis: Oh yes.
Bob: Parenting is not a sprint. It is a marathon. And, I think there is a point—well there are probably several points, in the parenting marathon where you go, “I would just like to pull off to the side of the road and rest, or maybe drop out of the race altogether.”
Dennis: Well, there’s the wall that people hit when they run the marathon. There are several of them in parenting. I think the more children you have, the more of those walls you run into.
Bob: When children get to the age, when they get to the middle-school years, they start to pull away, and they start to act like, “I’ve got it. I can take care of this. I don’t need you.” There are some moms and dads that think, “Well, it would be a nice break if I could just unplug and let you take it from here.” That’s a big mistake to make.
Dennis: And, anybody who has watched a marathon race knows that there are always people lining the route, cheering them on, giving them refreshments, maybe some juice and a little energy along the way.
Bob: We have some energy bars today.
Dennis: We do. Rebecca Ingram Powell joins us again on FamilyLife Today; she’s the author of Season of Change which is a book just for parenting middle-school children. Rebecca, welcome back.
Rebecca: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
Dennis: You like to cheer parents on. Don’t you?
Rebecca: I do.
Dennis: You’ve developed a ministry around that. We’re going to let you do that today around three key issues. Number one: The family table, dinner time. Number two: Selecting friends in the middle school years, the Number three: Dating.
So, let’s start with the family table. What is your advice for parents today around reserving time for dinner together?
Rebecca: Moms tell me often as their children enter the middle school years, it is so difficult. We thought it was difficult when we had toddlers, and little ones getting everyone to actually stay in their seat during the family dinner. But as they get older, there are so many different activities and things that are vying for their attention and for your schedule. So it is a little more difficult. However, it is so important that as moms and dads we take the time to make sure that we are eating together.
A study came out not too long ago that showed us the results of a family having dinner together. The more often you eat together as a family that is in direct disproportion (“inversely proportional”) to kids getting involved in drugs, alcohol, smoking and other negative behaviors.
Dennis: In other words, if you have more time with the family there’s less of a possibility or probability that you’re going to do drugs or hang out with the groups of kids that do.
Bob: OK. Well, let me ask you. You have kids who are 17, 14, and 12…?
Rebecca: Fifteen and twelve.
Bob: 17, 15 and 12 right now. In an average week, how many dinners together do you get at the Powell house?
Rebecca: To be honest, right now during sports season, it is not always at our house. A lot of times our family table ends up being at a booth at Wendy’s. But, we do our best to eat together. As far as how many times we’ve eaten at home, I’d say maybe twice.
Bob: OK, twice a week, maybe…
Rebecca: It just depends on the sports season. We gather around the family table, I would say, at least twice if not three times a week.
Bob: OK. If you’re doing the Wendy’s booth thing, which is OK, because you still get time together…
Rebecca: Then it goes up to more like four or five.
Bob: Here’s the point. We’re talking about intentional, purposeful, relational connectivity at a time when a lot of parents unplug from that relational connectivity.
Dennis: At meal time.
Bob: The reason for meal times and dates together and all of this is to stay connected and involved. If you’re not getting blocks of time like that with your kids, you’re not going to hear what’s going on in their lives.
Dennis: It gives you a chance to ask them the question and then listen. You have to be a good listener during that period of time.
Rebecca: That’s probably my biggest fault. Well, OK I’ve got a lot of faults. But, when it comes to communication, I have found it is hard as a parent to be a good listener because often we’re very worried about what our response is going to be. So in the middle of a child saying something to me, I can be planning how I’m going to respond, and I don’t get anything that they said to me.
Dennis: My kids called me “the teaching daddy”, “the teaching daddy.”
Bob: Was that a term of affection they were using?
Dennis: It was not a warm fuzzy. Let’s move onto the second area here. I want to read a verse to set this one up. This was one of my favorite verses to read in my sixth grade Sunday school class. 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived.”—that alone should be a wake-up call—“Do not be fooled, bad company ruins good morals.” Friends either make or break the middle school years. What would be the one, two, maybe three best admonitions you would give a mom or a dad around their children selecting friends as they go through these years.
Rebecca: Well, when my daughter was around eleven, she had a friend at church who came from a very different background. She was from a divorced home, but she had a Christian mom and stepfather on one side. On the other side she had a dad who was openly homosexual and living with his partner. So that was how her time was divided. Every other weekend she went to live with her daddy over the weekend.
Danya and she were getting to be good friends. Danya came and asked me if she could spend the night. So, that little episode caused us to coin a new Powell family term which was, a “spend-the-night friend.” I had to explain to Danya that this little girl could not be a spend-the-night friend and here’s why: when kids are at my house to spend-the-night I do not stay up all night, OK. I wish I could, I just can’t. So eventually there’s going to be unsupervised time.
Now, this little girl loved her daddy, and he could do no wrong in her eyes. At the same time, I’m trying to raise a kid here for whom sexuality and all those things are just now starting to become parts of our conversation. So, I knew that any unsupervised time was going to be suspicious to me concerning what this little girl might be talking about, and what kind of spin she was going to put on the truth. Not to say anything against her, it was just that environment that she was in. So while she was welcome at our home any time, as long as I was awake. She wasn’t going to be a spend-the-night friend.
From there, we were able to jump to different conversations about how your most intimate friends are going to be the ones who pour into your life and they’re going to be like-minded and challenging you in your walk with Christ. Until my kids could understand that, I had to be the one to determine if that person was a spend-the-night friend or not.
Bob: Did that make you a bad guy at home?
Rebecca: You know, that’s OK. That’s in my job description to be the bad guy. It wasn’t understood, but about five years later, this same little girl came to one of Danya’s shows—Danya is a musician—and she came and asked me if she could come back home with us and spend the night. I said “Sure,” because at that point I knew that my impressionable eleven-year-old had turned into a very influential sixteen-year-old.
Bob: You used a key word there in terms of “impressionable.” We have to remember and we can get tricked on this as parents. An eleven-year-old or twelve-year-old, their critical thinking skills are not firmly in place, they are impressionable. They don’t always seem like it. They may seem like they have their act together. But no, there are all kinds of new thoughts that are getting bounced their direction. This is where a mom or a dad like you were doing have got to be there on guard to help process some of those thoughts.
Dennis: Well said, Bob. I would just say, it’s the parent’s responsibility to know when these impressionable children are growing up, and their minds are like sponges, to build some guardrails…
Dennis: …around his or her little life. You are the parent, they are not. I’ve got to move on to the next subject of dating or we’re not going to have time here. We have to talk about this. What do parents need to know during the middle-school years as they are raising their children that are about to move into the dating years? Obviously they are not actually dating—hopefully—when they’re in the sixth grade.
Rebecca: Well, here’s the thing. When we think of dating, as an adult, I tend to think of dating as going out on a date. It implies an activity and time alone with a person of the opposite sex. That’s one way to think about dating. But middle-school kids, think about dating as in, a sanctioned relationship with a person of the opposite sex in that “I have said that I like you, and you have said that you like me…”
Bob: “We’re a couple now.”
Rebecca: “…and now we’re a couple, boyfriend and girlfriend.” They use those terms, you’re a couple or you’re single.
Dennis: It used to be when our kids were this age, “We’re going out.” “We’re going out as a couple.”
Bob: Whether they were going anywhere or not.
Dennis: They weren’t going anywhere. But they were an “item,” which is what you’re saying.
Rebecca: Right. Parents think that this is harmless, but I don’t think it is. I’ve never wanted my children to be “going out” at twelve and thirteen years old, because, once again, it’s a relationship that is premature. What they don’t understand is how dangerous it’s going to become, because feelings escalate, hormones escalate, and things begin to happen. Well, as parents, I just think it’s wrong for us to sanction those relationships. For us to put a stamp of approval on it by saying, “Who are you sweet on?” and “Who is your boyfriend?” I just think it’s nuts. I think this is something that can really get me on a roll.
Dennis: How do you feel about this Rebecca? How do you really feel about this?
Rebecca: I think it’s wrong!
Bob: You’ve seen moms who get all excited about their little nine-year-old. She likes so-and-so, he likes her. It’s so cute, it seems so innocent and sweet and harmless.
Rebecca: Well, here again we’ve got the data to back it up. Josh McDowell did a study years ago that is still in place today. The younger a child begins to “date”—not getting in a car—but saying “I’m in a relationship” the earlier they are going to have sex. That’s the bottom line.
Bob: Let’s move ahead from your nine-year-old to your thirteen-year-old. Your thirteen-year-old kind of likes this girl. He’s kind of sweet on her, and she likes him and it’s pretty nice, and you can, as a mom, say “Stop that.”
Rebecca: Well, you can. Here’s what we’ve done. What I’ve challenged my kids to do is: if they like somebody, don’t tell them. Because, odds are, tomorrow or next week you’re not going to like them. It has happened over and over again. So they can like somebody secretly, and then not break their heart. Because, that is what it comes down to. It is a heart thing. It’s protecting somebody else’s emotions.
Also what we’ve told our kids over and over is, you need to keep your focus on the Lord, and what he wants you to do. Because there is a person out there for you; and what if it’s not that little girl or that little boy? I say “little” because I’m old, but you know what I mean.
Bob: And, we’re talking about middle-school kids. Let me jump ahead to your seventeen-year-old. Is it time now for her to go ahead and open her eyes, and maybe confess something?
Dennis: Confess something? What do you mean?
Rebecca: Yes, what are you saying “Lippy”?
Bob: Confess that she’s got a crush on them. Go up to a boy and say…
Dennis: Do you believe in flirting?
Rebecca: No. It depends. Wait a minutes, let’s do that again. (All laugh) You need to give me some definitions here. Flirting, can get dangerous. Once again, because you’re playing with people’s hearts. So, no we don’t encourage flirting. But as far as my seventeen-year-old who’s almost eighteen, she will be opening her eyes soon, as the Lord leads.
Dennis: Does she believe it’s OK for her to open her eyes?
Rebecca: She believes that she’ll do that when the Lord tells her to.
Dennis: I wonder, should we call?
Dennis: Danya right now?
Bob: Just find out what’s going on?
Dennis: There’s nothing like an eyewitness.
Bob: We can do this. Are you OK with this?
Bob: Rebecca is alright with it. Danya?
Dennis: Have you been listening to this Danya?
Danya: Oh, just for the past thirty seconds to a minute.
Rebecca: Hi baby.
Danya: Hi mom.
Bob: Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Nice to have you one with your mom here.
Danya: Thank you.
Bob: We’ve been talking about boy/girl relationships and about the secret relationships. You know what I’m talking about? How you can have a secret crush on somebody and you just don’t tell them about it?
Dennis: Did you ever do that with your mom and dad? Did you ever have a guy you really really liked you never told them about?
Danya: No, I think I told them every single time.
Danya: There haven’t been that many.
Bob: In the middle school years? I mean you’d see guys who you thought were cute guys, right?
Danya: Cute guys, yes. But you can get to know a middle-school guy for long enough you find out that he is disgusting on the inside.
(Bob, Dennis, Rebecca laugh)
Bob: But you don’t think that when you’re thirteen Danya.
Danya: No, they are cute. It’s just that, it gets to a point where you have to decide what’s really your goal in life? What’s really your focus? I already had my focus when I was thirteen. I already knew what I wanted to do and what I thought God was calling me to do.
Bob: And it didn’t involve thirteen-year-old boys. Huh?
Danya: No, not really.
Dennis: When do you think it’s going to be OK for your eyes to open, and your heart to thaw out? To be attracted to…
Bob: To take a second look.
Danya: I think that the most important thing for me to do right now is not be opposed to having close friendships with boys, in the sense that it’s OK to hang out with them. It’s OK to spend time with mixed groups—hanging out with girls and guys, and becoming friends with boys. I definitely don’t want to shut them out, and ignore them. I think that I can really get to know them a lot better as friends because I’m not worried about impressing them necessarily, and they’re not worried about impressing me. So I get to see who they really are.
Dennis: So what’s the most important thing you’re looking for in a young man? What has your mom taught you?
Danya: The most important thing is how passionate he is about his faith and what he believes in. There have definitely been some guy friends of mine who were very good-looking, but were not focused on their faith and didn’t really care as much about what God thought of them as I hoped they would care what God thought of them.
Bob: Danya, I want to know what advice you would give to the parents of middle-schoolers about this whole relationship thing. Let’s say there’s a mom who is listening right now and her thirteen-year-old daughter is just boy crazy. Every week it’s a different boy that she’s got a crush on, and she’s saying, “Oh Mom he’s so cute and I like him so much!” What would you tell the mom to do?
Danya: What my mom did whenever I came to her with a boy that I liked, she would first tell me to pray about it. That was the most important thing, to pray about it. She would really listen to me when I would talk to her about a boy that I had a crush on, or a boy that I thought was cute. That was so important, because if she had shut me out or if she had said, “No you can’t, end of conversation.” Then I would have felt tempted to go ahead and do it. But, because she listened to me, and spent time, and talked with me about it, it really helped me figure out the feelings.
I was able to understand what I was going through. It’s really important. It was important for me to wait a little while and see if I really did like a boy, or if it was just a passing crush. You can have a crush on a boy and it will go away, then your heart is not broken, and their heart is not broken, because you went out on a limb.
Bob: Your mom needs a tissue here.
Dennis: Your dad is grinning and beaming from one ear to the other, both heads are nodding and you’ve made their day, trust me.
Danya: Well, that’s… That’s kind of made my day. I wasn’t expecting a phone call. This is great.
Dennis: I’ve got one last question for you. You have been a great sport to allow us to interrupt your day and ask you some really tough questions. You’ve handled them better than a lot of adults we’ve interviewed here. My last question for you, on your mom’s book, there’s a pair of tennis shoes…
Bob: High top, Converses?
Dennis: High top, black Converses with blue, pink, white and yellow striped socks. Are those your legs?
Danya: They are not my legs in those pictures.
Dennis: You’ve been a good sport, thanks for joining us.
Danya: Thank you.
Rebecca: Thank you sweetie.
Danya: See you Mom, love you.
Rebecca: I love you.
Bob: I think it’s critical for parents to hear throughout this whole conversation is you have to stay connected. You have to stay in there. You have to keep your ears open and you have to listen when your daughter comes.
Dennis: Then, when you hear something like Rebecca and Rich just heard from their daughter, you just go…
Dennis: Yes. “I have no greater joy than this,” 3 John 4, “than to hear my children walking in the Truth.” That’s the goal. A lot of parents just heard a young lady articulate what it needs to sound like, and what it ought to look like. It is possible. Rebecca, I want to thank you…
Rebecca: Oh, thank you.
Dennis: …for sharing your stories. I really think this is going to be a great resource for a lot of parents. As their kids move toward the middle-school years. Thanks for your ministry, and thanks for being with us.
Rebecca: Thank you. It’s been great to be with you, and “Lippy”. (Dennis and Rebecca laugh.)
Bob: Man! I am sorry I brought that up. What we are hoping that a lot of parents are going to do in the days to come is to get a copy of your book and get a copy of the Passport to Purity® material that we’ve put together, and really be intentional about this transition in a child’s life. It’s the beginning of adolescence, everything starts to change, the school environment changes. Being proactive and playing offense rather than defense is a great strategy for moms and dads.
You can get a copy of Rebecca’s book Season of Change by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call, 1-800-FL-TODAY. Also ask about the Passport to Purity® material for taking your son or daughter off for a weekend to get them ready for all that’s coming in adolescence. Again, there’s information at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call, 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. We can make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you.
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We want to encourage you to join us back tomorrow. We’re going to hear a powerful message from Dr. Crawford Loritts on the subject of prayer. That’s coming up tomorrow; I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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