“Help! I’m a Christian Parenting Teens. (Enough Said.)” Paul David Tripp
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Paul David TrippPaul David Tripp is a pastor, author and conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write 17 books on Christian living, produce 14 teaching series and travel aroun...more
On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host Paul David Tripp–who insists those annoying moments with teens are doorways to mind-blowing opportunities as a Christian parenting teens. Find out how.
“Help! I’m a Christian Parenting Teens. (Enough Said.)” Paul David Tripp
Dave: Okay, so we’re talking about parenting today. In fact, we’re talking about, well, I’m not going to tell you. I want to ask you, as you think back of our parenting seasons, which was your favorite?
Ann: Well, there’s good and there’s hard in each, but my favorite was probably the teenage years.
Dave: Why do you say that? Most parents say that’s the worst.
Ann: It was so fun, because you’re starting to discover who they are, what they’re passionate about - they’re kind of struggling with, but also analyzing their faith and what part is ours and what part they want to take. It’s scary, though, too.
Ann: I especially feel like it’s even a little more different today, where there’s a lot more going on with social media and their devices.
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
So we’re going to help parents of teens today. We have Paul David Tripp with us.
Ann: Woo hoo!
Dave: Paul, I know it’s been a while since you’ve been on FamilyLife, but welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Paul: Well it’s my pleasure to be with you. I’m glad we’re doing this.
Dave: Yes. I know, and our audience probably knows you’re not only a prolific author—I didn’t know you’re on your 32nd book. Is that right? 32?
Dave: And we’re talking today about the first book you ever wrote, which was on parenting teens, The Age of Opportunity. I know it’s a long time ago. I’m wondering what do you remember? Do you remember anything you wrote in that book?
Paul: Yes. You know, here’s what I remember most is, I wrote the book because I was offended by the way that parents talked about the teen years. It was like teens are just a package of raging hormones, out of control, and there’s nothing you could do but try to survive those years. I was at a conference and a mom was holding a little baby, and she was talking about just the joy of parenting.
Someone said, “You wait. Just wait till they’re a teenager.” So I wanted to just speak into that conversation and say, “No, no, no. This is a time of unprecedented opportunity. These are the golden years of parenting,” sort of flip the script and give people a real different view of this period of time in parenting.
Dave: We raised three sons who are married, and now we have six grandkids. We both felt like those were our favorite years. Now I know you have grown kids, so how many kids did you walk through the teenage years with?
Paul: We have four grown children and six grandchildren also. Yes, I think much of the relationship that we now have with our grown and married children was forged during the teen years. We just have wonderful relationships with our grown kids, and I think part of that is due to the way that we walked through that last period of parenting with them.
Dave: Well let’s talk. When I think of Paul David Tripp, here’s what I think: gospel. I really think of you and your speaking and writing—you always are so clear on the gospel and bringing the gospel to whatever issue we’re talking about. I remember—you probably don’t remember this. I don’t know what year it was, but we were on the Love Like You Mean It FamilyLife marriage cruise.
Ann and I were keynote speakers the night after you spoke, and I don’t know if I’d heard you speak before. You got up to speak about marriage, and I sat there like, “Oh my goodness.” You made the gospel so clear, who we are apart from Christ, what Christ has done, and then how to apply that to our marriage. So let’s start there. As you think about parenting, and especially even parenting teenagers, how do you think the gospel connects to us as parents?
Ann: And maybe we should even define what we mean by the gospel.
Paul: I think that often people reduce this glorious message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and his offer of grace to us as an entrance and an exit. It just has to do with coming to Christ and then my destiny. And I want to talk about all the time the now-ism of the gospel, how the gospel changes the way you look at everything. I like to think of it this way. The gospel is meant to be a lens, like a pair of glasses that you put on, and you look at everything through the gospel.
Well when you do that, then the gospel forms a lifestyle, if anything, in your life. When it comes to teens, the Bible says what’s hot and happening in a human being is the heart. The heart is—if you look at the way the Bible talks about that word, the heart is the causal core of your personhood. It’s the steering wheel. It’s the direction system. Your behavior only goes where the heart has already gone. So my job as a parent is not corralling behavior.
You could set up a system that forces children to do certain things, but when they leave home, they’re left with nothing, because you haven’t gotten at issues of the heart. Every year thousands of supposedly Christian young people go off to college and forsake their faith. I want to say they never had it in the first place. Now their true heart is being revealed because parenting has been reduced to a set of regulations, a set of consequences, and that’s it.
The Bible says if rules were all you needed, Jesus would have never had to come. The law is great at exposing sin. It’s a wonderful guide for life, but it has no power to change the heart. My view of parenting at whatever stage, particularly in the teenage years are, “How do I get at heart issues with this child,” because that’s what Jesus is after. That’s where transformation takes place. That’s what totally changes the way a person thinks and desires and acts.
Ann: That’s so interesting, Paul, because we had a conversation with one of our adult sons. One of the things that he said to me—
Dave: We have a lot of conversations now with our adult sons.
Ann: We were talk—
Paul: Can we just say this? For those who don’t understand, parenting never ends.
Dave: Yes, exactly.
Paul: If you think once your children leave the home you wipe your brow and say, “Wow, we’re done with that.” No, no, no you’re not. It doesn’t end.
Ann: And that was surprising to me, actually, because we were talking about this very issue, the heart. One of our sons said to me, “Mom, I felt like you were more concerned with my behavior than my heart.”
Dave: Especially when he was in high school.
Ann: When he was in high school. His teen years. I think I became so afraid of the culture and what it would do to our kids, that many times I would be so concerned of what they did or didn’t do, instead of thinking, “Well let’s talk about why. What’s going on in your heart that makes you want to do that, or doesn’t?”
So I found myself reacting more often than responding. That’s one of my regrets. I wish I would have heard you back in those days that I was raising our teens.
Paul: One of the frustrating things that parents experience when I talk about the heart is they say, “Well, how do I get at the heart issues with my child? What does that look like?” So, in this book there are these questions; I want to go through these questions if I can with you, because I think these are simple, but they help you to get at heart issues with your child.
So you’re in a situation with a child that’s done something wrong or is in some kind of trouble, and your instinct is, “There have to be consequences for this.” What God is giving you is an opportunity. Let me give you the principle. If your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your child, it’s not an interruption. It’s not an accident. It’s God giving you an opportunity to get at the heart of your child.
God wanted you to hear that so you can be a tool of His grace in the heart of your child. So something has happened. First question is, “What was going on?” Just get your child’s picture of what was going on. Don’t worry whether it’s biased. Of course it’s going to be biased because they’re telling it from their perspective.
Second question—now listen to the second question. “What were you thinking and feeling as it was happening?” What does that do? That gets a child to look inside. Often if you ask a child, “Why did you do this?” they’ll point to someone else, some situation. They’ll always point outside their self, so the first question flips that script and gets a child thinking about what’s inside themselves. So “What were you thinking and feeling?”
Notice the third question. “What did you do in response?” Why is that not the first question? Because what I’m teaching the child is, your response was formed by what you were thinking and feeling. It was formed by the heart. So even if you don’t get good answers, you’re teaching the child, your teenager, a way of thinking about himself that’s biblical.
The Bible says it’s out of the heart that the mouth speaks. We live out of the heart. The fourth question is, “Why did you do it? What were you seeking to accomplish?” That goes after motives. That’s the fourth question. So now we have thoughts and desires and motives of the heart on the table.
Then the fifth question—I love this—is “What was the result?” The result is the fruit. What are the roots? The roots are in the heart. Now you’re having this profound conversation with a teenager. Even if he gives small, short answers, you have an opportunity to get at what is really going on inside of that child. More than that, you’re requiring the child to think about what is going on inside of them.
Parenting is a process. It’s not about winning; it’s about gaining ground every time with a conversation, just like God works in us. Justification and entrance into His family isn’t instant. Sanctification, a process of growth, is a lifetime. That’s the model.
Ann: Do you remember a time with one of your kids that you walked that out with them with an incident in their life?
Paul: Yes. I give an incident in the book where I was at the end of a long day of ministry, counseling all evening. I came home about ten o’clock. I was hoping that the house would be quiet, and I could just quietly have a snack and slip into bed. I walked into the house real quietly, and in the kitchen one of my sons was there. I could immediately tell that he was angry. So in my brain was this call of God, and this desire just to blow it off.
By God’s grace I didn’t blow it off. I asked him to sit with me, and we had a conversation. It was close to midnight when we finally went to bed, but it was through those questions that he just talked about his struggles with his brother and his feelings of being diminished, and the anger that was building. It was just a beautiful conversation, just letting this kid bare his soul. He needed somebody to do that for him.
Ann: Aren’t you glad that you didn’t go to bed? You would have missed that.
Paul: Oh, I can remember just saying, “Thank You, God. Thank You, God. Thank You, thank You, thank You, thank You that You just gave me the power to say ‘yes’ to that moment.” And I want to say to parents, those moments are never interruptions. I think there are moments where we stomp down a hallway, angry because we have children that actually need to be parented. I know I’ve been there. I’m mad that I have to deal with this at this moment.
I want to say to parents, the key to getting at the heart of your teenager is starting with your own heart. “I want life to be comfortable. I want my kids to be self-parenting. I want respect all the time. I want to be appreciated.” Those are all my idols that get in the way of parenting my children.
When you’re holding on to those things, here’s what I think happens: You personalize things that are not personal, so you’re adversarial in the way that you respond, and you settle for quick solutions that don’t get at the heart of the matter. I’m ready to confess I’ve done that many times. I’ve taken it personally. Look, my son that day didn’t say “Dad will probably be home at 10:00. I’m going to act angry. Yeah, that’ll get him.”
Paul: Come on. It wasn’t a plot against me. It wasn’t personal. He’s not my adversary. He’s my son. God’s given me this moment, and that’s the script you have to be on. You have to be on, “God loves this child more than I ever will He’ll expose the needs of this child to me because He loves him, and He wants to give me an opportunity. It’s not personal. It’s not against me.”
Ann: I used to say to parents all the time, my friends that are younger than I am, who are behind me—I would say, “Oh, in those teen years just don’t take it personally. It’s really not about you.” That was helpful for me to remember, because they hurt my feelings a lot in those teen years.
Dave: What do you say to the parent—I’ve had parents say to me, “I tried to have a conversation with my teenage son or daughter. They won’t talk. They don’t answer the questions that I ask.” How would you advise that parent? They’re feeling like “I can’t draw anything out.”
Paul: I think it’s really important to frame the conversation. I’ve done this so many times, that when I have those conversations, “I’m not a detective trying to get information to criminalize your behavior, to lead you to a punishment. I’m here because I love you. I want to help you. I want to see good things happen in your life. If there are consequences, we’ll deal with those, but that’s not why I’m having this conversation.”
“I’m having this conversation as a dad who loves you. I care about you. I care about what’s going on in your life. I care about what you’re struggling with.” So you have to frame the conversation that way. If all the teenager thinks is, “This is an interrogation for an indictment,” they won’t talk.
Dave: That’s good.
Paul: You have to reframe the conversation. “I’m not here as a prosecutor, a judge, and a jury. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I know you’re struggling, and I love you, and I want to help.”
Ann: As I hear you say that, I failed that so often because I get mad and I’m reactionary, and I think a lot of parents listening to that would be convicted. But as I’m listening to you say it, that comes from your own heart.
Ann: That comes from Jesus in your own heart, to have the self-control, the ability to step back, to be concerned about them and not just reacting to whatever they did. How did you implement that personally? I know that about you, but that’s really important to a personal walk with Jesus, is a reflection of what you just said.
Paul: I think it really is. Your walk with Jesus as He exposes the dirt in your own heart, that humbles you. That softens you. I say it this way. “No one gives grace better than a person who knows he desperately needs it himself.” When you’re aware of your sin and the magnitude of the glory of God’s grace and forgiveness, you want to give that away.
So you’re not going to say to a child—here it is. I’m going to say it— “In my day, I would have never thought of doing such a thing.” See, that’s self-righteousness, and what you’re actually saying to a child is, “Your problem is you’re not as righteous as me.” Now, how do you get to the Gospel after that? I think there’s probably nothing that you will see in the life of a teenager that you can’t identify someplace in your own life.
Ann: For sure.
Paul: Let’s take an example. So your teenager comes to you on a Thursday night and says, “I have a science project due tomorrow,” and you want to scream.
Paul: You know that project was assigned six years ago.
Paul: So it’s really an instinct to just say, “Well, I would never have done such a thing.” But think about it. What’s the issue there? Procrastination. Maybe you’re a dad and your garage is so full of whatever you can’t drive into it anymore. You keep telling yourself you’re going to clean it, but you don’t. It’s the same issue.
Or maybe you’re the person who runs to the post office at 12:00 on April 15th to turn in your taxes, because you’ve procrastinated. You’re there with all the other procrastinators. It’s like a party; you bring the brownies.
Dave: You’re looking at the sins of the father right in front of you, right?
Paul: Yes. So imagine standing next to that child. Instead of saying, “In my day I would have never thought,” imagine standing in front of that child and saying, “I know exactly how you got into that mess, because I’m like you. I prioritize the things that I find enjoyable, and I put off the things that I find distasteful. But you know what, son? There’s help and hope for us,” and there you can get to the Gospel, you can get to the heart. But that starts with your own heart.
Dave: How would you advise parents about how much of your own sin, weaknesses to share with your teenager? When our two oldest went to college and we’re sitting at the dinner table with our youngest son, we had this beautiful couple of years with him where he’d sit at dinner and go, “Hey, Mom and Dad. Tell me your story. Tell me how you came to Christ.”
We had those conversations with all three boys, but there was something unique when you’re just sitting there. I remember one night he goes, “So did you guys have sex before marriage? Did you get drunk a lot in college? I want to hear you--” And you’re sitting there going, “Okay. How much do I share with them?” How would you counsel parents on that?
Paul: Well, the first thing I want to say is there’s a mistaken notion that sharing your struggles diminishes the gospel. Your failure, your weakness as a parent, preaches the gospel.
Paul: Because it’s not a message of independent self-reliance. Think about this. The move direction of grace in a person’s life is not from dependence to independence. The move of grace in a person’s life is from independence to greater dependence on God, and so my story is an example of everybody’s need for rescuing grace. Who do I need to be rescued from? Me.
When your children watch your zeal for Jesus, okay. They can tell you love Jesus and then they hear the story of what you were like. What does it do? It preaches grace.
Paul: Because they now conclude it must be God’s work that has made this guy who he is, because he was pretty creepy.
Paul: Or he was pretty foolish. Or he did really dumb things.
Dave: Yes, that is so well said. So well said. You said earlier during their teenage years your relationship with your kids has built what you have with them today. How did that happen? What did you mean by that?
Paul: There’s two questions that every human being struggles with. One is “Will anybody love me?” But the second question is even deeper, more scary. “Once you know me, you really know me, will you love me?” And if you go through the dark teenage years and you refuse not to love those kids, you refuse not to give them grace—I don’t mean being permissive. Grace doesn’t call wrong right. It’s a way of dealing with wrong.
They have conversations with you in their worst moments, and they walk to their rooms saying, “That guy, that lady loves me.” You have built a foundation for the future of your relationship with them when they’re out of the house, because they know you can look at the darkest side of them and you won’t turn your back on them.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul David Tripp on FamilyLife Today. I have known Paul Tripp for several years now, and I can tell you that this stuff can be quite convicting for all of us. If that’s you, I’d love for you to stick around, because Ann actually has some words of encouragement for you.
But first, Paul’s book is called Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, we really believe here at FamilyLife that a relationship with God is the ultimate desire that sits at the center of every human being. What we always need is connection with God, and when you partner with us to make every home a godly home, you’re literally advancing the work of taking the gospel that makes the connection possible to homes across the world. So would you consider partnering with us at FamilyLife to see that gospel work come to fruition?
When you do, we’d love to send you a copy of a previous guest this week named Tim Kimmel. He wrote a book called The High Cost of High Control. It’s our thanks when you partner financially with us at FamilyLife. You’ll help more families hear conversations like the one you heard today. You can give at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Alright, here’s Ann Wilson.
Ann: I’m sure that some parents listened as I was listening, and they’re convicted, thinking, “Oh, I’ve been handling this poorly. I haven’t responded in the way I should have.” I think a great conversation would be to even talk to our kids or teens about that, like “Hey, I just want to apologize for some of my response. I have been doing this poorly, and I’ve been a bad example, and I just want to say I’m sorry.”
“I’m trying to get better, and I need to be with Jesus to really talk to Him about it, because I love you so much, and you are a delight in my life.”
Paul: And the gospel is a message of fresh starts and new beginnings.
Shelby: So after the show you might be feeling like, “Wow. I have a blind spot, and I totally messed up on getting to the heart of my child.” Well, don’t be discouraged, because tomorrow Dave and Ann are back in the studio with Paul Tripp to give us some real hope on parenting teenagers. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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