Focus on the Family Broadcast

Guiding Your Teen Into Adulthood (Part 1 of 2)

Guiding Your Teen Into Adulthood (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Kenneth Wilgus, Jessica Pfeiffer, and Ashley Parrish, who together host a podcast about parenting teens, offer practical guidance for preparing teen children for adulthood. Our panel addresses topics including "planned emancipation," appropriate boundaries, control vs. influence, teen entitlement, and much more. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: March 18, 2021


Dr. Ken Wilgus: Now, with freedom, always comes responsibility, so by letting go of one thing, you also leave them to their own consequences of the things that they’re, uh, doing. My favorite is always the, the easy one is music, that you can give a teenager, um, “You now have the freedom … it’s up to you to make your own decision about music. What you listen to, that’s between you and God. However, if your little sister is caught on your phone listening to some of that stuff, then you’re going to lose your phone for a day. You need to make sure …” That’s just true of any adult. You have to be held responsible for your own behavior.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Insight from Dr. Ken Wilgus, describing a process of parenting teenagers that he calls planned emancipation, and, uh, in other words, Mom and Dad, that’s learning to let go, and I wonder if you’re ready for that. Well, today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, we’ll explore what the end goal for your parenting should be and how you and your teen can get to that point, uh, successfully. Thanks for joining us today. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Uh, John, we hear so often from parents who are surprised by the teen years, right?

John: They are, yes.

Jim: Didn’t expect it to be quite like that. Suddenly, they’re facing issues they never expected, uh, where their sweet, compassionate little child has transformed into this moody, one syllable response mechanism (laughing) and, uh, man, you’re going, “What happened to that wonderful little ch-child I had (laughing)?”

John: Mm-hmm. Somebody exchanged them.

Jim: Right, and, uh, then other parents, uh, face those years with maybe more severe dread because it’s not only that but it’s rebellion and some other things. I think, for Jean and I, we were somewhere in between. We have gre-, two wonderful sons, really, but they’re very normal, and I’m happy to say that, normal meaning they go through their moody moments. They do have one-word grunt answers at times. Get your homework done? “Yeah.” How was your day at school? “Good.”

John: Fine.

Jim: You know that routine (laughs). And, uh, today we’re going to cover some, uh, ground that’s going to help empower you to empower them to be the adults they’re going to need to be.

John: Yeah, the teen years aren’t to be feared (laughing). I, I really have appreciated our kids when they went through the teen years, especially now that they’re through the teen years, for the most part.

Jim: Yeah, right (laughs).

John: Um, our guests do have a little different perspective on how to get through the years successfully and I really appreciate, uh, their insights. I think a lot of listeners will be encouraged and maybe even pleasantly surprised by what they have to share with us.

Jim: Well, I’m so glad to have Dr. Ken Wilgus back with us today. Uh, he’s a psychologist who specializes in working with teens and their families, I like that, not families and their teens (laughing). And, frankly, he was quite instrumental in helping Jean and I. I think we called you, Dr. Wilgus, and asked you a couple of very important questions.

Dr. Wilgus: They were good questions (laughing).

Jim: Oh, good, thank you, thank you. Uh, so we can speak from that experience that, uh, Dr. Wilgus helped us get through a little bumpy patch. He’s written a great book called Feeding the Mouth That Bites You, yes, that’s right, Feeding the Mouth (laughs)-

Dr. Wilgus: The Mouth That Bites You.

Jim:That Bites You, (laughs) I love that title, A Complete Guide to Parenting Adolescents and Launching Them Into the World. And, uh, he also has launched a weekly podcast with, uh, his two associates, and they’re here with us today.

John: They are. Uh, we have Ashley Parrish and Jessica Pfeiffer with us. They are two moms who are actively raising kids. They speak and know firsthand what the teen issues are that we’ve, uh, alluded to.

Jim: I thought you were going to say they speak the teen language (laughs).

John: Oh, they do that too, of course. They’re teen whisperers (laughing).

Jim: That’s it, man (laughing). Well, to both of you, welcome to Focus.

Jessica Pfeiffer: Thank you.

Ashley Parrish: Thank you.

Jessica: Thanks for having us.

Jim: Now let’s, uh, let’s define that experience for the listener and the viewer on YouTube, so, uh, describe your kids.

Jessica: So, my youngest is 10. My oldest is 19. I have four kids. I have one in elementary, one in middle school, one in high school, and one in college, so I sort of spread myself thin over all the grade levels right now (laughing).

Jim: That’s good. That makes you an expert, by the way.

John: Yeah.

Ashley: I have seven children. My oldest is a teenager, she just turned 14. Then I have an 11-year-old who’s coming up on those pre-teen years, a nine-year-old, twin six-year-olds, and twin four-year-olds.

Jim: So, man, you have how many kids (laughing)?

Ashley: Seven, seven total.

Jim: Seven and four, 11. Why are you here, Dr. Wilgus (laughing)? We’re just going to talk with them (laughing). And you, of course, have-

Dr. Wilgus: Three-

Jim: Three, okay, so good.

Dr. Wilgus: … and six grandchildren.

Jim: And six grand- …

John: Oh, wow.

Jim: So, you are well qualified, uh, and I think we’re off to the races. Let’s start with a quick review of what, uh, planned emancipation is and how it works.

Dr. Wilgus: Well, so Feeding the Mouth That Bites You started as a parent training that’s really now become almost a crusade, (laughing) uh, to really get across the, uh, necessity of finding an endpoint to your parenting. And if you really want to be effective with teenagers, that’s what they want to know is, “When is this going to be over? When will you say it’s time for me to make my, my own decisions about this thing?” Planned emancipation is simply an orderly, uh, giving over of freedom rather than it being wrested out of your cold dead hands, (laughing) uh, that, that they will get that freedom, but it is super important for teenagers to hear that, “These people who know me are saying, ‘Hey, we are now saying it’s time for you to make that decision yourself.’” So planned emancipation is essentially the pattern, from roughly 13 until you finish high school, that we, as your parents, are saying, “This is the steps that you will take, the things that you will now be in charge of more and more as we recede from taking charge of these things in your life.”

Jim: Now I just want to make a pitch for Jean Daly, my wife, ’cause she’s probably given away 50 of your books, and I, I kind of want that super buyer discount ’cause I’m going broke (laughing).

Dr. Wilgus: I’ve always liked Jean, yes, and she does she qualifies for a stet of, set of steak knives, (laughing) but-

Jim: Good. Send those, will you?

Dr. Wilgus: Yes.

Jim: I’m waiting.

Dr. Wilgus: It’s very important (laughing).

Jim: But you ha-, you have a word picture that kind of illustrates how teenagers see our authority as parents. Describe that word picture (laughs).

Dr. Wilgus: Well, you know, it ca-, it’s really like foreign, uh, relations really. If you think about it, a teenager really begins to see themselves as their own person. Well, if that’s the way they see it, then if you can picture your teenager like this nation-state divided into different sort of sub-states of different things they have to handle, schoolwork, uh, relation-, friendships, money, uh, all of these things. Uh, the hard part about this analogy is that, if that’s your teenager, then you are occupying troops in their territory. That’s how teenagers feel.

John: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: So, if you think about their reaction, like, “How was school?” “Fine” all that, (laughing) uh, that’s the, the response of a, an occupied nation is what this, this feels like to many teenagers. And they really want to know, “When are you going to be out of this part of my life?”, so the school management thing, uh, you know, “When are you going to stop asking me and recognize that this is up to me?”, all those things. And so, the, the goal of planned emancipation, essentially, is to begin to announce right off that we are in fact occupying these states (laughs) of your life, but we are on our way out. So, we are moving out of this part and this part and we are committed to leaving this sort of nation-state that you are as a young adult, which is what teenagers are. We’re committed to being completely out of your life, and you managing this pretty much by the end of high school,

Jim: Well, the proof is in the pudding. So, Ashley and Jessica, as you’ve applied Dr. Wilgus’ approach, how has it worked (laughs)? Jessica let’s start with you.

Jessica: Okay. Well, I have young, a young teenager, you know, and so I think we might’ve mentioned earlier about the music thing, where she is able to pick whatever music she wants, but I will have to…

Jim: Wait, wait, wait, wait, you’ve got to be kidding me.

Jessica: I know, I know. And it’s hard because I’ve raised her to listen to almost exclusively Christian music.

Jim: To Amy Grant.

Jessica: Yes, absolutely (laughing). We were talking about it this morning. Uh, so you know, uh, to be able to hand the reins over to her and allow her to choose is hard, but I have told her … she has a younger sister, she’s not allowed to hear anything that’s inappropriate and ungodly.

Jim: Yeah.

Jessica: You know, I don’t want to hear that in my home. And so, she can put it on her earbuds or whatever else, but I’m not going to listen to it. She needs to have the responsibility and take the responsibility herself. Then I have older teens though, and I’ve completely let go of a lot of areas. He’s 19. He’s in college. You know, I don’t have really much control at all in his life. And I think that there’s stages along the way that are intermediate, of course, too.

Jim: Yeah. Okay.

Jessica: So, it’s, it’s hard though, as a parent who really wants to be involved and likes, uh, a sense of control, this is a hard way to parent (laughs).

Jim: I’m going to come back to that in just a second, but, Ashley, what, what’s been your experience deploying the, uh, get-out-of-Dodge strategy?

Ashley: Well, it works. And so (laughs) I think, whenever you continue to use these strategies that Dr. Ken talks about, then you see the results and you see that your relationship isn’t hindered but it’s growing, and there’s a trust that your teenager is, you know, your, your teenager is having a trust in you because you’re recognizing them as a young adult.

Jim: Right.

Ashley: And so, it, it’s just worked so well. Um, the music was the first one for us as well, but there comes a time when we, as parents, need to realize that either we can hand over the reins in these areas or they’re just going to do it behind our backs anyways.

Dr. Wilgus: That’s right.

Ashley: And it just goes so much better if we, as their parents, hand over that and they feel respected-

Jim: Yes.

Ashley: … versus them, you know, like listening to it at their friend’s house or, you know-

Jim: Right. That’s the only place that they can do that.

Ashley: … and then it, they’re hiding it, you know, and then that just creates conflict.

Jim: Well, that’s right, and now back to you, Dr. Ken. So, you, you have, uh, counseled thousands of parents.

Dr. Wilgus: Yeah.

Jim: You’ve seen this in play in a variety of temperaments, as Jessica was mentioning. Uh, why do we fall into that trap? What … and you use the term, actually unexamined parenting.

John: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: Yes.

Jim: What do you mean by that and how do we examine ourselves better to be more effective at the very job that we want to do?

Dr. Wilgus: Well, in a lot of parents’ defense, you know, this … we’ve had a cultural confusion for about a hundred years, like the modern sense of adolescence is a new concept. So, a lot of times, we don’t rethink how we, uh, parent our kids because that’s how we were parented. So, uh, current parents don’t know that childhood comes to a natural end by about 13 and they just carry on with what they were doing before. I’ve had … I can’t tell you how many parents are like, “Well, you know, I did the same thing my dad did, and I don’t know why I should do any different.” I said, “Did you like your dad when you were 15 (laughing)?” “No, I didn’t like my dad at all.” I’m like, “Yeah, so why would you keep doing it?” So some of that is just ignorance, but the other part is, especially among Christian families, uh, a sense of, “Well, but we’re serious about this, so we, aren’t going to just be lax and let the worldly influences come in. We’re going to do a better job.” It feels like even a more righteous approach. So, what, what’s so great, when I listen to Ashley and Jessica, these are strong moms and hearing them get it-

Jim: Uh-huh.

Dr. Wilgus: … and know that this is actively the thing we should do, develop self-respect in our teenagers, is just so exciting for me to hear that, you know, this isn’t a passivity and this certainly isn’t a giving up on, uh, godliness for our kids. It is, in fact, the opposite, increasing the effectiveness of parenting with teenagers.

Jim: I think one thing you just said, Ken, that’s so shocking is that, basically, they’re young adults at 13. I just heard a bunch of people go, “What?”.

Ashley: Yeah.

Jim: “You got to be kidding me (laughing).” “Do you know my 13-year-old?”

Ashley: Yeah.

Jim: “There’s no way, they can’t even tie their shoe, Ken. What are you talking about? I mean, come on, they can’t cook. They can’t do laundry.”

Dr. Wilgus: Come on, Jim, they can tie their shoe dude, seriously (laughing). They-

Jim: Okay, because of Velcro (laughing). But, uh, let me just would say that that is the first eye-popping thing that we tend-

Dr. Wilgus: Yeah.

Jim: … as parents, to underestimate what our 13, 14, 17-year-olds can handle, right?

Dr. Wilgus: Yeah, it’s foundational, and it’s, you know, I mention it in the book and we talk about it in the podcast, that one of the things that just struck me, when I first started studying adolescence, is that how recent our idea of adolescence were. And, if you look through history, including Jesus’ little tension with his mother, at his, at 12, and, uh, Paul’s mention in Galatians 4 about the time set by the father, all through history and all around the world, everyone knew that around 13 was the end of childhood. We are the only generation, about a hundred years ago, that forgot that. And after World War II, which is, by the way, when the wor-, the term teenager was invented, we snapped adolescence on the end of childhood and have wondered, “Wh- what’s the problem? How come these, they don’t seem to like this?” Well, they, somewhere in their gut, know that they are a young adult and that’s patronizing.

Jim: Well, that, yeah, and I think that reframing just helps you, as a parent, hopefully to let go a little bit. Uh, Ken, before we get into more of the book, I do want to ask you about formulaic parenting because I think, especially in Christian circles, we have done a lot of formula parenting that-

Dr. Wilgus: Yeah.

Jim: … uh, uh, we do approach it like a math equation, if we add A plus B, we get C. And for those temperaments, uh, that can be very difficult to wake up someday to their 15-yeah- old telling them some terrible news-

Dr. Wilgus: Yes.

Jim: … and, wait a minute, the formula didn’t work. Why not? Well, because it’s not a formula.

Dr. Wilgus: It never was (laughing).

Jim: That’s the point.

Dr. Wilgus: And I feel bad for parents, like Jessica and Ashley’s generation, that parenting … you know, like my parents did a good job. I don’t think they ever thought about their parenting. They were raising kids, you know, like raising livestock, you’d get them and go and just sell them off (laughing). It was never this, this intense focus of how am I doing?

Jim: Right.

Dr. Wilgus: And it makes it much tougher. And you’re right, uh, you, I have parents that have read so many things, but parenting is not like math. It is like sailing. You, you know where your goal is and you kind of have to tack left and right. There’s lots of things you’re going to do wrong and much things that you should have done that you didn’t do, but all of us are that way, and what you’re aiming for is good enough and, especially as Christians, it has to include recognizing that, thank God, this is not my job primarily. Jesus is with your teenager even more than you are.

Jim: Yeah.

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: And, and, and he’s, he’s doing okay.

Jim: That’s hard to absorb actually (laughs)-

Dr. Wilgus: Well, it’s … yeah.

Jim: … ’cause we feel so responsible for them. But you say it’s more like sailing than that math problem.

Dr. Wilgus: Exactly.

Jim: I love that analogy. It gives you a little-

Dr. Wilgus: Parents beat themselves up over-

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Wilgus: … little things that it’s, it’s, it’s (laughing) going to be fine if you’re headed the right direction.

Jim: I’m laughing ’cause when our now 20-year-old left the house for school and Troy, our now 18-year-old, was 17, I remember, (laughs) the first day, he looked at us and said, “Now don’t over-parent me (laughing) just because Trent’s gone.” That’s pretty good. (laughing).

Dr. Wilgus: Using the same language right back at you. That’s good.

Jessica: That’s funny.

Jim: That’s good. He’s smarter-

Dr. Wilgus: He’s a smart boy (laughing).

Jim: It’s funny. Um, Ashley and Jessica, let me ask you, describe where the emancipation process has been most difficult for you. Ashley let’s start with you.

Ashley: I think Jessica and I can both agree (laughing)-

Jim: Okay. Wow.

Ashley: … because we have similar personalities and expectations in the way that we raise our family. Um, the biggest struggle has been letting go of how they keep their room (laughing). Uh, we are both neat and tidy moms and we keep, you know, a neat and tidy house, and so to give over the reins to our teenagers when they turn 13, because it’s one of their first freedoms, on how they keep their room, or if they keep their room clean at all. But, um, she enjoys the freedom and, when it gets really bad, she’ll clean it, but I’ve got to let go. And it’s, it’s hard. It’s a struggle. I mean, I’ve sent pictures to Jessica, (laughing) and she has sent me pictures, “Look at this,” and we just encourage each other. You know, we’ve given that freedom-

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: … and it’s not a privilege, it’s a freedom, and so, once you give a freedom, you don’t take it back.

Dr. Wilgus: That is so right.

Jim: Dr. Ken, yeah, speak to that.

Dr. Wilgus: And I should mention that, in all honesty, there is still a rumor that goes around my family that my sweet wife, who’s had to be married to this mad scientist, going through all this stuff, did a very, she’s here, (laughing) did actually, uh, bribe one of our children, who shall not be named, “Would you please clean your room, but don’t tell your dad (laughing)?” So that’s what we mean by not math-

Jim: Yeah (laughing).

Dr. Wilgus: … like that’s so many levels of wrong, like you can’t trust to tell me, all that stuff.

Jim: But it did get cleaned once.

Dr. Wilgus: And, and I think … once, I think that’s about it. And what’s so great is when Ashley has already said, “Look, this is your place.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Wilgus: Then you’re free to say, “Whew, this is gross,” without the defensiveness of, “Okay, I’ll clean it up.” You’re not a cop about to SWAT team in, you’re just commenting on this.

Jim: Well, and it is, uh, uh, erosive to their sense of self-worth, right?

Dr. Wilgus: That’s right.

Jim: And I, I think one of the problems, let me speak for fathers, (laughing) it seems like, if we don’t get this right, we’re mis-training- … them, that if they can’t keep their room clean, they’re never going to keep a job. You know that connection, right, Dr. Ken?

Jessica: Right.

Dr. Wilgus: It comes up a lot (laughing). Yeah, people will say that.

Jim: Right. And so how, how do we teach them the right things with this approach of emancipation and they’re not seeming to get this? Now, your child, your son’s 16 and the room isn’t clean and you’re going, “He’s never going to make it at Chick-fil-A.

Jessica: Mm-hmm. (laughing).

Dr. Wilgus: Good jump (laughing). Yeah, that’s logical.

Jim: Or you know, the neuroscientist that he hopes to be. But I mean, what are those cautions?

Dr. Wilgus: Well, the thing to think about is that you did all that teaching up until twel- … and I’m all about, if you’re, uh, they’re under 13-year-old, do it, you know, the whole chart, clean your room, uh, do it again, it’s not right. I’m fine with teaching all that for children. But now that they’re young adults, the, the thing is for them to be trained, to have practiced- … in, in handling their own room and, in that regard, it’s almost better to think about what do they do when they stay with friends, and they’re very (laughs) often quite different. Some parents are even annoyed to hear, “I get so tired of people saying, ‘Your son is so gracious,’” and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s a good thing actually,” (laughs) but they don’t see it as much at home.

Jim: We totally had that experience. One of Jean’s girlfriends said, “Man, it was so awesome having your son over and spending the night ’cause he did all the dishes,” (laughing) and she was like, “What? Who (laughing)? Are you sure you got that name right?”

Dr. Wilgus: Exactly.

Jim: But isn’t that funny?

Dr. Wilgus: That’s exactly right.

Jim: And, and I was trying to encourage Jean, “That’s a great sign”-

Dr. Wilgus: That’s exactly right.

Jim: … even if he maybe is not willing to do it at home as much (laughs).

John: Well, I hope, uh, our listeners and viewers are catching a little bit of, uh, encouragement from this conversation and, uh, certainly a more lighthearted approach to some of the challenging, uh, things that can come up with with, with teenagers. Our guests are Dr. Ken Wilgus, along with Jessica Pfeiffer and Ashley Parrish, and uh, Dr. Wilgus’s book is available. We’ve got that at, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And, again, that title is Feeding the Mouth That Bites You. And I don’t want to drive like too hard on this cleaning the room thing, (laughing) but is there room, is there space for a parent to say, “You can keep your room as messy as you want, but when we have ants crawling across the floor-”

Jessica: Yes.

Ashley: Yes (laughing).

John: … we’re going to do something about this?”

Ashley: Absolutely.

Jim: That’s a little late in my book, but (laughing) go ahead.

John: Well, I mean, seriously, is there room for boundaries here or is it just totally a no man zone, whatever?

Jessica: Well, I, that is what I would have to say is the hardest part about parenting this way is watching the consequences fall. You know, when your kid doesn’t keep a clean room and they can’t find their uniform for the game tonight and it’s minutes before you have to leave the house, it is very stressful to just stand there and watch them scramble and freak out in front of you. You want to jump in and help. Uh, and you have to, you have to set some consequences and boundaries and, yes, if they have ants in the room, “The exterminator’s a couple hundred dollars, babe, you’re going to have to pony up, you know (laughs).”

John: That, that was not a hypothetical, by the way. That happened. We came home from vacation one time and my daughter had left a whole bunch of candy in the room and there was like a 10-foot line of ants-

Dr. Wilgus: Right.

John: … finding the candy.

Jessica: Yes.

John: And I’m thinking, “Got to, got to draw the line somewhere on this thing.”

Ashley: Right. Right.

Jessica: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: So, as we say, with freedom always comes responsibility.

John: Yeah.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Dr. Wilgus: So, handling your own stuff, we want to respect that, but if your management of your stuff affects us, that’s different.

John: Okay.

Dr. Wilgus: So, it’s almost like being a landlord and you’re, you have a room that we let you live in. So you can have food in your room as soon as you can afford an exterminator, but since you probably can’t, it’s going to cost you a buck or 50 cents every time there’s a cup, plate, or candy bar-

John: Yeah.

Dr. Wilgus: … in your room. And most teenagers get that. They don’t balk at … you know, it’s a big, different message between, “Hey, you’re messing with us,” versus, “Cleanliness is next to godliness and I’m trying to teach you this thing.” So those kind of boundaries, uh, uh, that, those are really responsibilities. You, the other one that obviously goes with it is, “You don’t want us coming in your room messing with putting clean clothes away, so there’s the washer, there’s the dryer. You do your own laundry.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: So that falls under all of the, uh, boundaries, not so much that we’re trying to teach you but that we have the right not … for your decisions to not mess with us.

Jim: And that kind of moves into teen entitlement, which you address, and the idea that they’re, they need to learn that responsibility.

Dr. Wilgus: That’s right.

Jim: And that’s kind of what we’re getting at here, right?

Dr. Wilgus: That’s right.

Jim: Is there more to say about that, the teen entitlement and how we overplay that today?

Dr. Wilgus: Yeah, it’s different from what you might think, ’cause it’s what Ashley mentioned about, um, uh, explaining the difference between, uh, we’re not giving over privilege, we’re giving over freedom. So part of the way to help your children to not be entitled is to, uh, make them responsible for … you know, “We’re not going to let you … if you’re going to have a dog, you have to feed it and all that stuff,” and then we threaten that we’ll give it away, and we never do, (laughing) but those are the things that you try to do. But, with teenagers, that’s different, that pulling out of their, uh, life isn’t so much as giving them a shot at it as long as they handle it, it is deliberately leaving them alone. Like Ashley, I mean, Jessica mentioned, it’s hard to stand by and go, “Wow, what are you going to do since you can’t find your uniform?” and not step in.

John: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: That kind of thing, uh, helps them to, uh, uh, kind of be responsible. What helps more, though, is when you have those mixed issues, like, I think, Ashley, you had one where, uh, you … like, what do you do when your daughter didn’t have something she needed at school?

Ashley: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: And, and what was the thing you told her?

Ashley: She had left her homework at home. And so she called me from school and I told her, I said, “I will bring it to you this one time,” and I said, “and from here on out, it will stay at home and you will get a zero.” She’s got to be prepared, and that’s our job as parents-

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Ashley: … is to prepare these children in training, and then, once they’re teenagers, to give them the freedoms so that, when they’re 18 and they graduate from high school, that they’re on their own because I surely don’t want to be running up folders-

Dr. Wilgus: Mm-hmm.

Ashley: … so to speak, when they’re at their job and they’re 24 years old.

Jim: Okay, this is critical. This may be the point of the program because I think, uh, parents so often bail out their kids continuously and, especially, I think Christian parents-

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: I agree.

Jim: … because you want to, we want them to succeed and we’re going to do their homework if that’s necessary.

Dr. Wilgus: That’s right.

Ashley: Right.

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Jim: That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, right?

Dr. Wilgus: Well, it leaves self-respect out, and you can be creative. You can also, like we would say, “Okay, uh, if you forget something, we’ll bring it to you. It’s a taxi fee of $2 or $5,” so your call.

Jim: That’s good.

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Jim: I like that.

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Ashley: Yeah.

Jim: Charge a little money.

Ashley: Mm-hmm.

Jessica: Right (laughing).

Dr. Wilgus: That’s good. Yes.

Jessica: Right.

Jim: But it, it is kind of the issue, isn’t it? Um, and we think we’re doing them a service or we’re being good parents because it reflects well upon us that we’re bailing them out, look how good we are.

Dr. Wilgus: Yes.

Jim: And we’ll get that science project done. That volcano is going to erupt-

Jessica: Yes.

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: … one time. You know, I, that was one thing, I think, Jean and I did well was the science projects (laughing). We never bailed them out.

Jessica: Yes.

Jim: I mean, we made them do that on their own, and we’re in, uh, a town and we’re at a school where some of the parents are astronauts and-

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … physicists-

John: Wow.

John: And they’re very involved in those projects, aren’t they?

Jim: … ’cause they’re connected, they’re connected to-

Dr. Wilgus: Wow (laughing).

Jim: Well, yeah, they’re connected to the Air Force Academy, right?

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Wilgus: Of course.

Jim: And, so, man, you get these rocket ships that actually fly (laughing) and you’re going, “That wasn’t in the rule book,” and here’s our little- … soapbox thing, you know, this little …

Dr. Wilgus: … but when you have a teenager, for example, that wants to do two sports. And you’re trying to say, “That’s not a good idea.” And this teenager is like, “Well, you don’t know. I can do whatever.” Well, what options can you do to give them self-respect? Uh, Jessica, what would you do in that spot (laughing)?

Jessica: Well, this happened very recently in my home. My daughter wanted to do two sports. They were concurrent and their practice times were exactly the same, so she would have to miss half the practices of each sport. And I said, you know, “This is a lot. You’re, you’re …” She’s upper, uh, high school age. She’s needing to get ready for college. She needs to make good grades the next couple of years. So, I said, “This is an important time for you to be buttoning down on your schoolwork and everything else. I don’t know how you’re going to balance all this.” Uh, she was determined to do it. So, I said, “Okay. Well, you know, if you want to do this, that’s up to you. You can manage your own time, you’re old enough to handle this, plus you can drive yourself to practice, I don’t have to manage that part, but I am not paying for two sports. You’re going to have to come up with the money. I’ll pay for one sport. It can be the most expensive sport, because I would have paid for a sport anyway, uh, but the other one, you’re going to have to cover.” So, man, she was doing yard work and babysitting and everything else to make it happen. She did it. It’s tough. It’s not been working out very well (laughs).

Jim: Yeah.

Jessica: It’s a lot of time, but, uh, it’s, it, it is a lesson to be learned. She, she might not do this again (laughing).

Jim: And I think, I, I think we’re getting to the point that I really want to make and that I think has been such a help to us, uh, Dr. Ken, and again, Jean has become an apologist for your great book, (laughing) uh, Feeding the Mouth That Bites You. And, uh, the point is this, that it, it feels contrary to hold the kids accountable in that way, it feels like we’re being mean, but, in fact, we’re being what they need-

Jessica: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … because they need to learn that responsibility, and that’s what’s so, um, absent today in parenting, don’t you think?

Dr. Wilgus: It’s really true. And it, and it’s the kind of thing that, you know, there, there’ll be parents that will pick up the book and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we already kind of get this. We hadn’t used the words you’re doing, but we kind of get it.” And then, uh, but there are some that, really, it, it almost hits them as the wrong way to do it, and that’s why it’s so important. I love the podcast, where we have two strong moms that are very nurturing because, to a nurturing mom, leaving, like Jessica mentioned, her daughter to have to pay for this and not bailing her out, that feels worse than not, uh … it feels unloving.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Wilgus: But the, the thing you have to think about is, well, but, but to bail them out is to be disrespectful, and to give your young adults self-respect, you have to pull back and leave these things more to their own decision-making. So it, it’s one or the other, you can’t, uh, think about it as, well, but I’m going to always go for being loving and bailing them out, uh, without thinking about, yeah, but what are you going to do to help them build self-respect?

Jim: Yeah. There’s so much to cover, so let’s, uh, let’s hold over. Let’s go another day and we’ll cover some more territory out of, uh, the great book and your great experiences. Can we do that?

Jessica: Yeah, sure.

Ashley: Sure, it sounds great.

Jim: All right, let’s do it.

John: Well, and in the meantime, make sure you contact us here at Focus on the Family, to get a copy of Dr. Wilgus’s book, Feeding the Mouth That Bites You. Uh, we’ve got copies of that. We also have a free parenting assessment that takes just a few minutes. Um, it’s online and it’ll help you see where you’re strong in your parenting and maybe some areas to work on and maybe even let go of. Uh, again, uh, our phone number is 800-A-FAMILY. Online, we’re at

Jim: John, let me also mention we’ll link to the podcast so folks can find that. And then also, uh, boy, if you can make a gift of any amount, we believe in the content that Dr. Ken Wilgus has in this book, Feeding the Mouth That Bites You. We’ll get it out for a gift of any amount. We’ll just say thank you and send that to you. If you can’t afford it, we’ll send it to you if you need it and trust that others will cover the cost of that, so just get in touch with us. And if you can, uh, join us in the ministry here at Focus on the Family.

John: And you can donate and find resources, once more, at And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we continue the conversation and, once more, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

feed the mouth that bites you book cover

Feeding the Mouth That Bites You

Receive Dr. Kenneth Wilgus' book Feeding the Mouth That Bites You for your donation of any amount! And when you give today, your support will be DOUBLED to Give Families Hope!

Recent Episodes

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Retaining Your Identity in Motherhood (Part 2 of 2)

Alli Worthington, offers help and hope to you as a mom, encouraging you to focus on the majors and to enjoy your children in the stages they are in. She covers things like mom guilt, anger, feeling inadequate, and keeping the spark in your marriage. It’s an uplifting look at motherhood! (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Retaining Your Identity in Motherhood (Part 1 of 2)

Alli Worthington, offers help and hope to you as a mom, encouraging you to focus on the majors and to enjoy your children in the stages they are in. She covers things like mom guilt, anger, feeling inadequate, and keeping the spark in your marriage. It’s an uplifting look at motherhood! (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Discovering God is Enough

Best-selling female comedian of all time Chonda Pierce has had a difficult life, but she is known for her incredible sense of humor. Hear how the Lord, and laughter, got her through an abusive childhood, the early loss of both sisters, a devastating estrangement, and her husband’s untimely death at age 53.

You May Also Like

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

A Legacy of Music and Trusting the Lord

Larnelle Harris shares stories about how God redeemed the dysfunctional past of his parents, the many African-American teachers who sacrificed their time and energy to give young men like himself a better future, and how his faithfulness to godly principles gave him greater opportunities and career success than anything else.

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll shares how her perfectionism led to her being discontent in her marriage for over a decade, how she learned to find value in who Christ is, not in what she does, and practical ways everyone can accept the messiness of marriage and of life.

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Avoiding Shame-Based Parenting

Psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan discusses the origins of shame, the search for self-worth in all the wrong places, and the importance of extending grace to ourselves. He also explains how parents can help their kids find their own sense of self-worth, belonging and purpose.