Monthly Archives: November 2016
You can remember her braids, dolls and favorite blanket like it was yesterday. Yet your teen daughter may have caught up with you in height (or surpassed you) and is now a young woman. She’s navigating an exciting and challenging season of greater independence, friendships, school and social activities. And then there are boys.
The teenage dating scene can be intense and full of drama — from exciting new relationships to painful breakups and ruined friendships. As parents, we want our daughters to mature and engage in healthy relationships, so it’s important for us to help them navigate these experiences so they will be prepared for that one most important, committed relationship down the road.
Her identity in Christ
A large part of preparing your teen for a healthy future relationship is helping her first become a healthy individual who finds her identity in Christ and who isn’t looking for a relationship to keep loneliness, insecurity or discontentment at bay.
Mary Anne Locke, a godly friend of mine who raised two daughters, used to gently remind her girls, “The times when you find yourself looking for a boyfriend because you feel like you ‘need’ one are the seasons when you are actually furthest from being in a healthy place to date someone.” Why? At those times, they were looking to date in order to feel more important, more accepted or more popular.
Mary Anne used these times to emphasize to the girls their significance and worth in Christ alone. She taught them that, ultimately, a healthy relationship isn’t supposed to fulfill them, but rather enhance the person they’ve already discovered themselves to be.
Who she is as an individual
Mary Anne also encouraged her girls to pay attention to the things that made them feel most alive. For one daughter, it was every weekday afternoon when she visited a local elementary school to read to younger children. Through this experience, she discovered her love of teaching and decided to become an educator. For her other daughter, it was a study-abroad experience that made history come alive. Helping your daughter know herself and see her own strengths, passions and God-given calling allows her to discern if someone she is dating truly complements her strengths and rounds out her weaknesses.
Every relationship counts
Teens need to understand that every flirtation, date or relationship in which they engage matters. It can be easy to think, It’s only one date, or We’re just having fun. But according to Laura Gallier, the author of Why Wait? and Choosing to Wait, every encounter they have either lowers, maintains or raises their standard for what is acceptable with the opposite sex.
Establish a standard that emphasizes honor and respect. For instance, you can let your daughter know that anyone she wants to go out with must agree to meet you and be respectful toward her in front of her friends. These may seem like old-fashioned ideals, but without establishing standards, she may adopt an “anything goes” mentality — based on avoiding embarrassment and wanting to belong.
Encourage your daughter to expect even one-time dates to treat her with the same respect she would want from her future husband. How she allows these young men to treat her now paves the way for how she’ll allow her husband to treat her in the future.
Value patience and boundaries
High school is not the time for any experience to reach its pinnacle, according to Mary Anne. The teen years are just the beginning. This is important for girls to understand because a relationship that develops too quickly often has a way of shrinking a teen’s world rather than expanding it. The teenage years are for friendship, growth and preparation.
Contrary to what our culture communicates, we need to teach our kids that dating is not primarily about being with someone your teen finds attractive, Laura Gallier says. In the teen years, the purpose of dating is to learn about the opposite sex and begin figuring out the kind of person your teen would want to spend the rest of her life with. Before your daughter says yes to a date, remind her about the big picture of exploring healthy, God-honoring options.
The teen years are a time to establish the foundation for healthy relationships so that once the wedding day comes and goes, the commitment to honor vows and continue on a path of love and faithfulness stays strong.
The responses to an open-ended online survey question were heart-wrenching.
“Those five years ruined everything. My self-identity is sad, melancholic, shy, retiring and angry… never content or at peace.”
“It has hampered me all my working life.”
“Problems with relationships with the opposite sex my whole life made me think something was wrong with me.”
“I will never know the person I could have become….”
Lasting Scars of Childhood Sexual Abuse
All of those comments were made by adult men who had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, particularly priests, when they were children. Collected as part of a 2010 survey, they illustrate the insidious harm that can follow individuals throughout their lives when they are badly hurt — physically or emotionally — as children.
A study of more than 21,000 child abuse survivors age 60 and older in Australia found they reported a greater rate of failed marriages and relationships.
(See below for a video of one such man.)
Childhood sexual abuse is just one type of early trauma that can affect one’s life for decades — even into middle age and beyond. Research has shown that childhood trauma, ranging from parents’ divorce to alcoholism in the home, increases the odds of heart disease, stroke, depression, suicide, diabetes, lung diseases, alcoholism and liver disease later in life. It also increases risky health behaviors like smoking and having a large number of sexual partners. And it contributes to “low life potential,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
I was seated at my desk, barely able to concentrate. I shifted papers, opened drawers, glanced out the window. Shifted papers, opened drawers, glanced out the window. Shifted papers … I felt like I was expecting an important phone call and was just trying to do something, anything, productive while waiting. But it wasn’t working.
Neither was I.
Finally, my executive assistant informed me that the young man I’d been expecting was waiting for me in the lobby.
Deep breath, Dennis. You’re the adult here. You can do this. I was about to interview the first of many young men who wanted a date with one of my daughters.
I stood to my feet and walked across the room, still amazed at how nervous I was as I stepped into the lobby to meet Kevin—the only person in the building more anxious and ill at ease than I.
“Afternoon, Kevin, glad you could make it.”
“Hello, Mr. Rainey.”
“How about we get something from the Coke machine. I hear you’re a Dr. Pepper man.”
Riding a very thin wave of forced, uncomfortable chitchat, I deposited enough money to dislodge a cold Coke for him and a Diet Coke for me. Then, not wanting to be the Ultimate Intimidator, I suggested we go outside and chat in the parking lot. That’s where he showed me his motorcycle—which wasn’t exactly how I wanted Ashley to go out on her first date!
I opened my soft drink and looked squarely into the same eyes that enjoyed looking at my 16-year-old daughter. We began with the basics. I asked him about school, his mom and dad and family, interests—just a general get-to-know-you type of conversation.
“God made men and women different”
“Kevin,” I said, hoping I’d also remember the rest of the words I wanted to say, “God did a wonderful thing when he made women.”
The color fell from his face. This was going to be worse than he had thought. I wondered if at any moment he might hop on that motorcycle and bolt!
I continued. “And, Kevin, God made men and women different. You’ve probably noticed some of those differences.”
Kevin was getting paler by the minute, but he had the presence of mind to nod.
“Actually, God made us different so that men and women would be attracted to one another. Now, Kevin,” I paused for dramatic effect, “you have probably noticed that God made Ashley quite attractive. She’s a really cute girl. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that she has a cute figure.”
This was less of a statement and more of a question. If Kevin said no, he and I would both know he was lying. If he said yes, however, he was admitting to the obvious: that he had the audacity to notice my daughter’s figure!
After a brief pause, I spared him the agony and continued.
“I mean, you’re a young man and Ashley is a young lady, and God made men and women to be attracted to one another. It’s good.” Kevin seemed to be relieved at my pronouncement. I went on.
“And, Kevin, I just want you to know that I am a man and I understand this attraction. I was once a teenage boy, and I know what teenage boys think about. I’ve even read some research on this, and the studies show that teenage boys think about sex every seven seconds.”
I was never the kind of woman who was good with babies. Oh, I could admire them just fine. I just didn’t have the first clue about caring for them.
When I was a new mom, my friend came over and tossed around my baby in total comfort. She held Ethan one way, then casually flipped him to rest on her forearm, then cradled him close and then held him out. She gave him back to me with a breezy smile, and I robotically put my hands under his armpits and pulled him cautiously toward me. To me, he seemed like a piece of china that might break. My friend treated him like a football.
I remember being intimidated by my friend’s skill and finesse. And she didn’t even have any children! How was I going to be a good mom? I couldn’t even hold my baby confidently.
In the beginning, the parenting journey can feel overwhelming. Looking back at those early years, I now recognize a few fundamentals that have helped me find my bearings whenever I’ve felt lost.
Accept no substitutes
When Ethan was about 6 weeks old, he was crying upstairs in his crib. I had several parenting books open on the kitchen table. I flipped pages frantically. What was wrong? Was he hungry? Wet? Too cold? I tentatively walked up the stairs. By the time I reached his bedroom door, he was really screaming. I reached for my son and asked, “How are you doing, little one?”
To my surprise, he stopped crying. His shaking ceased. He blinked and closed his eyes. I waited a few moments, and then quietly left the room. Apparently, he just needed to know I was around.
There is simply no substitute for your presence in your child’s life. No one can know and nurture him like you can. Even when you feel woefully inadequate, there’s no one better equipped to parent your child. God gave your children to you. And He built them to be in relationship with you.
When you intentionally parent every day, making an effort to continuously connect with your child, your child will grow and thrive. In his book The Power of the Other, Dr. Henry Cloud discusses the power of physical and emotional connection between parents and children. Studies show that children without such relationships don’t learn as well, don’t grow as well and are never as healthy as those with attentive parents. “The invisible attributes of relationship, the connection between people, have real, tangible and measurable power,” Cloud writes. And this isn’t just true with babies. Children and people of all ages, according to Cloud, “succeed at a much greater rate if they are connected to a strong human support system.”
So just keep showing up. Don’t get stuck comparing yourself to other parents. Don’t allow technology to be a substitute parent. The latest and greatest educational app can’t come close to the value of your instruction and guidance. Let your words and actions communicate, every day, to your child, “I am for you. You are important to me. I see you.”
Value humility over self-esteem
Do your family a favor and avoid buying your child cute T-shirts that sport messages like “I Am My Favorite Princess” or “There’s No Awesome Without Me.” What’s wrong with these messages? Haven’t psychologists continually told us to bolster a child’s self-esteem?
With the rise of the self-esteem movement, kids haven’t become more emotionally healthy. A 2015 study at Ohio State University found that parental overvaluation — teaching a child that he is more awesome than classmates and friends — was the largest predictor of a child’s narcissism over time. Perhaps more interesting is that this overvaluation didn’t lead to better self-esteem, just a bigger ego.
Dr. Leonard Sax is a family physician and psychologist who sees more than 90,000 families a year. In his book The Collapse of Parenting, Dr. Sax says the first job of parents should be to teach their child humility. “Humility simply means being as interested in other people as you are in yourself,” he writes. “It means that when you meet new people, you try to learn something about them before going off on a spiel about how incredible your current project is. … The opposite of humility is inflated self-esteem.”
You don’t want your child to grow up to be a puffed up 30-year-old who’s resentful because no one recognizes how awesome she is. You want a 30-year-old who’s open to correction, grateful for what she has and ready to contribute.
You know what kind of T-shirt I’d like to buy for my 7-year-old? One that reads, “Nice to Meet You.”
Never stop learning
When I was potty training Ethan, I charted every wet Pull-Up and successful trip to the bathroom. I read books and asked other moms for advice. For weeks, I lived potty training with the passion and precision of a toilet ninja.
With preschoolers, we tend to be very intentional about educating ourselves as parents. What food is best? When should my son know his ABCs? But after our children begin school, I think we often drift away from being students of our children.
I am convinced that if we will take the time to study our children and learn about the next stage of development, it will make our parenting journey smoother and happier. Gobble up advice from friends and experts about what’s going to be happening with your child in the next few years.
We will never forget that incredible moment when our daughter Ashley was born. The doctor cleaned her up and handed her to us. Dennis recalls that he wanted to blurt out, “Thanks for the gift, but where are the instructions?”
When we started out, we had a few ideas of what it meant to be a parent and raise children. Two years later we added a son and we realized that we had better become intentional about what we wanted to do as parents and teach our children.
As a result we began a list of 25 things we wanted to teach our children. Then it became 40, 50, and even more. (For your sake we’ve shortened the list back to the top 40.) Some of these lessons began during the first year for each of our six children, while others were emphasized later during childhood or adolescence. Today our children are adults and our role in their lives has changed. We have moved from being teachers to being cheerleaders and advisors, when asked.
Raising children requires huge chunks of time, prayer, discipline, involvement, and relationship-building. This list of values and traits has helped us focus on biblical priorities in raising children to become mature adults of faith and godly character.
- Above all, fear God.
- Respect authority—trust and obey your parents.
- The importance of friendships.
- Be in love with Christ and focus on your relationship with Him, not just on doctrine or on biblical principles.
- Have compassion for the poor and orphans.
- Believe God for too much rather than too little.
- Real strength is found in serving, not in being served.
- The power of moral purity and a clean conscience.
- How to motivate people without manipulating them.
- How to handle failure.
- Keep your promises.
- The power of the tongue for good or evil.
- Give too much rather than too little.
- The importance of manners and common courtesies.
- View life through God’s agenda—the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).
- Give thanks to God in all things.
- The importance of prayer.
- The art of asking good questions, carrying on good conversation.
- How to grow as a Christian.
- How to handle temptation.
- By faith, trust Christ as your Savior and Lord, and share with others how to become a Christian.
- Seeking wisdom—skill in everyday living. Knowing how to make good decisions.
- Gaining a sense of God’s direction and destiny for your life.
- Stay teachable and do not become cynical.
- Obtain godly counsel.
- The importance of flexibility and adaptability to cope in life.
- Truth is best passed on through relationships.
- Leave a legacy of holiness.
- Keep life manageable. Prioritize decisions.
- Tame selfishness—you can’t always get your way.
- Choices are yours to make and results are yours to experience.
- Respect the dignity of other people—all people.
- Be faithful in the little things.
- Character is the basis of all leadership.
- Life isn’t fair—don’t compare with or be jealous of others.
- Live by commitments, not by feelings.
- Express grace and forgiveness.
- A strong work ethic.
- Surrender to the authority of Christ.
- How to handle your finances.
One of my primary responsibilities as the father of four daughters was to help protect them from losing their innocence, especially as they approached the adolescent years. As part of this effort, I met and talked with nearly every young man who wanted to go out with my girls. I asked specific questions and challenged these young men to a high standard of purity.
These experiences led to my book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, which was published in 2007. I received a lot of positive feedback from appreciative dads, but I also got something that I didn’t expect. Quite a few parents contacted me to say, “I really appreciate the helpful advice for raising daughters, but we really need something to help our sons deal with aggressive girls in this sexually-saturated culture.”
Read this mother’s frustration:
I have a very outgoing, charming, attractive 15-year-old son. I have literally been chasing the girls away from the door ever since the seventh grade. The phone calls, identified by caller ID, were left for the answering machine to answer. The aggressiveness and promiscuity of young girls nowadays is beyond words. Their dress is so alluring and inviting to a young man, what’s a guy to do? Moreover, what’s a mom to do?
Another mother wrote after hearing the FamilyLife Today® broadcast we did on my book:
After listening to your “Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date” program today, I’m wondering if you have been on a high school or junior high campus recently. While I agree with your points today, I have a seventh grade son. Let me tell you that the girls are relentless. So aggressive. He’s at a Christian school, and this is a problem. I can only imagine what it may be like elsewhere. Please address this issue.
Back when I was growing up, there were some girls who were called “boy crazy,” but very few were as forward and aggressive as what we’re seeing today. Based on my conversation with parents, and what I’ve seen through research on the Internet, I think parents are facing some serious challenges. We’re seeing more girls taking the initiative with guys at younger and younger ages, and aggressively attempting to lure them into sexual activity. As I’ve done research on the issue, parents are telling me about groups of girls getting together and targeting young men.
Of course, I’m not talking about all young ladies. But the situation has changed enough in recent years that we need to ask: How can we prepare our teenage sons for dealing with the attention and temptation being thrown at them by some sexually aggressive girls?
What in the world is happening?
What is going on in the hearts of some young girls that causes them to be so assertive? I think there are several reasons for what we are seeing:
First, the culture is supporting it. Movies, television shows, commercials, magazines, books … they all glamorize sex and intimacy and the right of young women to go after whatever it is they think will make them happy.
Second, we have a whole generation of young men who are confused in their own sexual identity. Are they supposed to be sensitive or aggressive? Leaders or helpers? Many young men today are not being taught how to treat a young lady with nobility, dignity, and respect. Many are growing up without a father or male figure to provide guidance. As a result, some of these young men have no idea how they should expect to be treated by a real young lady.
Third, the breakdown of the family has resulted in a whole generation of daughters who have been abandoned. And in the absence of a healthy, emotional attachment to their fathers and mothers, they’re trying to fill their emotional gas tanks with the opposite sex.