The Marks of a Successful Teen
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Jeffrey DeanA popular author, pastor, and motivational leader, Jeffrey Dean has spoken to over four million people at churches, universities, schools, prisons, and conferences. In 1993, he began Jeffrey Dean Ministries with the mission to help parents and teens know and grow in Christ. He hosts a podcast for parents addressing issues teens face and is a frequent guest on nationally syndicated radio programs. He and his wife, Amy, have two daughters and reside in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jeffrey Dean knows that raising a successful teen is less about perfection and more about pursuit. Parents should be intentional about raising kids who love the Lord above all else.
The Marks of a Successful Teen
Bob: There are a lot of people/a lot of voices trying to influence your children about how they should act, how they should look, what they should say. Jeffrey Dean says there is one set of voices that is louder than any other in your teenager’s life.
Jeffrey: They may not always say it or show it; but kids want mom and dad’s involvement. Greater than a rock star, or a pop star, or a jock star, kids overwhelmingly tell us: “Hey, Mom and Dad drive the bus; I’m in that passenger seat. How they live, I live.” Though it’s not necessarily culturally cool to say, “Hey, mom and dad, your kids are looking to you as the greatest influence,” reality is, students show us your kids are watching you lead. The question isn’t: “Do you influence?”; it’s: “How are you using that influence?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 15th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What are the right strategies? What are some moms and dads doing as they raise their teens that seem to be working? We’re going to talk more about that today with Jeffrey Dean. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I want to read to you something I just read.
Dave: I thought you were going to say something you just wrote!
Bob: Oh, no, I didn’t write it; I read this. I’ll tell you—when I read it, I thought: “That’s true. I don’t think about this as often as I should, but it’s true; and you need to be aware of it.”
Ann: We’re anticipating this now!
Dave: We are in suspense. I have no idea even what topic this might be.
Bob: Here’s the statement.
Bob: “Satan is determined to destroy every teen without exception.” I thought: “That’s true; I don’t live in that awareness and that reality.” Of course, he’s determined to destroy each one of us—
Bob: —teens are not an exclusive group. But I’ll tell you what—you look at what’s going on in the culture—and you think, “It sure feels like he’s targeted that age group specifically”; don’t you?
Ann: As parents, you would say, “Amen,” to that: “I see that; I’ve heard that—
Dave: —not “Amen, we want him to do that.”
Ann: No! No! “Amen that I’ve seen this in my family, in friends, in relatives.” That’s really true, and it’s scary; isn’t it?
Bob: Yes, it really is. We have somebody joining us today, who has been talking to and working with teenagers for decades.
Dave: He wrote that statement, didn’t he?
Bob: He did make that statement. Jeffrey Dean joins us on FamilyLife Today; welcome!
Jeffrey: Thank you; it’s a joy to be here.
Bob: Jeffrey is an internationally-known speaker. As I said, he’s been doing youth retreats, and youth camps, and high school assemblies. You wrote a book recently for parents called Raising Successful Teens.
Successful—define what you mean: “What’s a successful teen?”
Jeffrey: Yes, we really struggled with this word; because that word can be quite misleading. Parents could be listening even now, thinking, “I’m so far from success”; so we decided to keep it.
I really started thinking about my marriage, my family, my daughters. For me—I hope this makes sense to you guys—when I think about success, it’s less about perfection and more about pursuit. Obviously, we can’t be perfect, but it’s that pursuit. The question Jesus is asked in Matthew 22: “What is the greatest commandment?” “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all mind; and to love others the same is the second greatest commandment.”
When you think about parenting, my desire for my two daughters, Bailey and Brynnan, is that they’re on that pursuit/that daily pursuit of learning to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. So when we use the word, “success,” it’s really a challenge to parents/to me, as a parent, to daily be at the grind of raising kids who want to know the Lord, and live for Him, and are on that pursuit, though they can’t get to perfection this side of heaven. That sure is a great goal for us all.
Bob: I saw the title—and what popped into my mind/I thought, “What verse talks about success?”—Joshua 1:8 came to mind for me; it says: “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth; but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it,”—you’re taking in God’s Word; you’re meditating; you’re living and then you’re doing it—then it says, “For then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have good success.”
Every parent would feel, “I have a successful teen if they’re meditating on God’s Word and doing everything according to it”; right?
Jeffrey: Yes; in the Holman Christian Standard version of that passage, there are the two words: “above all.” When Moses has now passed, and God challenges Joshua to be strong and courageous in that passage, and to “Above all follow those commands” [verse 7]. That’s daunting when I think about that, as a parent—that above all—as my kids are looking to me, my wife is counting on me, and we’re in this together: “What’s that look like to unpack God’s truth so that my daughters strive to be successful and, above all, honoring God?” What a challenge for us all.
Bob: Here’s a point we just have to make to parents—because I remember, when I was raising my kids, and I’m focused on what?—“Well, I want them to get good grades,” “I want to go to a good college,” “I want them to be successful adults,” “I want them to meet and marry somebody that is going to love the Lord,”—so I have all—
Dave: You haven’t even said the most important one!
Bob: “I want them to—
Dave: —“be great athletes!” Okay, go ahead. [Laughter]
Ann: I was going to say, “I don’t want them to be partying; I want…”—yes, there are so many different things.
Bob: I’m defining success in those behavior terms—
Bob: —it’s not that those things are unimportant—but at the end of the day, if they love Christ and they want to know Him and want to pursue Him, I’m going to be happier about that than if I have a Rhodes’ scholar, who’s getting drunk every weekend and doesn’t care about going to church; right?
Bob: We really do have to recalibrate in our own hearts and minds, as parents, what success means.
Dave: Jeffrey, as you’ve talked to a lot of teens and a lot of parents, how many parents do you think have ever even thought, “This is what success would look like when my child is a teen,” or beyond, obviously, when they’re 20/30 years old? Do you find that most parents have never thought that through?—or do you find most parents: “They do have a goal, and they know what that goal is, and they’re trying to raise their kid that way”?
Jeffrey: I think most parents—at least, that we come in contact with in our ministry—they’re in pursuit of that, but they might not always know that they are. They want that success for their kids; so when they begin the talk with them—and they share their struggles: a kid who’s a porn addict, or one who’s struggling in math, or who’s making poor choices sexually in their dating lives—when you begin to connect the dots backwards to that starting point, we find that parents truly want what’s best for them and understand that God plays a critical role in that.
I think the challenge for parents—and I would say this for me, someone who’s grown up in the Word, and loves the Lord, and gave my life to Christ as an eight-year-old boy, I even sit back and think—“Okay, how do I bring that to fruition? What’s that look like in my home? What is my responsibility, spiritually?”
We talk in the book a lot about the power of influence. We know, as parents, our kids are watching us. They may not always show it, or admit it, or say it; but they’re looking to us. So what does that look like to lead them in a way that is God-honoring? That’s why I began the book really—challenging parents, as I hold the mirror before myself as I say this—that my influence in the life of my kids really begins in my walk with the Lord.
Dave: Yes; you say in the opening pages of your book five foundational truths. The first one you just hit on. I want to hear you talk about this; because I think a lot of us, when we hear that, we think: “No, no, no. I’m probably not the most influential person in my teenager’s life anymore. I was, but now it’s their peers.”
You state: Number one: “You are the most influential person in your teen’s life.”
Ann: We, as parents, can’t even believe that; because we feel like, “Our kids don’t want to be with us; they don’t even like us most of the time.”
Ann: Yet, you’re saying we are the most influential.
Jeffrey: We really tried to tackle this book from the perspective of students. We’ve had countless/thousands of conversations with kids, so the words and the challenges I bring to the pages of Raising Successful Teens in so many ways are from conversations we’ve had with kids. This is what kids are sharing with us, across America.
They may, again, not always say it or show it; but kids want mom and dad’s involvement. Greater than a rock star, or a pop star, or a jock star, kids overwhelmingly tell us, “Hey, my dad—I’m following his lead.” They may not say it in those exact words; but kids are telling us, “Mom and Dad drive the bus; I’m in that passenger seat. How they live, I live.” So though it’s not necessarily culturally cool to say, “Hey, mom and dad, your kids are looking to you as the greatest influence,” the question isn’t: “Do you influence?”; it’s: “How are you using that influence?”
Dave: I’ve shared this here before; but years ago, my youngest son—who’s now pastoring with me at my church—but he was in college, playing football, was home for a winter break. Anyway, I had him preach a sermon with me. Some guys come up to me afterwards—some men that had a men’s group; they call it “Band of Brothers”—they said: “Hey, we’re having this little retreat this weekend. Any chance you could come over? You don’t need to speak at the retreat; it’s local. Could we have dinner and ask you questions?”
Then they said, “Hey, Cody’s on fire for—could you bring him? Maybe we can ask him.” I’m like, “Cody, want to go?” “Yes.” We go there. Long story short: at one point, they asked Cody: “Hey, you’re obviously walking with Jesus. It’s really cool to see that, as a dad, hoping our kids will do that as they get to college. What did your dad do that helped your faith be so strong?”
I’m like, “This will be fun to see what he says!” I look over; and he’s just sitting there, and he goes, “Well, he didn’t really do much; but I remember one thing.”
Dave: I’m thinking, “Wow, I wonder what that”—you know, of all those things—
He just said, “I don’t remember a Bible study; I don’t remember anything he taught,”—we did that; missions trips—“He lived it. He lived it! I knew he loved me, and he was always there.” That’s it; of all the guys he hung out with, the most influential person in his life was me.
You already said it; they’re watching you and they’re seeing it. Of course, I wasn’t perfect, and there were all kinds of flaws; but man, I remember—when they were in high school—having that thought: “I’m not that important anymore to them.
Dave: “I was, but now it’s other things.” You’re reminding us: “No, you are,”—that’s foundational truth number one.
Let’s go to number two! Number two is: “Your teen wants you to be involved in his life.”
Jeffrey: —which really piggybacks from number one.
I’m sitting here, listening to you talk about your son and those stories, and I’m remembering—it’s walking through the halls of my head now—I grew up here in Little Rock. It’s great to be back in Razorback country, by the way [Laughter]; I haven’t been back in years—I remember my dad, a man of few words, didn’t lead us in a lot of Bible studies. We prayed around the dinner table/had a family devotional—but a man of few words; a godly man but not that leader, vocally, in the home.
As I’m listening to you talk—and this son and your story—I’m remembering, as I close my eyes, I can think about it. I can see myself at the Little League baseball field—I don’t even know if it’s still here in Little Rock—but rounding the bases; and week after week, playing ball; my mom and dad in the stands—and the noises of a busy ballpark, and kids playing on the other side in the other fields, the umpire and teams hollering, and coaches hollering.
But above all those voices—guys, I’m telling you—I can close my eyes and remember it like it was just a second ago—hearing my daddy holler from the bleachers, “Alright, son!” It’s that, “Alright, son,” that literally puts chill-bumps on my arms, remembering—though my dad was a man of few words—he was a man that was there and involved. Those “Alright, son” moments have carried me; and I think of them, and I get emotional when I think about it.
Now, I’m the voice in my home. I remind parents listening today that: “You are the voice louder than all other voices in the playing field of your student’s’ life. They are listening to your voice, watching your lead.” What a powerful influence! But yes, foundational principle number two: “They want you involved”; and again, may not always show it in a way that you desire they show it; but they sure want your involvement.
Bob: But the parent, who’s listening to this and going: “It doesn’t feel that way! It felt that way when they were 11—it felt like they were listening; it felt like they wanted me involved—now, they’re 14.
Dave: “They’re pushing us out!”
Bob: “Everything is: ‘I don’t want your stuff!’ ‘Leave me alone; I can do this.’”
Jeffrey: As they get to the end of those teen years and step into those college years, I know for me, as a collegiate student, I found myself looking back a lot. We all know this. Right now our kids are in the middle of their memory-making years, and though they may not fully know it, they are making memories that are going to be impressed on their memories’ hard drive for the rest of their lives.
In the moment, it may not feel like it; and it may make you fighting mad, because you don’t feel it—but studies show; and more importantly, our kids tell us; and as a student, myself, now looking back—often, I see the power of mom’s and dad’s influence. Even in the moments and the seasons, when I didn’t want it, I sure knew I needed it.
As a parent—this is the tough part to do—and I have two teens living at home. We have to rise above that emotion of: “Man, it doesn’t feel like they love me right now,” “It doesn’t feel like they respect me right now.” I’m going to stay the course; because, as God challenged Joshua in Joshua 1, above all I don’t answer to how my kids feel about me in the moment; I answer the call God’s placed in my life to be their parent.
Ann: Our kids wanted us involved even when their friends were over. We had so much food, so their friends would hang out. I would sit and talk to their friends/get to know them. Then they would tell me later: “Thanks for talking to my friend. He’s really hurting right now. Some of the things you said to him really encouraged him,”—even praying for them. Those are some of those sweet moments, because they kind of come and go; don’t they?
Jeffrey: They come and go; yes, they sure do. We try to be that home, where the kids come after the games; and we try to have those parties and those celebrations in the backyard, where our kids want to throw those parties, and they want to invite their friends. I’m telling you—the thing we hear the most/that we love the most from our daughters’ friends is—“We love that you guys love to be together.” We really strive to be that family that creates that atmosphere that we’re together. We may not always agree—we may not like always something someone does or may not agree with a choice a family member makes—but we strive to be together.
I write a lot in the book about looking for those moments to be together, and remembering that we don’t parent based upon how we think our kids will respond to our parenting. I think that’s really important. I have to remind myself of that, because my daughters don’t always like me; and I have to be okay with that. I have to love them so much that I’m okay if they don’t like me.
Jeffrey: That’s not easy, as a parent.
Dave: I remember sitting at a Weekend to Remember®. I was the co-speaker of that weekend, in Austin, Texas, with Mick Yoder.
Dave: He’s older than me; he’s my co-speaker. I’m sitting there, listening him talk to the men. I’ll never forget this—probably my oldest was nine or ten years old; three boys—and he’s up there, saying this, “When your sons or daughters hit teenage years, they’re going to push you away.” He goes: “That’s totally normal, and they should. Why? Because they’re becoming men and women, and they’re finding their own identity in life.”
Then he goes, “Most parents at that point go: ‘Oh, okay; they don’t want me around. I’m sort of done.’” He said, “Let me tell you guys—when that happens”—I’m sitting back there, like, “This is two or three years away from me,”—he said: “Pursue, pursue, pursue. They need you; they want you in their life. Even though they’re saying, ‘I don’t want you,’ they really, inside, are saying, ‘Are you there with me?’”
I’ll never forget, as a young dad, it was a mentoring moment for me. I was like, “Okay; when CJ, my oldest, hits that age, and he’s sort of like, ‘Okay, Dad, you can drop me off a mile from the school,’ or whatever, fight through it.”
I would be the same way; I’d be like, “Okay, I’m going to respect that and step away,”—no. It’s like: “Date your daughters,” “Hang out with your sons,”—they really want you. I’ll never forget when CJ hit that—again, he was sort of doing this—you know, before, he was like: “Yes, I want to go in the car with you, Dad! Let’s go to the park!” Then it was like, “No, Dad; can you give me the keys?”
I remember saying this—it was like this; okay? CJ’s a techy guy. Every time I said to CJ, “Hey, you want to go to Best Buy®?”
Dave: He’s like, “Yes!” We’re in the car, and I’m hanging with him.
“Austin, you want to go to a bookstore and look at books?” “Yes.”
“Cody, you want to go throw a football?” “Yes.”
I just remember that was all somebody saying what you just said. It’s a foundational truth; they really do want you to be in their life.
Let’s go to number three.
Dave: Alright; you ready? I’ll read it to you; you talk about it. “No matter what is culturally accepted, nothing is more authoritative than the truth of God’s Word.”
Jeffrey: Yes; we could talk for hours about this. “How can a young man keep his way pure?”—Psalm 119—“By living according to the word.” Verse 11: “I have hidden Your Word in my heart, so that I might not sin against You.” “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Verse after verse we could think of the power of God’s Word and what it looks like in our lives.
But what does that really look like to unpack that in our homes? You guys know that we live in a world that is screaming to our kids that right isn’t right and wrong isn’t wrong; and what feels good wins; and if it feels good, do it. It’s less about what’s right, and it’s more about what feels right. It may not be culturally cool to celebrate God’s Word, but my kids sure are counting on me to be the one to teach them how to celebrate it and how to learn to apply God’s Word to everyday challenges.
I tell my daughters often, “In a moment of struggle, look for specific Scriptures to help you with those specific struggles.” My wife, Amy, is a master at this. If you guys were to come into our home in Nashville, we have Scripture throughout the home. She writes little notes in lipstick on their mirrors and drops it in their lunchboxes. We look for creative ways to get God’s Word into their heart/to get it into their membranes so that they live it out. Whatever season of life they’re in, God’s Word works.
Sure, the culture may not think it’s cool; but man, God’s Word never comes back void. We know it is truth; and it’s powerful; and it’s life-changing.
Bob: The headwinds are strong today in particular areas. When you think about gender and sexuality—when you think about, as you said, what’s right and what’s wrong—kids, who are going to say, “I’m going to live my life according to God’s Word,” are going to be unpopular; they’re going to be out of the norm. There are going to be people, who say, “Well, you’re a hater; because of how you’re choosing to live.”
We, as parents, have to prepare our kids for that reality so that they know: “This is not your ticket to popularity to follow God’s Word. This is not going to make you everybody’s favorite person; but this is going to make you the person that people are going to come to when they’re hurting/when things aren’t going the way they want to. They’re going to know: ‘There’s something about that person. Their life has a foundation to it that my life doesn’t have.’”
You have to get your kids prepped for that, because the headwinds are strong.
Jeffrey: That’s what our Savior did. You remember John 15; there are two or three chapters there, where Jesus pulls together His followers—of course, He knows what’s to come—but He pulls them together; and He reminds them: “Hey, the world’s going to hate you. There’s going to be a time when they’re going to throw you out of the synagogue; they’re going to kill you; and they’re going to do so, saying they’re doing so in My name.” He goes through two chapters of this.
He gets to the end of chapter 16—after He’s given them this powerful warning that: “The world is going to hate you, because it hated Me first,”—what does He say? He says: “I’ve told you these things, not to freak you out, but to give you peace. In this world you’re going to have trouble; but I’m here, and I’ve already overcome the world.”
I listen to you—and I think about that challenge Jesus gave us; equally, He hands it off to us for us to pay it forward to our kids to prepare them for these moments—“The world will hate you.” That’s not easily digestible for our kids today—you know, this—in the social-media: “It’s all about me” driven culture—our kids are looking for popularity online. They want to attain the “100 Like Club” on their next post.
To tell them, “Hey, embrace God’s way; and you won’t be accepted, and popular, and cool,”—again, that’s not something to easily digest for them—but we prepare them, as Jesus did for us in the Scriptures, knowing that: “Though the world’s going to hate you, God’s in it with you.” There’s great peace in that, and I find comfort in that.
Dave: I think it’s important to add, especially as parents—with the authority of God’s Word for our kids, teenagers and beyond—if it’s not real in our life, as a parent, they sniff that out in a second.
Dave: It’s like, “Oh, Dad or Mom’s just saying this because…”; you know. But if they see it—it’s the authority in their parent’s life—much greater chance it’s going to stick in their life.
Ann: I think for me, even as our kids were growing up, I’m always asking God this question: “God, what do You want me to know today? What are You teaching me today in Your Word?” Then I would want to overflow into my kids, because it’s not forced; it’s overflow. I can remember at the dinner table, like: “You guys won’t believe what God showed me today,” or “…what God’s doing,” or “…who I talked to today.”
I think, especially as teenagers, it’s much more palatable to receive it that way: “Wow, God is really moving in Mom’s heart,” rather than “You need to be in the Word!”—that kind of thing. They see it.
Jeffrey: Yes, yes.
Bob: You know, these are foundational principles we’ve talked about. We can hear some of these things and go: “Yes, yes; I’ve heard that,” “I know that,” and kind of dismiss it. But Dave, you were involved in sports long enough to know that you have to keep coming back to blocking and tackling; you have to keep coming back to the foundation, because as many times as we’ve heard these things, we have to be reminded. You can’t forget it.
Yes; your kids: you’re the most important influence; yes, you need to stay involved in their lives; yes, you need to keep pointing them back to God’s Word as the source for all of this. These foundational truths are going to make your parenting journey—well, you’re going to be successful teens—that’s what the goal is; that’s the name of the book that Jeffrey has written.
In fact, we want to make this book available to any of our listeners who’d like to get a copy today. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY, and let us know you’d like a copy of Jeffrey’s book. We’re making it available to those of you who can support the ministry with a donation. The book is our gift to you when you go online to donate at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Make a donation to FamilyLife Today and just ask for your copy of Jeffrey Dean’s book, Raising Successful Teens; and we’re happy to send it out to you. We appreciate your ongoing support for this ministry.
Now, we know that the last several months have been challenging for many of us/for most of us. We’ve been dealing with stress and strain from unusual circumstances, and that puts strain on our relationships with one another. Here at FamilyLife®, we’ve put together a resource we think is going to help. It’s a free resource that we want to make available to you that’s called “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great.”
This gives you access to a couple of online mini-courses you can take: one on how to resolve conflict when it happens in a marriage, and then a series called “Lightbulb Moments in Marriage.” We also are including access to messages on marriage from Paul David Tripp, from Dr. Gary Chapman, Voddie Baucham, and Juli Slattery; and some conversation starters. There’s a whole bunch available in this “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great” resource that is available to you for free.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get access to all of this content we’re making available; and everybody who registers to get the content, you are automatically going to be eligible to win a prize we put together. We’d love to fly a couple to join us, here at FamilyLife, for a FamilyLife Today recording session, and then dinner that night with Dave and Ann Wilson. Again, find out more; go to FamilyLifeToday.com; register for the “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great” resource; and maybe you’ll be the couple who joins us here at FamilyLife for a recording session and dinner with Dave and Ann. Whether you win the prize or not, you’ll benefit from the content that’s available; so go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get the “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great” resource.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation about raising successful teens. Part of the strategy means you have to know who your kids are hanging out with/know what’s going on in their lives. You have to be in their world. Jeffrey Dean’s going to join us again tomorrow. I hope you can be here 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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