Engaging Your Teen's World (Transcript)

Dr. Dobson: Well, hello everyone. I'm James Dobson and you're listening to Family Talk, a listener-supported ministry. In fact, thank you so much for being part of that support for James Dobson Family Institute.

Dr. Clinton: Well, hello everyone, and welcome to Family Talk, a division of the James Dobson Family Institute. I'm Dr. Tim Clinton. I'll be your host. Today our subject is engaging your teen's world. Mom, dad, every parent listening to my voice right now, think with me for a moment. Name your son or your daughter and you know right now whether or not you're close with him or her. You know why? Because God wired it that way. No one understands or be more connected to your son or daughter than you.

What happens to our children, especially when we begin to feel distant, not close anymore, really consumes us as parents. There's nothing more important than getting connected emotionally with him or her. That's what we're going to talk about today.

Our special guest is David Eaton. He's the president of Axis. It's an organization that was committed to equip meaningful conversations between parents and their children that build lifelong connections. They're influencing mom and dads and grandparents and pastors and teachers all over the world. David is a regular guest on the Canadian television show, 100 Huntley Street. He's married. He has three children. David, thank you for joining us.

David Eaton: So good to be here.

Dr. Clinton: David, as we get started, it is true. Every parent listening knows whether or not they're close with their kids because God wired us that way, hasn't He?

David Eaton: Yes. The fastest way to person's heart is through their kids.

Dr. Clinton: It is. I can't think of anything, too, that is more concerning the parents than how life is going with their son and/or their daughter. David, your organization, Axis, I mean, it's really impressive. Tell us a little bit more about Axis and how you guys focus on creating meaningful conversations with our kids.

David Eaton: We connect parents, teens and Jesus in a disconnected world. And my favorite story to tell about Axis is a heartbreaking one, Tim. We had this young lady, she said to us, she said, "David, I've only had one real conversation with my dad." And I'm like, "How in the world can you only have one real conversation with your dad? I mean, that sounds so catastrophic. There's going to be so much that's lost in translation, especially when you're having thousands of conversations a week with your friends on your pocket rectangle, your smartphone."

And the thing was is that her dad, he was a Christian pastor. He was a Christian university president. And I was like, "How can you only have one real conversation with your dad, with him being a professional Christian, right?" And then she smiled and she said to me, one more time, she says, "I've only had one real conversation with my dad, but we've never stopped having that one conversation."

And so Axis is all about the one conversation that a parent has with their kid that lasts 60 years, a continuous unstoppable conversation. And here's the deal. Your kid's going to have a four-year conversation with their favorite teacher or a multi-year conversation with their youth pastor or one with a great coach. But there's one person who's going to be in their life for longer than anyone else and that's mom and that's dad. And that's even, I mean, young parents out there. You may be 25 [03:38 inaudible] years old and a young parent. You're starting that one conversation and followed up by that is a grandparent who has a 30 year conversation with their kid. There's nothing more leveraged than that one conversation with whatever comes next.

Dr. Clinton: Yeah. David, I think there are a number of threats that really come between us as parents and our children. Time, for example. We just don't have a lot of time together and we have to be very intentional about it. Another thing is something that I'm holding in my hand right now, and that is our digital devices. These things have come in between us and there's a lot we need to talk about when it comes to our phones, our digital devices, David, and then I think the COVID experience and what's happened there. But give us your perspective on how you see those factors influencing our relationships.

David Eaton: Well, if you ask any parent the two words that they use to describe themselves is busy and tired. And so I would say that's true for Lindsay and I. We've just got a lot going on. And then what's been really unique about the pandemic is we have surveyed our list. Axis serves 468,000 parents a month. And they have told us, over 70% has said that the pandemic has been good for their family. Now, they don't say it's been easy. They just say they feel more connected.

And so it has provided an opportunity for many families to draw closer to each other. But at the same time, it has challenged that bond. And parents, quarantined ... There's been some kind of plays on words like quaran-teened, like T-E-E-N, like I'm with my kids all the time or quaran-screen, my kids are on their devices all the time. It has been just a great opportunity to drive closer together, but also a chance to actually watch more Netflix. You have to decide what you're going to do when it comes to the pandemic.

Dr. Clinton: When it comes to our kids, we have really tried to press in closer and closer with them. Our children are now in their 20s, but it's interesting how the connectivity piece becomes so inviting and warm and you hunger for it. People are talking a lot, David, now, about emotional closeness with your kids. And I know there are a lot of people out there saying, "That's what I want. I want that connectivity." David, we all want that.

Let's talk about the digital device, though, because to me, this is the greatest challenge we all have. I mean, COVID, everything went online. The screen time has gone through the roof. There can be good out of that, but it's also taking us away from each other. Do you see a lot of that?

David Eaton: Right. Video game usage in the United States is up by 46% just during the pandemic. Now, there was a recent study that came out that's pretty fascinating. It talked about how mental health for teenagers is actually doing okay right now because they are spending ... Now if you're 20 years old or over, not so much, but we're sleeping more than we have in the past. We're having more family dinners. We're having more family connections. These are all good things. And actually social media use is down. However, streaming media use is up.

And so, when we think about the parent child connection, one is, I just want to encourage the folks who are listening right now, just remember, you have an entire lifetime. You have a 60 year relationship with your kid. There's no one more influential than you. Even if they feel like you're talking to a brick wall right now - we'll give you some strategies for reaching through that - but just remember, you're going to be there and they're going to be looking to you.

And when we think about the bible, it encourages us in Deuteronomy 6, it says to have that ongoing conversation with your kids. It's not just about having an intentional Bible study. It's just when you walk, when you lay down, when you rise, when you're driving somewhere, when they're doing their homework online and you are doing your work working from home next to them, use that time to connect with them.

But then I want to say, this is something that's really stood out to me as you're building trust, is we had a young lady, she said to me, she said, "David, the stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager. The stricter the parent, the sneaker the teenager." Tim, what do you think about that statement? How would you respond to a teenager who said that?

Dr. Clinton: Well, I think a lot of kids start feeling hemmed in, like there's no room, that mom and dad are out of touch. They want to and they look to their teens for a lot of influence in their life. And so when they start feeling boxed, they're like a caged animal. I mean, they start getting some insanity to them. However, at the same time we know this: kids like structure and actually want structure even in their teen years. They look for it because it gives them an anchor, a place to build their life around. When there are no boundaries, there's no responsibility. It's insanity. And even though you crave that kind of freedom, it also leads to a sense of lostness. That make sense?

David Eaton: Yeah. Yeah. And what's crazy is that that stricter the parent, the sneakier the child, that conversation came out when I was talking to a young lady about her smartphone. And the smartphone, again, as you mentioned earlier, promises so much privacy. How can parents and their teens be on the same page? And I'll tell you that conversation ended in tears, the one where this young lady said, "The stricter of the parent, the sneakier the teenager," and it also ended up with her getting two smartphones, two iPhones, one for her mom's house and one for her dad's house. In this time of pandemic, the phone can either be something that draws you closer together, but more than likely it's going to be an adversary unless you get out ahead of it as a parent.

Dr. Clinton: David, throwing this conversation into another level, we would all just go back to our teen years and think about what we experienced, what we started going through, our body, hormones were kicking in, maybe dealing with acne or obesity or whatever, body image issues, relationships, developmentally you start asking and answering questions like, "Who am I? How do I fit in? How do my peers see me?" And kids can be tough on each other.

And so when you start thinking about the online world, and if you're going to that space and you feel disconnected because of everything that's going on in the world right now, you are very vulnerable. And the parents who are preoccupied or who are busy miss many an opportunity to be in a moment to speak into the life of their son or daughter. David, address that for us because that's where this gets really complex, when life starts really coming at a kid and you know whether or not you're staying close with them, whether or not you're losing them.

David Eaton: Right. One of the things that we recommend is something that I learned from a therapist that we work with at Axis. He says, "Can you spend 10 minutes a day ... just challenge yourself ... 10 minutes a day with your kid doing what they want to do?" Now, I found myself maybe trying to do this every second day or every third day, but for a grandparent, this meant a grandmother learned how to play Fortnite. She got into her grandson's world and just said, "Look, I want to be nonjudgmental with this. I just want to understand what you love about it. I want to ask great questions about it."

As you're thinking about busy and tired, I'd say, what can you do to get inside your kid's world for just 10 minutes on their terms, do what they love? And we encourage this kind of four phased approach at Axis, especially when you're coming across a new cultural artifact in your kid's life. They will say, "I want to have a TikTok account." And you're like, "What's a TikTok?" or, "Can I be on Fortnite? Can I get a Snap account? Can I do this or that?"

The first thing to do is just to be self-aware and say, "Is this an emergency or not?" A great story for this is the mom who comes across a Juul in her kid's backpack and she is about to freak out. Now, a Juul is a vaping device. It actually kind of looks like a thumb drive. And I mean, electronic cigarettes, they don't smell like smoke. They're always on and they give you a hit of nicotine really quickly, and you can just shove it in your backpack.

This mom comes across this thing, and I'll tell you, you're going to have this option as a parent whenever you come across a cultural artifact in your kid's life. It's to either respond in silence and say, "I'm just tired of losing. I quit. I'm just overwhelmed," or to respond with violence, to say, "All right, that's it. Give me your phone. I'm taking it from here," so silence or violence are going to be your two easy approaches.

One would be flight or fight, so to speak, and we believe the third way is to engage with your kid or to have confidence. And so the first thing you say, "I'm going to be self-aware. Is this an emergency?" And so I'd say you find your kids vaping, it's a level of an emergency, but it's not the same as if they're vaping marijuana or aftermarket marijuana, which is where the vitamin E acetate comes in and then all of a sudden that's what's causing lungs to shut down. What you should see is this is a great starting point for the first conversation.

The first thing is aware, is this an emergency? What's the level of emergency? The second thing is just like you said, Tim, is to have empathy and try to remember what it was like to be in their world. Try to remember what it was like when you were smoking cigarettes behind the gym, if you were, okay, or what it felt like to have all those hormones just flushing through your brain and your body and you're just boy crazy or your girl crazy. That empathy can really, really help. Say, "Okay, what was it like for me to be in junior high? What was it like for me to be in high school?"

Again, the first is the awareness, level of emergency. Second thing is empathy, to take a second, because it's so easy to react, to be proactive. Third thing is say, "I want to be curious about their world." And one of the best things you can do as a parent is ask questions not about your kid's world, but about your kid's friends' world. You can say, "Hey, is sexting a thing at your school? Are other kids sexting?" And so, again, instead of that being right on top of them, like, "Oh my goodness, my parents are asking me about a super personal trend right now," it's about their friends' world.

And then here's the deal. Here's the deal. Whenever you ask one of these questions, you have to practice your, "I'm not shocked," face, okay? If they come back and they give you an answer you don't want to hear ... I just remember talking to a parent who their kid was voting for someone that the parent wasn't voting for and they were freaking out. It was World War 3. Again, you have to practice your, "I'm not shocked," face because as soon as you enter into that place of cortisol and stress and you feel like it's a war, then the kid's going to say, "Oh, well, I probably don't trust them to have that conversation, and so I'm going to talk to my friend about this next. I'm going to talk to another parent, another teacher. I'm just going to go online and find a community that agrees with me."

Again, the third one is to ask questions. It's good to ask questions about their friends, with curiosity, non-anxiously, if possible, and then practice your, "I'm not shocked," face. And the fourth thing is just to keep the conversation going. You don't have to have all the answers right then. Actually, you won't have all the answers, but you are going to be there in their life for 60 years. You're going to be there in their life the next day, the next week. Work on it together as a family.

This brings me to another great piece of advice from some parents, Craig and April, great parents up in Seattle. And they said, "Remind your kid this frequently. Tell them, 'You can tell me anything.'" Look, if you have a four year old at home, you need to tell your four year old, "You can tell me anything." You have an eight year old like I do, tell them that, "You can tell me anything." You have a 17 year old who's questioning their gender, you need to tell that kid, "You can tell me anything and I'm trustworthy. I'm here for you. I'm your chief advocate. We'll figure this out together," because the last thing you want is for them to say, "I can't trust my parent," and then all of a sudden they start going somewhere else instead of their chief advocate, which is you, for advice and input and help.

Again, you're going to have that one conversation. You are a one conversation parent. Axis has resources like our book, Engaging Your Teen's World or our Culture Translator. Our Culture Translator email comes out every Friday and says, "Here are three things going on in your kid's world and how to talk to them about it so that you can have this ongoing conversation," because your kid can tell you anything. They just need to be given permission because even if you are the best parent in the world, right? Even if you are just awesome and you have never made a mistake, right, it's still going to feel like, "If I tell my parent this feeling I have or this thought that I have," and then all of a sudden they feel shame inside their body, your kid does, they're going to be like, "It's just easier to be secretive about this."

Dr. Clinton: Love it. You're listening to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk, a division of the James Dobson Family Institute. I'm Dr. Tim Clinton, your host. Our special guest in studio is David Eaton. He's the president of Axis, an organization committed to helping create meaningful conversations - and they're getting it done -meaningful conversations between mom and dad and their children.

David, I'm going to come back to the relationship piece with our children. There's a word that a lot of counselors, psychologists use called attunement, that you've got to be attuned to your son and/or daughter. In other words, you can't just drop in on your 12 year old. You can't just drop in on your 13 year old son or daughter and try to have a conversation with them, David. It doesn't work like that. If you've been gone, they're shut down. In a lot of ways, too, if they're wrestling with issues, you're trying to hug a kid that's like hugging a porcupine, so to speak. I mean, it just isn't working.

And mom, dad, you've been there before. The only way, David, you can move into a place where they'll begin to open up and receive from you is when they believe you're safe, when they believe you're present and when they really believe that you love them. Speak to us about that.

David Eaton: Yeah. Simone Weil says, "Attention is one of the rarest forms of generosity." As you're thinking about being generous with your kid, giving them your attention is incredible. Now, we were talking to a young lady and we said, "Hey, what are you going to do this weekend?" I don't know. This is one of our teens at Axis. And this young lady said, "I'm just going to go home and watch my parents stare at their phones." When it comes to attention being the rarest and purest form of generosity, I think we have to say to ourselves, "How are we leading by example with our own rectangles in our life, with these screens in our lives that are calling for more of our time?"

Tim, I'm going to put you on the spot, okay? You're the expert here. I'm going to see what you would do. This is a situation my friend came across and I would love to hear how you'd react. He was looking for something in his 17 year old son's room and he could not find it. He kept looking and kept looking and kept looking. And eventually he looks in his son's closet and he finds this box in his son's closet. So he pulls out the box, he opens it and inside the box, he finds a half consumed bottle of whiskey and an open box of condoms. Okay. Here you are. You're the dad of the 17 year old. You have some very shocking news inside this box. Tim, what would you do if you came across a box like this?

Dr. Clinton: How would I engage my son?

David Eaton: Yeah.

Dr. Clinton: We have spent a lot of time where we can look at each other straight in the eyes and say, "Listen, let's you and I go somewhere and let's sit down and let's work this thing through." And for him, I know what he'd do. He'd looked me straight in the eye and say, "Dad, let's go talk." But that comes out of the context of what?

David Eaton: Relationship and-

Dr. Clinton: Absolutely.

David Eaton: Clearly, that you had laid the path work for this.

Dr. Clinton: Otherwise it's going to be defensive, lies. You're all over the place and everybody begins to throw up walls.

David Eaton: Right. And when this happened to my buddy, he asked me what I would do in this situation. And I just asked him what did he do, and he cried. He called his wife. He was angry. And then he did what you did. He said, "Let's talk to him about it," so they brought the bottle of whiskey out. And I've had some parents say, oh, they would just drink the other half of the bottle of whiskey. That's how they would cope with the situation. But no, he brought it out and then they talked about it. And the amazing thing about it is there was reconciliation. His son said, "I felt ashamed. I felt stuck. I knew what I was doing is wrong, but I knew I couldn't tell you about it. I was scared of what would happen," and they had reconciled over it.

And so that's a great ... It doesn't always end that way, but the amazing kind of parable from this very real story from a very real friend of mine from the east coast is that I started realizing that the box is not just something in our closets. The box is something in our pocket and the box is a phone. The new box is not just something in a closet or a glove compartment. It's our phones. And inside of it is the rising generation, Generation Z, so Gen Z and all of their artifacts.

And so from a big level standpoint, it's like, "Okay, I need to know about vaping," or, "I need to know who Lil Nas X is," or, "I need to know more about TikTok and what's this new ... Fleetwood Mac? Why are they coming back because of some TikTok meme? Or the eggplant emoji, that means male anatomy, or broccoli means marijuana." There's all these different cultural artifacts with it.

And the scary things inside the box, they will kill your kid's body, right? They're making bad sexual decisions. They're making bad decisions about drugs or stimulants or et cetera. There's some really terrible things, but what will kill their soul is the box. The actual box represents secrecy. The actual box represents privacy. It means separation from God, separation from their family, separation from their church, separation from their community. And so as parents, we have the amazing and sometimes terrifying task of opening our kid's box and not out of a place of silence or violence, but out of a place of confidence and reaching into the kid's world.

And that's what I love about you, Tim. You had built into the relationship for years so that you knew that when God led you to come across this box if it was in your kid's world, that you had built up the equity with him so that you could have those tough conversations.

Dr. Clinton: You've been listening to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk, a division of the James Dobson Family Institute. I'm Dr. Tim Clinton. Our special guest has been David Eaton. He's the president of Axis. Our focus has been about engaging our teens' culture, having meaningful conversations with our kids. Can't think of anything more important.

Mom and dad, at the end of the day, probably at the core of who they are, what they want more than anything is a good relationship with you. That's what they want. That's what they're looking for, and think about the opportunity and the privilege that's ours to step into those moments. Don't be so busy. Don't be so disconnected. Don't be so exhausted that you don't have 10 minutes a day to step into their world. It's everything and it means everything to them. David, let me go to you for a closing thought on today and making sure that we don't miss our moments with our kids.

David Eaton: At the beginning, I talked about the teenager who said, "The stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager," which assumes this adversarial relationship between a parent and their kid. Well, when this young lady said that to me, I started asking my friends, wise people in my life, "How would you respond to this?" And a grandpa responded back to me with an incredible answer. And he knew it was the right answer because he answered with a question. Whenever someone answers a question with a question, you know it's like you're heading the right direction.

I said, "Hey, the stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager. What would you say?" And this Grandpa Bob answered back. He said, "Are you raising a sin concealer or are you raising a sin confessor?" The stricter, the sneakier, again, assumes this fighting relationship. If you have shown your kid, "Hey, we're a team. We're in this together. We need each other," and if you have modeled a confessional life to them where you have transgressed, right, where you've made a mistake, where you've sinned against them and you've come and you've sought reconciliation, they will know that the gospel is at the center of this family and that they can come back and whenever they come across something where they've made a mistake or they've had some challenges, they can confess their sins to you and you guys can join together and be reconciled as a family and reconciled to God.

Dr. Clinton: David Eaton, thank you for joining us.

Roger Marsh: This is Roger Marsh and you've been listening to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I don't know about you, but this has really been a mind-blowing broadcast. Our teens are facing so much evil from society and from their peers. And for many Christian parents the call to raise God-honoring kids seems daunting, if downright impossible. But don't be discouraged. Ministries like ours and our friends at Axis are here to help you to encourage you to keep up the fight. Righteousness and purity are still possible for the next generation.

Learn more about David Eaton's organization called Axis by going to our broadcast page at drjamesdobson.org. Once you're there, you'll find links to their website and so much more. Again, that's drjamesdobson.org, and then click on the broadcast button. Thanks for joining us today. Be sure to tune in again next time for another insightful edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh. Have a blessed day.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.

Dr. Clinton: Hi everyone, Dr. Tim Clinton here. When you think about your family and where they'll be when you're no longer living, are you worried? Are you confident? You hopeful? What kind of a legacy are you leaving for your children and their children right now? Here at Family Talk, we're committed to helping you understand the legacy that you're leaving your family. Join us today at drjamesdobson.org. You're going to find helpful insights, tips, and advice from Dr. Dobson himself. And remember: your legacy matters.
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