No Perfect Parents: The Teen Years
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
Are you struggling with raising your teen? Dave and Ann Wilson present the top five things parents can do to parent their teenagers.
No Perfect Parents: The Teen Years
Dave: Tell me your favorite stage of parenting—
Ann: Oh, I loved all of the stages.
Dave: —one that you loved the most.
Ann: Teenage years.
Ann: Yes, because you start really seeing who they are; but you’re also having this dynamic, deep relationship now.
Dave: But they start to do things, and to push back on you, and act in ways that sometimes embarrass you.
Ann: It’s embarrassing. [Laughter]
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Tell me your favorite stage of parenting—
Ann: Oh, I loved all of the stages.
Dave: —one that you loved the most.
Ann: Teenage years.
Dave: Yes; you know what? I was thinking you might say the teen years.
Ann: Would you say that?
Dave: I think I was surprised by the teen years.
Ann: Yes, because everyone warned us [menacingly]: “Wait until they become teenagers.”
Dave: Yes, everybody was like: “Oh man, they’re going to make bad decisions,” “They’re going to push back on you.”
Ann: And they did all that.
Dave: Yes, they did. [Laughter] Yes; there was/there were difficult times and nights; but I, as I look back now—you know, our oldest is 35, and we’ve got grandkids—the teenage years, with all three of the boys, were some of the best years.
We get to talk today from our book, No Perfect Parents, and talk about the teenage years. In the book, we laid out four different stages or phases of the parenting journey, from what we call the zero to five age—we call that the Discipline Stage—because you’re trying to really discipline and teach them boundaries and what “No,” means. There’s poop and pee, and everything all over the house, and toys—Ann’s rolling her eyes because I always say this—that’s all I remember about the diaper years. [Laughter]
Then you go to the next stage—we call it the Training Stage—which is somewhere around ages five and six up to about twelve, where you’re really developing and training them. Those first 12 years, we say in the book, are where they’re really open to a parent’s input. Those are critical years.
Around year 12 or 13—we call that the Coaching Stage—which is the teenaged years. They’re not as open to a parent’s input—not that they’re not—but they’re starting to look outside to their friends and other influences. You say, “This is the question; you live in the question.”
Dave: Talk about that. I know you wrote about that in the book, No Perfect Parents. But what does that mean?
Ann: I say, “These are the years that you begin living in the question. In other words, you’re asking a lot of questions. You might already know the answers, but you’re getting them to really discover what they’re thinking about things/their ideas. You’re getting them to form opinions, and it’s really helping them to become critical thinkers.”
Dave: Give me an example: “What’s living in the question?”
Ann: Okay; let’s say your nine-year-old comes and says, “Hey, Mom. Everybody’s going to this movie. Can I go?”
Dave: This is a nine-year-old; we’re talking teenagers.
Ann: No, wait, wait, wait.
Dave: Oh, okay.
Ann: At nine years old, you think, “No, hon, that movie isn’t appropriate; we’re not going to go to that movie. This is why…”
Now, your 14-year-old comes home; he says, “Hey, Mom. Everybody’s going to this movie. Can I go?”
My first instinct is: “There’s no way you’re seeing that movie! That’s horrible and inappropriate,”—and blah, blah. But you don’t say “No”; you live in the question and you say, “Well, tell me about the movie.” Then you say, “Tell me your thoughts about the movie. What do you think about seeing that?” Now, you already know you’re not going to let them go; [Laughter] but you don’t let them know that.
You did that a lot, too; you asked questions like that: “Well, what do you think?”
Dave: Yes; again, you’re trying to get at the heart. In some ways, you’re almost like, “Did the first 12 years of all the discipline and training pay off? Are they thinking along the ways we’ve tried to help them think?” Sometimes, you’ll think, “No, none of it worked; they’re off the rails.” [Laughter] And other times, you’ll see that they are processing some of the things you taught them.
Ann: I remember we had a discussion at the dinner table about curfews: “Hey, you guys, what do you think about curfews as you’re getting older? In high school, should you have a curfew?” We already knew the answer; but we were bringing them in, like, “Hey, let’s talk about it; because we really care about your opinions and thoughts of this.”
Dave: Yes; here’s the thing—talk about—because when they hit the teenage years; and again, there’s not a magic number: it could be 11; it could be 13—but they start to do things, and to push back on you, and act in ways that sometimes embarrass you.
Ann: It’s embarrassing. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; so this one time, we have this ice skating party. Then we’re going to go into our friend’s house, and we’re having a big potluck. Our oldest was 14. We’re done ice skating; go in the house. There’s all this great food laid out. Someone’s getting ready to pray, so the room is perfectly silent. Suddenly, you hear someone say, “This food looks like trash!” out loud. I look over and discover: “That was our son!”
Dave: —our oldest.
Ann: Our oldest son just said that! The kids are kind of snickering, and the parents are like [gasping sound]. I give my son the evil eye, like, “Are you kidding me?” I was so embarrassed and humiliated.
What did you think of that moment? I think you’re the one that prayed.
Dave: I was praying; it was so embarrassing. [Laughter]
Ann: You’re the pastor!
Dave: I mean, part of me is like, “I just hope that’s anybody else’s kid but mine”; [Laughter] and it’s mine—actually, it’s yours—that was your comment though. I mean, it’s just, again, so much of parenting is you care about what others think of you as a parent.
Ann: Yes, especially as teens.
Dave: Yes; so when CJ did that, it was like, “Oh, no.”
Ann: Then the evening goes on. We’re getting ready to leave; I say to CJ, “Hey, Cody didn’t bring his shoes; he only brought his ice skates. Can you put him on your back and carry him out to the car?”
Dave: Cody’s what?—nine?
Ann: —not even.
Ann: Yes; the room, again, for some reason, is quiet. CJ, really loudly, says, “I have to do everything in this family!” [Laughter] Everybody, again, looks at us; I’m so humiliated. [Laughter]
Dave: Not only are we like—I’m the pastor of the church; we also teach and speak about marriage—[Laughter]—we’re sort of known, like: “They’re the Wilson family; they’ve got it together.” And there it is: “They don’t have it together.”
Ann: You guys, I just want you to know: I was so mad. CJ begins walking out the door—Cody’s on his back—and Austin’s running to the car. Then CJ bends over—and by the way, as we’re walking, I am right on his heels—I’m saying to him, right in his ear, [speaking intensely] “That was so embarrassing, and so disrespectful, and so rude.” I’m—
Dave: “You’re in so much trouble.”
Ann: “Wait; you’re in so much trouble.” And why?—because I was embarrassed, because I looked bad.
Then he’s kind of bending over; he’s off balance, putting Cody into the car. There was this big snow bank right beside the car. I don’t know what happened to me; but in that split second, I just kind of nudged my shoulder under his shoulder. I just nudged him, and he falls into this snow bank. I jump in the car, and I lock all the doors. [Laughter]
Now, he’s pounding on all of the windows, like, “Mom, let me in!” Then what happens? Pastor Dave comes to the car.
Dave: I come walking out. That’s what I see—CJ’s pounding on the back window and you’re in there—like you’re not unlocking the door. [Laughter]
Ann: No, I’m not.
Dave: You’re not going to let him in. [Laughter] He’s like, “Am I going to go home with you?” I’m like, “What is happening?!”
Ann: Dave unlocks the door, and he lets CJ in. Then I’m mortified of my own actions, like, “What am I?—the 13-year-old here?” Then I start to cry. I say to Dave, “I just want you to know I will never talk about marriage or parenting ever in my life again, because I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Dave: I remember you really did say that—
Ann: I did!
Dave: —like, “I’m never teaching on this. I’m never getting up on stage with you.”
And now, we wrote a book on marriage and on parenting. [Laughter] Again, not that we’re experts—the title of the book ought to tell you something—No Perfect Parents. We are not; and you aren’t; and your kids aren’t.
I think even the title, especially in the teenaged years, alerts you to the fact that the expectation of trying to be perfect is a ridiculous expectation—you can’t; you won’t—you’re going to make mistake, after mistake, after mistake.
But the teen years are crucial years.
Dave: So we want to take a few minutes to talk about it.
One of the passages of Scripture that really guided us is Psalm 127, where the Word of God says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Children are a heritage”—some translations say, “a gift”—“from the Lord, the offspring, a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior [are] children born in one’s youth [Psalm 127:1, 3-4].”
If we’re going to let the Lord build our house, how do we navigate the teen years? One of the things that I think really guided us—I thought it was one of the best books on teenaged years—was Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, For Parent’s Only, where she interviews, I think, a thousand teenagers and asked them questions. Then she says, “Parents, here’s what I heard…”
One of the things that that book reminded us of, that I think every parent of teenagers needs to realize, is they’re sort of addicted to something as a teenager. You think, “Oh, what are they addicted to? Are they addicted to popularity?” or “…” No, no, no; she says they’re addicted—
Ann: —“or social media?”
Dave: Yes; right—she says, “They’re addicted to freedom.” She means they are on a pursuit to enjoy the freedom they now have as a young adult. In other words, they’re going to pull away; they are pulling away from you as a parent.
Ann: It’s normal.
Dave: It’s not a bad thing; it’s actually a natural thing, because they’re becoming an adult. So you hear things, where you feel like, “They don’t want me around anymore.”
Ann: And they can act like they really don’t even like you—like they say things that hurt your feelings, and the tone of their voice makes you feel like they could care less about you—it’s really easy to get your feelings hurt and to pull away.
Dave: The truth is: this is normal—
Dave: —and natural. At the same time, we, as parents, know that the season of our parenting is closing; so we are sort of grasping to make every moment count. And they’re sort of walking away, so we can get fearful.
There’s two reactions parents can have. One is we overbear them.
Ann: We become super controlling.
Dave: Yes, we hoover; and we pull them closer.
The other is we just give up; it’s like, “Oh, they’re walking away. I’m just/they don’t want me in their life anymore.”
Both [reactions] are bad!
Ann: If there’s ever a season that highlights our imperfections, it’s this one. They’re pushing against the things that you have been pouring into them. I see parents—and I felt this myself—I get insecure. I remember saying to you, “I’m not even sure our kids even like me right now.” Then I would whisper, too, like later, “I’m not sure I really like my kids right now, and that feels wrong.”
Dave: I think one of the reasons we feel that way is—and Shaunti mentions this in the book—is they start, as a teenager, to question the values that we’ve instilled in them.
Dave: That’s a natural thing, but we don’t want it or expect it. She [Shaunti] uses the analogy of a castle. It’s like we, as parents, when they’re little, have been building this castle, block by block: “This is what the Wilson family is about:—
Ann: “These are our morals…”
Dave: “We believe in God,” “We believe in the Word of God, the Bible,” “We believe in integrity,” “We believe in hard work,”—all these that we believe—“Sex is reserved for marriage,” “We believe cursing is…”
You build all these blocks. When they’re little, they accept most of them, if not all of them. They are just like: “Yes, that’s what I believe too,” and “I agree with that,” and “I’m a Wilson.”
Ann: They seem almost proud of it.
Dave: Yes; then they hit the teen years. They start questioning and, maybe, even challenging some of these core values of their parents. It’s almost like they’ll pick up each block, and look at it, and think, “Huh.” Some of them will go, “I don’t agree with that.” And they’ll take this core foundational value of your family—maybe even of the Word of God—and they’ll discard it; or they may go, “Yes, I do agree; and that’s going to be a part of my life.”
But that’s where we, as parents, I think, of teenagers sort of freak out. It’s like, “We don’t want them to question that”; we’re sort of shocked. But guess what?—that’s a natural thing.
Ann: I remember this, Dave, too. I remember going to one of our son’s one time, and I said to him—this is living in the question again—I said, “It feels like everything I’m doing is bugging you—your attitude toward me—it feels like you don’t like me. Can I just ask you, ‘Am I bugging you?’ and ‘Are there some things that I could do that would help restore our relationship?’”
He goes, “Well, you really are bugging me; because every single night, you’re telling me: ‘Why aren’t you in bed?’ ‘Why don’t you have your homework done?’ ‘Why are you still up?’”
I said, “So what do you want me to do?” He goes, “I think I am old enough to make that decision of when I go to bed; and if I get my homework done, that should be on me.”
I remember thinking, “That seems like a little thing. That’s really that big of a deal.” I said, “Alright; you’re right. I’m not going to do that anymore.” I said, “Is there anything else?”
He goes, “Yes, I think this rule that we have of not letting girls at our house when you guys are out of town or gone, I think that’s really dumb.” You know, they’re questioning the block—looking at it/thinking—“That’s a dumb block.” I said, “Oh, okay; that’s not going to change.
Dave: “That’s one that’s going to stay there.”
Ann: “But here’s why: because we hope to protect you. You know our views of this.”
I think it’s great to have those discussions.
Dave: Yes; and I think it’s really important for us, as parents, to understand these teenage years are so crucial for them to build their own faith, not our faith. At some point, it’s got to become theirs, not mom and dad’s.
That means they’re going to question. They may make some mistakes, but they have to go on their own journey. It’s really easy for a parent to try and dictate all that. Of course, we do dictate a lot of that; but at some point, this freedom that they’re starting to feel and the questions they’re starting to ask, we need to encourage and be there to answer.
I can remember our oldest, CJ, who has a very analytical engineer mind, thinking/questioning things from the Bible—even as a young boy—but then as a teenager. I remember having—living in the question—“Okay, tell me why you think that,” and this kind of thing. What does CJ write in our book, No Perfect Parents? One of his comments was simply, “If my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to question, I’d probably be an atheist today.” [Laughter]
Ann: We were like, “What?!”
Dave: Yes; but that was that—he’s picking up this block/this value that we’ve taught him, since he was a preschooler—and now, he’s saying, “What do I believe?”; and it became his faith.
Dave: What would you say to the parent listening right now, that maybe has teenagers or is going to have teenagers in the next few years? What’s the key? Is there a key?
Ann: Yes, it’s what we heard from Josh McDowell, years ago: “Rules without relationship equal rebellion.”
Dave: What’s that mean?
Ann: That was pivotal for our parenting teens. It means that, if you’re going to just keep laying down all the rules, and you’re going to be super controlling, and you don’t have a relationship where your kids know you love them—you’re talking to them; you know their hearts; they know your heart; that relationship is really solid—if you don’t have that, and you’re just trying to lay down the rules, they’re just going to rebel; because our kids are longing for a relationship with us.
You might be thinking, “No, they don’t; they’re pushing me away.” But yes, they do.
Dave: Yes, that’s the truth. They are—it seems like they’re pushing you away—but deep down, they long for a relationship with mom and dad.
So what’s a parent to do?—pursue, pursue, pursue. It’s the same thing my wife wants me to do in our marriage;—
Dave: —it’s like: “You pursued me before we got married; why would you stop now? Keep pursuing me. Keep romancing me. Keep coming after me in our marriage.”
It’s no different with our kids. Our kids are pulling away—and they may say, “No, Dad; I don’t want to spend time with you,” or “Mom, I’ve got other things to do,”—that’s definitely true, but figure out a way to keep cultivating that relationship with your teenager.
Ann: I would really encourage dad’s with their daughters: “Your daughters need you. I know that it can be awkward when they become teenagers. It can feel like/it feels a little different and weird; they feel like women now. Dads, can I just say, your daughter still has this little girl’s heart that needs you to pursue her/that needs you to tell her she’s beautiful. Take her out to dinner. Go do something fun with her.”
I’m just going to say, as a woman with my dad, I needed that from him, especially in the teenage years when I was vulnerable with guys in a relationship, in sexuality—all of that—I needed my dad to say: “I love you,” “I think you’re beautiful,” “You have everything you need.” Pursue your girls.
And same, moms, pursue your sons: hang out with them. Sometimes, they act like they don’t want to be with you. I remember saying to our one son, “Okay, I can tell we’re really bugging each other right now. Can we just go do something fun/grab something to eat?” When I would just ask him some questions—like: “How are you doing?” “What’s going on?”—I could see, like, “Oh, there you are. Yes, I love who you are.” Then I would tell him, “Man, I love who you are; I love who you’re becoming.” They might not say anything positive back to you, but it’s okay. They will later; they’ll come back.
Dave: Yes; and I would say, as we close this, there’s so much more we put in that chapter/actually, couple of chapters, in that book that we couldn’t hit. When we talk about this at our parenting retreats, we talk about the top five things we can do to parent our teenagers.
- Number one was: “Hang” or “Date.” We say, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E, so figure out a way to hang with your boys or date your daughters and spend time.”
- Number two is: “Stay up late.”
Ann: Yes, and I know some of you are morning people, and this sounds horrible to have to stay up; but one of the things we found with teens is a couple of things draw them in: you’re up, and they will talk; the other thing with staying up is have food readily available, because wherever there is food, they congregate.
I can remember our kids being at retreats or conferences; I would just have the table full of food when they came in the door. They would sit at the table, and we would just talk. Sometimes, that would go in—honestly, remember?—we’d be up until one a.m./two a.m.
Dave: I wanted to go to bed so bad. [Laughter] At the same time, I’m like, “They’re going to be gone in a year or two, and this is valuable.
- “Hang or Date,”
- “Stay up,”
- “Serve” is—I tell you what—one of the best things we did was we went on mission trips with our kids. We served other people and showed them what’s going on in the world different than—it just/it changed them.
Ann: And even in our community, we did—
Dave: —locally; yes.
The fourth one, and this a big one:
- “Do dinner.” I know our lives are crazy—they’ve got schedules; they’ve got things they’re involved in—figure out a way to sit down, as a family, and do dinner together.
Here’s the last one. I’m just doing this fast because of the time:
- “Hit your knees.”
Dave: Pray like crazy.
Ann: I think to do it, if you’re married, do it as a couple, honestly. If your spouse is falling asleep, just put your hand on their shoulder and pray for your kids constantly.
If you’re a single parent, continue to pray. I would encourage you to get other people praying with you so that you can be praying for all of your kids.
Dave: I would say this: “I’m going to pray for your kids right now because I know how hard these years are—they’re awesome; they’re wonderful—
Ann: —they’re scary.
Dave: —they’re scary.
Father, I pray for the parents of teenagers right now—pray that You would give them grace, peace—pray for peace, the peace that passes all understanding that only comes from Your heart.
I pray for their kids, that they would know You in a living relationship with Your Son, Jesus. I pray for protection over them, and I pray You’d make them to become amazing men and women of God as they grow into adults.
Thank You, in Jesus name.
Bob: I think a lot of moms and dads can resonate with the fear Ann Wilson has talked about: raising kids through the teen years as they begin to express their independence/their desire for autonomy and as they’re being bombarded with both peer pressure and cultural pressure to move away from what the Christian faith teaches about life and truth. These are challenging years for us, as parents.
Dave and Ann Wilson’s book, No Perfect Parents,is really helping a lot of moms and dads be able to take a deep breath and go, “Okay, we can do this. We’re going to make mistakes, but God has grace for our mistakes. If we stay focused on the right thing, God is going to bless our parenting efforts.” We’ve got copies of the Wilson’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can request your copy online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order; 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, the title of the book is No Perfect Parents from Dave and Ann Wilson. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, request your copy of the book, No Perfect Parents,by Dave and Ann Wilson.
We’re also making available this week a new book by our friend, Janel Breitenstein, who was with us earlier this week, talking about how we mark and shape our children permanently for life as we raise them/how we can point them in the right direction spiritually. We’re making Janel’s new book, Permanent Markers, available as a thank-you gift for those of you who can help extend the reach and the mission of FamilyLife Today/help us reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope.
Every day hundreds of thousands of people are coming to us—online, through this radio program/this podcast, the resources we have available—they’re looking for help and hope, and you make that possible for them when you support this ministry. Thanks, in advance, for prayerfully considering a financial gift to FamilyLife Today. When you do, request your copy of Janel Breitenstein’s new book, Permanent Markers. We’re happy to send it to you and are grateful for your support of this ministry.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to tackle a provocative question; it’s this: “Why does God care who I sleep with?” Sam Allberry addresses that question with us tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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