Posts in category Adolescents

How to dad

The dud dad is dead.

The superhero of a new Cheerios commercial campaign delivers a mortal wound to feckless fatherhood. The clueless father image propped up by the media for so many years has been stuffed in a closet somewhere and replaced by his superhero nemesis.

“Let me introduce myself. My name is…”

“Dad!” (calls out a child from another room).

“and proud of it. And all dads should be.”

YouTube Preview Image

Being a dad is being a superhero amid real family life: Kids rudely waking you up in the morning, being annoying, being rude to each other, being childish. But these are the same kids who need engagement, encouragement, instruction, and reminders to step up that can only come from a dad.

In the commercial, Cheerios lightheartedly shows “how to dad,” highlighting the things that make dads different from moms, and so endearing to kids. Things like telling hilarious jokes and building the best forts. Like not being afraid of getting messy and like seeing “boo-boos” as badges of bravery. And believing cereal is for breakfast … and lunch, and dinner, and late-night snacks.

The campaign doesn’t pass up the chance to take some great pot shots at today’s perpetual male adolescence. It casually points out that true “awesome” is not about breaking rules but making them, and about wearing your clothes like a man.

But the true focus of the commercial is pointing out (in a fun way) how important dads are to their children.

“Kids: they’re our best friends; they’re our biggest fans. And they look to us the same way we look at superheroes …”

“Up … because we’re taller.”

Throughout the commercial the dad encourages and engages with his children and holds up a high standard by word and example. And from the comments I’ve seen on YouTube, the commercial is doing the same thing for menlaying out for us a standard of fatherhood and encouragement on how to dad.

So, if your wife catches you having that late night cereal snack, tell her you’re just manning up.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Scott Williams, How to dad, on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat in the video encouraged you in your job as a dad? What area(s) did it make you want to work on?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead “3 Gifts Every Dad Should Give His Kids.” Pick one gift each week and work on that as your “how to dad” assignment.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this blog post and the “How to Dad” video with other dads via Facebook,  Twitter or email.



We’re just talking

One of the unique opportunities I have had in attending seminary, after ten years of marriage, is discipling young men who are single or dating. One of the disadvantages, however, is not being current on the lingo.

This struck me in a recent conversation with a friend who told me he had gone out several times with a young lady and was uncertain about the status of the relationship. Curious, I asked him if he was planning on continuing to date this girl.

“You misunderstand,” he said, “we aren’t dating — we’re just talking.”

“Talking?” I replied, a little confused, “you mean like we’re talking right now.”

“No,” he explained, “we’re at the stage of a relationship just before dating. It’s called talking.”

Dumbfounded and feeling a little old and disconnected, I decided to investigate this new pre-dating phenomenon. “Talking,” I discovered, is a widely accepted stage in current guy/girl relationships wherein a young man and a young woman get to know each other without better defining the relationship. This isn’t even a real stage of the relationship; it’s a pre-stage. They’re not just friends; they’re not really dating or pursuing marriage; they’re “talking.”

After these conversations, I was left with the question: Do we really need another stage in relationships that are directed toward marriage?

Shirking Responsibility

Our culture suffers from a large number of males wallowing around in quasi-manhood for many years. Boys used to grow up, get a job, and move out of the house. But we have inserted this chain of life stages from adolescence, to the college years, to early career, and so on — all of which permit young men to put off growing up, taking responsibility, and generally acting like a man.

This new phase of pre-dating called “talking” is like adolescence for relationships: an unnecessary stage in the relationship allowing young men to avoid taking responsibility and acting like men. It prevents the man from having to be clear about his intentions to pursue or end the relationship. If he wants to stop “talking,” he simply walks away, leaving behind a confused, and potentially wounded, young lady.

John Piper[1] defines biblical masculinity as, “a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.” It is the responsibility of the man to take a leadership role in relationships, to be forthright, honest, and clear about his intentions. This “talking” phase normalizes relationship without responsibility; closeness without clarity; cultural manhood, not biblical manhood.

The young ladies I’ve spoken to share this frustration. They are left in a state of relational limbo, where they are unsure of the young man’s intentions and the purpose of the relationship. They are stuck going on non-dates with guys who are scared to date.

In their defense, guys tell me they are afraid to ask a lady out because she might immediately assume he wants to marry her. I understand the concern, but that does not change the need for character — it makes it all the more necessary.

Intentionality Is a Way to Serve Sisters in Christ

First, you should ask girls out that you see as potential wives. Second, when you don’t see her as a potential wife any longer, explain yourself and then stop asking her out. Third, throughout the relationship be clear, upfront, and honest about your intentions. If you just want to get to know her better, tell her so. If you see this relationship turning into something more serious, tell her that too. If you think she’s a great girl but don’t want to pursue the relationship further, tell her! That’s the kind of “talking” that should characterize the relationship.

If things don’t work out, and if you’ve acted like a true man, you’ve gotten to know a sister in Christ better and helped prepare her to meet her future husband. If things do work out, congratulations, you’re married. Those are the only two options for a man of God.

If you are a young man intimidated by the prospect of intentionally pursuing a young woman as a wife, seek the Lord in fervent prayer. Search your heart and your intentions to ensure they are grounded in the gospel and informed by Scripture. With your conscience clear before the Lord and your heart and mind shaped by His word, stand confident in the care of your heavenly Father (and hers) and speak boldly to your sister in Christ. Our God is a God of truth, and your sister in Christ deserves to know the truth from you.

If you are a young lady stuck with a guy who isn’t interested in pursuing you but expects your prolonged time and attention as he “talks” to you, ask yourself if this is the type of indecisive boy-man you want to follow for the rest of your life. It is impossible to follow someone who will not lead. Find a man who will treat you as a sister in the Lord deserves to be treated: with honesty, integrity, and clarity.

It’s time to kiss “talking” goodbye. Our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve better than this.


[1] Piper, John. What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Books), 23.

JD Gunter is a student and staff member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before coming to seminary, he served in various church leadership positions in addition to spending fifteen years in the automotive and finance industries. He and his wife Tiffany have been married ten years, have two children, and are active members at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Resurrected pain

Resurrecting pain

Ron & Nan Deal and sons

I am dreading the holidays. My 12-year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the “joy of the season” with so much sorrow in our hearts?

Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

The Enduring Nature of Loss
Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won’t “get over it.” You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could, once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

Because loss is enduring, these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to “fix” others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed world that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother’s adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild’s Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

Responding to Loss
Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed—and received with compassion. Don’t be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don’t fear listening to those of others. The process of “bearing with one another” is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

Give permission to grieve and use the holidays as a springboard to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, “I noticed that you’re not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I’ll bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]” Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, “I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together.” These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. “I’ve noticed that since coming home from your mom’s house you are pretty irritable. I’m wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?” A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone’s grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, “I know your sister’s family is only here for a short time. Why don’t you spend extra time with them and I’ll manage the children for a while.”

Don’t take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child’s sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don’t make it about you; keep it about them.

Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children’s sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don’t allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

The Great Teacher
Loss is the great teacher. It has the power, for example, to deepen our walk with the Lord, reprioritize our lives, and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don’t squash your grief (or anyone else’s). God will teach you much if you will pay attention to your loss and listen.

Learn more about Connor’s Song, the ministry started in Connor’s memory.

Letters that transform

Letters that transformI have several handwritten cards saved from as far back as when I was a boy. They’re heavy stock 3-by-5 cards with the initials JFK at the top. These notes are golden … treasured. I loved getting them and I saved them to read again. I still read them. They assured me I was significant, I was valued, I was loved.

No, they didn’t come from the president, but someone much more important to me. The writer of these notes was a congressman, an athlete, my dad – Jack French Kemp.

When I was a boy I’d find these notes on my pillow or in my spot at the table. My dad continued to send them well into my adulthood. I valued those notes not for what they said about him, but what they said about me. He loved me. He believed in me. He was proud of me. He encouraged me.

Dad was a busy man who traveled too much, perhaps. But even in his absence he communicated love, and he took the time to leave it in ink on paper.

Most of us get too busy to write down in notes and letters our love and admiration for our parents, our wives, our children, or our grandchildren. But when we take the time to write them, our letters of love change the lives of our loved ones because they put to words what often goes unspoken — how much they mean to us. Children, especially, are desperate to know what their parents really think of them.

In case you think I’m overplaying the significance of these kinds of notes, it’s happening this year in the lives of single parents and their sons on a Los Angeles high school football team.

It all began when a 32-year-old coach asked the parents of all his players to write a letter of affirmation and love to their sons. Masaki Matsumoto had actually picked up the powerful idea from a coach near Seattle, but it resonated with him. Having been raised by his mom, Masaki knew how stretched single parents are. He also knew how hungry teenagers are to know how much their parents love them.

Coach Matsumoto asked the parents to get these special letters to him by the beginning of the practice season.

When 45 varsity football players arrived at the school’s gymnasium in July, they anticipated performing conditioning exercises. Instead, each was handed an envelope and told to find a quiet spot where he could read what was inside and reflect. What happened next took everyone by surprise. For the next 15 minutes or so, wherever Matsumoto looked he saw players sobbing — against walls, in corners, bent over in chairs.

The letters built connection. They brought everyone together as family.


I love stories like this because every one of us can replicate it. Not the football team part of it, but the letters are a gift we can give to our children, our grandchildren, even to our parents.

I’ve gotten letters like this from my dad … and I’ve written them to my sons. My wife has prompted my sons to write them to me for a special occasion and I’ve challenged them to do the same for her.

Whether you are the President or a congressman, a high school coach, a parent or a grandparent … I challenge you to schedule time this week to write a letter to a child or grandchild. Put yourself in their shoes and tell them what they want and need to hear.

Start by drafting a bullet point list of their positive character traits. Build on it by affirming their talents and dreams. Declare your love and pride in them. Apologize for your shortcomings.

Write those letters that transform — that will unleash your love and confidence. They may be the words that change a relationship.

The power of praise — good and bad

Much ado is made these days about the power of praise in the lives of children. With seven children of my own, I understand how much they need affirmation. But I often chafe at how indiscriminate some experts are about their encouragement to praise.

A few years ago, I ran across a book that challenged the popular notion about “the power of praise.” Nurture Shock is a book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. The duo compiled many of their New York magazine articles through the years on the science of parenting. It’s broken into topical headings with provocative titles that strike at the heart of culturally vogue parenting myths.

Right out of the blocks the book attacks the Golden Calf of  parenting myths — that children should be praised for things like their intelligence, and as often as possible.  Bronson wrote in his original New York article:

“According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart.  In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.”

power of praiseThe problem is that studies suggest this type of praise is having the opposite effect. “Giving kids the label of ‘smart’ does not prevent them from underperforming.  It might actually be causing it.”

The praise fad owes it genesis to Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Bronson and Merryman contrast it with the recent research of Carol Dweck which shows quite a different picture.

For more than a decade, Dweck has studied the power of praise on the academic and social well-being of older elementary school children. Consider what she found when she looked at research from other scholars:

  • Children who are praised for their intelligence are more likely to attempt easier tasks, seeking success over growth.
  • Children praised for their efforts are more likely to attempt harder tasks. They attribute their lack of success to their own actions, then redouble their efforts the next time. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck says. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success.  Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
  • A review of 200 studies done on self-esteem finds that the quality didn’t improve grades or career achievement. Nor did it lower alcoholism or violence.
  • Students who grow up with excessive verbal reward fail to develop perseverance and are prone to quit trying when rewards are withdrawn.
  • Among two control groups, students who were taught study skills alone didn’t perform as well as those who were given study skills and taught about how challenging the brain improves intelligence.

Bottom line: Don’t praise your children simply because you think they need to feel good about themselves and their gifts. Praise them for what they do well, for their efforts to tackle a problem. Bronson and Merryman point out that children are quite adept at sniffing out insincere praise. In fact, they may even dismiss adults who seem too quick to praise when it’s not really due.

There are those parents. And then there’s me.

I’ve always been on the other end of the spectrum. Because I know what insincere praise feels like, I often don’t praise out of concern that a child may feel that I’m pandering to his self-esteem. My seven children have learned that when Dad gives praise, it’s genuine.

Unfortunately, Dad doesn’t invoke the power of praise enough.

While the findings detailed in Nurture Shock do somewhat vindicate me in my low-praise approach, still I know that I need to strive for greater balance. The best place I know to find that balance is in the Scriptures.

I’m immediately reminded of the story of the three servants. Each is given an amount of their master’s money to look after while he is away. When he returns, he asks them to give an accounting. Each had solid explanations for their actions. The master praised the first two while harshly rebuking the third. The bottom line is that whether they received a lot or a little, the servants were judged on what they did with what they had. That is a good ground rule.

Praise — whether it’s for children or adults — shouldn’t look like junk mail, which comes to everyone indiscriminately. It should look more like a hand-written, hand-addressed note. Praise should be the result of a job well done, a situation well handled, or a challenge nobly met. At the same time, praise-stingy people like me need the admonition that the Apostle Paul gave to the believers in the church in the city of Philippi.

“…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Each of us needs to be diligent to look for praiseworthy qualities and behavior. And we need to be just as diligent to make sure that our praise is sincere, and sincerely warranted.

Bronson and Merryman conclude the first chapter of Nurture Shock with a personal story about learning to praise appropriately. The author, undertook a personal three-step program to recovery for praise addicts like himself.

  1. First not praising everything,
  2. Then looking for specific things to praise that would unleash the child’s initiative to achieve.
  3. Finally, learning to delay praise until the child wrestled through a problem himself and had earned the commendation.

Coming from the other end of the praise continuum, I guess I need to have my own three-step program for the praise stingy.

  1. First to consciously hold off on correction unless it’s absolutely needed.
  2. Then to look for very specific incidents where praise is due and offer it freely and sincerely.
  3. Finally, to make honest praise second nature.

Praise is impotent when used indiscriminately, but when sincerely applied has incredible power to unleash undeveloped potential. We would all do well to use it wisely.

An orphan’s plea

YouTube Preview Image
Davion Only has been in and out of foster homes his entire life, but has always wanted a family.  “I just want people to love me for who I am and to grab me and keep me in their house and love me no matter what,” he says.

He learned that his birth mother was in prison when she gave birth to him, and she recently died.  He told his caseworker that he wanted to make a plea at a church for someone to adopt him.  “I’ll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”

So recently he found himself in front of the congregation at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla. ”My name is Davion and I’ve been in foster care since I was born,” he said. “I know God hasn’t given up on me. So I’m not giving up either.”

The response to the Davion’s plea has been overwhelming. His story went viral on Twitter, and was picked up by newspapers, magazines, and television shows around the world.  He appeared on The View. Thousands have inquired about adopting him.

When I read this story, I thought, Maybe this is what it takes.  Maybe we need to allow foster kids who want to speak, like Davion, to do so in our churches. Maybe their faces and voices will inspire the Christian community to finally step up and begin to address the needs of more than 100,000 children in our foster care system who need a family and could be adopted.

Davion Only stepped up. What would happen if men in thousands of churches across America stepped up and addressed this issue?

This November is Adoption Awareness Month. Why not ask if there are foster care children in your community who can be adopted and inquire if there is a child who would be willing to take the risk of sharing his need for a family? Then take the foster child to your church, give him or her a microphone and let him ask, “Would someone adopt me and give me a family?” And of course, if the child doesn’t feel comfortable making such a plea, ask if you could be the voice for that child.

Does our God believe in adoption? He does and it’s a good thing … it’s why He sent His Son to die on our behalf, so that we might be forgiven from the penalty of our sins. God will adopt us if we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

God believes in adoption and so should we. He hears the orphan’s plea.

By the way, Barbara and I adopted one of our six children — and we don’t know which one.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to help orphans, go to to explore their many resources.

Why Abercrombie & Fitch is wrong

Men, you need to know this:  Abercrombie & Fitch is wrong.

Recently, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, said in a statement to the press regarding his company’s marketing target demographic: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in A&F], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

The statement was about the fact that Abercrombie doesn’t carry any clothing for young women larger than a size 10, or a ladies “large,” but does carry “XXS” for young women.

Do you get that?  Extra-Extra-Small is equal to “Cool.”

Wow!  That puts a lot, a whole lot, of pressure on young girls to be very thin, even if it could be unhealthy.   In a place where there are a lot of voices telling our young people that looks are more important than character, a statement like this from a large corporation, especially one that sells clothing, really concerns me.  I am the father of a girl who might be vulnerable to messages like this.

We read and hear about bullies all the time.  But, who would expect the CEO of a huge corporation to bully our young girls?  I want my daughter to be strong, not skinny.  I want her to know that beauty comes from her identity in Christ.  Not from what people say to her.  I want my daughter to understand that she makes the clothes.  The clothes don’t make her.

Abercrombie & Fitch is wrong. As her father, what I say to my daughter will affect how she feels about herself for the rest of her life. As dad, I don’t want to hinder my daughter,  I plan on empowering her, and inspiring her every chance I get.  And I plan to counter every negative message she hears from the culture around us.

I want my daughter to understand and embrace God’s word, which says: “You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (I Peter 3:4).

Dads, what do you think?  Are you reinforcing with your daughter(s) that what really counts is what she is inside? That a beautiful, quiet spirit — one that honors God — is beautiful?

Managing anger in teenagers: lessons from experience

It’s so important in a family to get a handle on anger.

Have you ever had a scene like this in your home?

Two of our teenagers were asked to clean the kitchen together. Over the next 45 minutes, I came back in to inspect their work three times.

The first time they were arguing about who had done the most. I asked them kindly to keep on working. The next time they were bickering about who had to sweep the floor. I calmed their emotions and encouraged them to finish the job.

Finally, after I had inspected their halfhearted work, the two gave me the lame excuse that they didn’t know what a clean kitchen should look like!

familylife men stepping up anger management

That did it. This normally unflappable dad flipped. The anger that I had controlled during the prior visits erupted and spewed out like lava. I went on a tirade about how they were disrespectful and disobedient. I picked up a box of Kleenex and, in unsanctified rage, flung the box near their feet. Hard! I whirled around, stormed out of the kitchen, and stomped out the front door, slamming it shut.

Standing there on our front porch, with my blood pressure higher than the stock market, two profound thoughts dawned on me. First, It’s very cold out here. Why am I standing here freezing and they are inside warm as toast? I’m the father, the one who is paying for this house and supposedly in charge!

The second thought settled in like the cold and pierced me to the bone. My anger has got the best of me, and I’m acting like a foolish child.

I don’t recall how long I stayed outside, nor do I recall the exact words of the apology to my children that followed. I do recall coming to an important realization: If I am going to help these children grow up emotionally and know how to appropriately express their anger, then I’ve got to finish the process of growing up, too.

God never said we shouldn’t get angry. God did say to not let anger spoil and turn into sin — a trap. The Bible cautions, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quickly tempered exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). And, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

Anger was never intended to be an emotion that we hold onto for more than minutes or at most, hours. That’s why the Scriptures warn us, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). It’s nearly impossible to rest with an anger alarm ringing, as all of us have found out more often than we’d like to admit.

Ross Campbell wrote in How to Really Love Your Teenager, “We are instructed in Scripture to ‘train up a child in the way he should go,’ to educate him ‘according to his life requirements’ (Proverbs 22:6, KJV and MLB). One of the most important areas in which a teenager needs training is how to handle anger. Anger is normal and occurs in every human being. The problem is not the anger itself but in managing anger in teenagers. This is where most people have problems.”(1)

We must admit there is no subject or emotion in our family that has perplexed us more or made us feel more like novice parents (and failures, at times) than helping our children deal with their anger. And part of the reason is that often when they are angry, we get angry, too.

It’s so important in a family to get a handle on anger. H. Paul Gabriel, M.D., wrote in Anticipating Adolescence: “It becomes critical in adolescence that your children have the feeling that you, too, will listen to them carefully, that they can trust you to think about what they have to say, that you might have a true disagreement with them without getting angry with them. Without that feeling, they simply won’t have the necessary trust to turn to you with the serious issues of adolescence.”(2)

Reaching clear convictions on this topic is a crucial step to achieving a spiritually and emotionally healthy family.

Every family needs a plentiful supply of good anger. Note the emphasis on good. By that, I mean that when anger inevitably comes, we should recognize it, understand the cause, and deal with it properly. We shouldn’t stuff it inside ourselves like a sleeping bag tightly packed into a knapsack. And we shouldn’t fling it on others like confetti.

God created anger to be an asset, but it gets misused and twisted in a fallen world. In basic terms, anger is an emotional alarm that sounds a warning when something is wrong. Only a fool would hear a smoke alarm clanging in the middle of the night and stay in bed to enjoy the interesting tones of the alarm. No, the wise man gets out of bed to see what’s wrong. Yet when the anger alarm sounds, too often we sit and stew instead of turning it off and finding out what’s wrong.

Unfortunately, most families — Dad, Mom, and children — don’t know how to keep good anger from fermenting into spoiled anger. And then when a family has an adolescent or two, the anger issue can take on new dimensions and managing anger in teenagers is nearly a full time job.

We need to look no farther than Jesus to see that anger is an acceptable emotion. A number of times Jesus showed strong feelings of anger. Perhaps the most memorable was the day he tipped over the tables of the moneychangers and chased them out of the temple (see Mark 11:15). Additionally, throughout the Scripture, we find that God is described as an angry God who exhibits a righteous anger at man’s rebelliousness. The problem is that most of us don’t know what to do with appropriate anger when we feel it. We need to grow up and become mature in our expression of this Divine emotion, following the example of Christ.

1) Ross Campbell, M.D., How to Really Love Your Teenager (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1993), p.65.

2) H. Paul Gabriel, M.D. and Robert Wool, Anticipating Adolescence (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p.24.


Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

3 keys to helping your child avoid the traps of adolescence

Although they seldom admit it, deep down, most teens desperately want their mom and dad to come alongside them and say, “You know, there are some things I wish I had told you earlier, but I want to tell you now. I want to be a part of your life as you go through these teenage years. I want to be there for you. I want to help you avoid the traps of adolescence.”

beartraps men stepping up familylife

Thankfully, God’s desire matches our own. He wants the best for our (His) children, too. But those traps: peer pressure, alcohol use, driving while drunk, premarital sex … What about them? How much of a threat are they?

We are convinced that far too many parents are lulled to sleep during the tranquil elementary years. Unaware of the approaching perils of adolescence and of how quickly they arrive, parents are caught without a defensive and offensive game plan for the teenage years.

These snares, and others like them, such as drug use, teenage pregnancy, and gangs, are the newsmaker traps. But there’s another whole group of traps that don’t get as much press but are just as perilous to our youth, such as pride and selfishness, deceit, false gods, busyness, media, appearance, mediocrity, anger, and more.

What can we parents do to prepare our children for the challenges they face? We know they’re not perfect, and like everyone dressed in human skin, they must go through good times and bad, the inevitable mountaintops and sinkholes of life. But we ache for them to avoid as many traps as possible and to have lives of happiness, meaning, purpose, and achievement. Ultimately, more than all else, we want our children to know, love, and obey God.

God wants to help you raise your family. He wants to equip you. He wants to guide you. But He demands that you be utterly dependent upon Him. How is this to be accomplished? We believe the critical tasks of being a God-honoring parent fall into three categories:

  1. Know and walk in the truth ourselves. We need to know what we believe — our convictions — and stay out of the traps as adults.
  2. Shape the truth in our children. We build convictions in their lives so that they can identify the traps and stay away from them.
  3. Monitor the testing of the truth in our children. We encourage and guide them as they test their convictions in real-life situations while still living under our roof.

And when our children are ready, we release them to their own journey of living and following the Truth.

Doesn’t sound simple, does it? When we signed up for parenting, most of us didn’t read the fine print. Can you name a more demanding career than being a godly mom or dad? Air traffic controller? That’s a stroll in the park compared to a mom landing and dispatching four teenagers from an after-school holding pattern. Brain surgeon? Would you rather poke around in a sedated skull in a fully staffed operating room or try by yourself to soothe and heal the tangled feelings and thoughts of a teenage girl who wasn’t invited to the prom or who failed to make the drill team?

On top of all the challenges of parenting, there’s something far more sinister taking place: We’re in a spiritual war and are operating like guerrillas behind enemy lines. The paths we walk, and the trails our children must walk, are dangerous — littered with traps set by a spiritual enemy that you can’t see, an enemy who wants to destroy the souls of children before the children become adults.

In the years while your child is at home, you can help him successfully navigate the trap field. Often you’ll need to go first, showing step by step the way around those deadly snares. There is hope. It really is possible to raise a godly family in this family-unfriendly culture. Attempting to be God’s parents is hard work. Long hours. No guarantees.

But there are plenty of rewards. Nothing can compare to the joy of seeing a child grow up to walk in the truth — “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Nothing is as exhilarating as watching our children bravely walk through traps and snares, advancing the banner of Jesus Christ in their generation.


Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Treasured memories or wasted time?

Stepping Up blog Dennis Rainey

The Encyclopedia Britannica gives a half page to the accomplishments of the son of President John Adams, Charles Francis Adams. Adams followed the political trail of his father and became a U.S. diplomat to Great Britain. The encyclopedia makes no mention of Charles’ family, but Charles’ diary does.

An entry one day read: “Went fishing with my son today — a day wasted.”

Another diary, that of his son Brook Adams, gives us a different perspective: “Went fishing with my father — the most wonderful day of my life.”

Interesting, isn’t it, how a little boy’s perspective could be so different from his dad’s.

But it’s true of me, too. I can remember tugging and half-pulling my dad out of his favorite chair while he was trying to read the evening newspaper. I wanted to play catch. He usually let me win the tug-of-war, sometimes reluctantly. Those were wonderful evenings.

There were fishing trips with Dad to Canada when I caught a trophy Northern Pike. And another outing to a local lake where he netted a small boy’s catfish — a fish so small that it went through the holes in the net. He always used to kid me about that fish — his laughter still echoes in my mind when I recall that skinny fish slipping through the net.

It’s interesting now as an adult how the mind can play tricks on me. Looking back, those days of vacation and moments of memories are among my most cherished possessions. Yet, now that I’m grown, it seems that playing catch and going fishing are not nearly productive enough. No measurable goal is apparently achieved. Until, of course, I get a few moments to reflect on the value God places on a little boy or a little girl.

Treasured memories

I was reminded recently that not all men today have those memories of time with dad etched on the slate of their hearts. Jeff Schulte, a former associate of mine here at FamilyLife, once wrote the following letter to his ministry partners, thanking them for their partnership in strengthening families. It speaks of memories of a different kind.

I can still picture my Dad bouncing me on his knee, coaching me in Little League, showing me how to shine my shoes, helping me reel in my first fish, and telling me stories about his early days as an undercover detective on the Dayton police force.

I can still hear him saying the words, “Son, I love you.” I can imagine him messing up my hair, wrestling with me on the living room floor, and sharing a hot dog with me at a Cincinnati Reds game.

I can still see him puffing up his chest when he talked about me to his friends. He was proud to be my Dad. He would do anything for me — I was his son — he was my Dad. I was a chip off the old block.

I can still see all this and much more, but I can’t see it in the reservoir of fond memories. Instead, I recall it from an imagination and yearning that wished then and wishes now that it were so. My Dad left home when I was 3. I never really knew him.

When I drive home from the office, I’ll often turn off the radio and in the quiet of the car I’ll think about a little blond-headed three year old somewhere who will grow up knowing his dad because you and I decided we wanted to make a difference.

I’m 26 years old. I still miss my Dad (even though that’s hard to admit). I even cry sometimes when I’m honest with myself about how I feel. Please pray for my Dad. I don’t believe he’s met Jesus.

The most piercing statement in Jeff’s letter are the words, “I never really knew him.” I couldn’t help reflecting on the number of children today who will replay a similar record in their minds. No, not just those from broken homes, but those whose homes have a father and a mother in name only.

Becoming a father

Some years ago at a Weekend to Remember getaway here in Little Rock I remember one man’s statement to me at the end of the conference. He grabbed my hand and blurted out, “I became a father this weekend!” When I asked him when his wife had given birth during the conference, he said, “Oh, no. She didn’t have a baby — we already have three children. You see, I had ‘fathered’ three children, but I wasn’t being a ‘father’ to them. And this weekend I decided I was going to become a real father.”

The little boy who went fishing with his dad, Brook Adams, lived most of his life as an agnostic and a skeptic, defying the roots of his Puritan ancestry. Near the end of his 79-year life he returned to his home church, overcame his shyness, and made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I wonder if God used the memory of the fishing trip with his dad, linked with the spiritual values his father taught him, to bring Brook Adams to faith in Christ.

So this month take a kid fishing and teach him one spiritual truth. Just one memory. Just one truth. It may be “the most wonderful day” of his life.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.