Dan Dupee: Because no matter how bad the culture gets, there’s no greater place of influence than the home. There’s no more influential people in the life of a teenager, or a young adult, than parents.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Dan Dupee and he’s with us today on Focus on the Family. He’ll help set your child on a path to thriving in their faith. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, as parents of teens or college-age kids, we want to help them take hold of their faith, make it their own. And we want them to love God and to love other people. And sometimes, we don’t see it, and we think uh-oh, it’s not happening, and we begin to panic, as parents. Here at Focus on the Family, we certainly want to be there for you. And one of the ways is to do broadcasts like today. We’re gonna talk about the parents of teens and college kids and what you can do to make sure that they’re on as best a path you can place them on.
And, unfortunately, there’s no formula that’s going to guarantee this. And I want to make sure that you hear that right from Focus on the Family. You can be the most terrific parents – awesome, spiritually close to the Lord, doing everything right. But, you do the best you canand then the Lord has to take it from there. And we are grateful to talk today with an expert on raising teens and 20-somethings and making sure their faith is influenced by you.
John: And Dan Dupee is the father of four young adults. He’s got two sets of twins. How unusual is that?
Jim: (Laughter). And he’s – his eyes are open.
John: And he’s the chairman of the board of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, which is a campus ministry working annually with over 32,000 students at over 115 campuses across the country, so a lot of influence there. And Dan has written a book calledIt’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play In Shaping Your Teen’s Faith. We’ve got that at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Well, Dan, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Dan: It’s great to be here.
Jim: I can’t get off this – uh – concern I now have. Having two sets of twins – and Carol’s in the audience – how did you get any sleep (laughter), I mean, both of you? How did that work having two sets of twins?
Dan: It was years of joyful chaos.
Jim: I bet (laughter). And two minivans, or could you get everybody into one?
Dan: We got everybody into one.
Dan: And we had a lot of help. We learned that if anyone offered help, we didn’t even think about it. We’d just say yes.
Jim: How far apart were they?
Dan: About four years.
Jim: OK, so you had a little bit of space there – was probably helpful, but still close.
Dan: It – it made for – we enjoyed it. We enjoyed every – every part of it, but it did make for some years of sleep deprivation.
Jim: Did they have a little rivalry between them – the two sets? I mean, was there set A and set B, and they kind of went after each other?
Dan: Set A are boys. Set B are girls.
Jim: Oh, that makes it even better (laughter).
Dan: So – so there – there – there may or may not have been hazing. I – I…
Jim: It’s what you don’t want to know, as a parent.
Dan: Yeah – yeah, I don’t – they’re – we’re learning things now, as they grow into adulthood, that we didn’t know. And we may actually get back to them and tell them, look, we’re – we know enough.
John: Yeah, stop.
Dan: We don’t want to know. We said, we don’t know it now. We just don’t want to know it.
Jim: And they are adults now.
Dan: They are.
Jim: And it’s – that’s great.
Jim: Let me ask you this opening question, Dan. When you look at the world today, and the parents in this world today, and Christian parents in this world today, and you look at those Christian parents who do have the teens and the 20-somethings, there’s a lot of anxiety in them about where their kids are at. The culture is – there’s such an avalanche coming against the kids when it comes to the things that, we, as Christians, don’t believe in, in terms of the lack of modesty, the vulgarity of the culture.
Uh – it’s there. Some might argue it’s always been there. But it seems to be there in so much more prominent ways today in the media, et cetera, that it does create a sense of fear in us that everything we do is like spittin’ in the wind. How do we get through that? How do we gain a better idea of confidence?
Dan: Yeah, and I – and I think acknowledging the things that you’ve mentioned – there’s no point in pretending like that’s not true. But I think rather than getting focused on the toxicity of the culture, stepping into the influence that we have, as parents, is the – is the way that we counteract that.Because no matter how bad the culture gets, there’s no greater place of influence than the home. There’s no more influential people in the life of a teenager, or a young adult, than parents.
Jim: Do we, parents, do we undersell that to ourselves, that there’s so much influence outside of the home that we’re just 10 percent? When, in fact, surveys suggest 80 percent is more the influence measured. When you ask young people about the influence of their parents, 80 percent will say my parents were the greatest influence in my life here.
Jim: But we don’t feel that.
Dan: No, we don’t. And there are reasons why we don’t feel it. But I think leaning into what’s true – what’s true scripturally, what the data from good research projects tells us, like the one you just mentioned – there isn’t any question that the report back from kids, particularly kids who have a good transition to owning their faith as young adults, is that their parents were the biggest single influence they had.
Jim: So don’t undersell yourself, Mom and Dad.
Jim: You’ve got a great deal of influence. Let’s get right to the nitty-gritty. You and Carol, what were some of those things that you feared when you were raising your two sets of twins, other than AHH (laughter)? But what were the normal fears that you experienced?
Dan: Well, I think the fear have we done enough? You know, are we building into our kids in a way that’s going to be enduring? Is there one more conversation that we wish we could have?
Dan: Is there – are we still the people of influence that we were when they were 8, when they’re 15, and it’s obvious they’re spending more time with their peers? Are they making good decisions? Are we in conversation enough to really know what’s happening in the lives of our kids? Do we – are we really dialed in…
Dan: …To what – what’s underneath the hood for them?
Jim: Yeah. In writing your bookIt’s Not Too Late– which is a great title because so many parents feel it is too late – and we’ll move this conversation along in that direction, so hang on. If you’ve got a 25-year-old, a 30-year-old who you’re feeling like has missed the entire point of life, don’t walk away yet because we’re going to get to those questions. But, Dan, you did – um – something which I think is so right in that you surveyed a lot of parents as part of the research behind your book. What were some of those surprising findings that kind of caught you off guard?
Dan: Yeah,I think, with parents, as we stepped into this doing focus groups with parents, doing some online survey work, one of the surprises that actually correlated to another piece of research was the role of adults other than parents in the lives of our kids.
Dan: So we found that once we named this phenomenon, which is caring adults who our kids are connected to usually through church, once we named it, we began to find it, as parents, in our own stories over and over and over again. And what that meant was that we had allies we didn’t expect to have, a little bit like – a little bit like being in a battle and seeing the cavalry coming over the hill. It’s like; I’m not in this alone. And I have the opportunity to have an impact on other people’s kids that I really wasn’t awake to or aware of at all.
Dan: That was one of the surprises that came out of those conversations.
Jim: You’ve been working with Campus Ministry for a long time.
Dan: Yeah – yes.
Jim: And you – you see the product of households, if I could say it that way. They come into colleges. Some Christian young people do well, others don’t. What’s some of the distinction that you see in that Campus Ministry that you’re part of where the kids that are flailing didn’t quite catch it? And are there any themes there that have stuck out to you?
Dan:The biggest single issue for kids coming into college that’s predictive of whether or not they are going to thrive in their faith or walk away from their faith is their connection to other believers on campus So…
Jim: So create community.
Dan: Createcommunity is nearly the beginning of the end – and the end. It’s so important to seeing kids thrive during college. There’s a story in the book of a young man named Billy Riley (ph), who was in a philosophy program at a small liberal arts school in western Pennsylvania. And he was in a human origins class that offered some of the greatest challenges a Christian kid could ever face…
Dan: …Relative to opposing world views and a professor, who really wanted to be fair, but still had his own biases. And, you know, Billy ended up befriending the professor, having these great conversations after class. And then they had a symposium that spilled out into the hallway on the existence of God. And – and it turned into what – one philosophy professor said, this is the best thing we’ve done on our campus in 20 years.
Jim: Right. Isn’t that interesting?
Dan: But when you ask Billy what – what’s the difference between you doing that and falling away completely? He would say, I was plugged in.
Dan: I started right from my freshman year in a Bible study. I was part of Christian fellowship. I had community to support me through everything that happened to me during college.
Jim: Right. In your book, you talk about the importance of seeking God for wisdom in your parenting. I think we understand that, but that’s the problem – it can be a little vague. What does that look like to really pursue God to provide wisdom in my parenting?
Dan: Yeah. Earlier on, you mentioned that there’s not a formula. When there’s not a formula, that’s the perfect space for Biblical wisdom. Biblical wisdom responds to particular circumstances, to what other people are doing, what other people are saying. That kind of wisdom allows a person to move in ways that are helpful and life-giving for others.
It is situational, which sounds kind of funny coming from a Christian, because we believe in absolute truth. But that truth has to work itself out in particular ways with particular people at particular times. And can you think of anything where you need wisdom more than being a parent?
Jim: (Laughter) Not right now.
Jim: In that context though, you also make a differentiation between wisdom and knowledge and help us understand what that distinction is—I think we have wisdom now. How is wisdom different from knowledge?
Dan: Yeah, knowledge is acquiring facts about what is, what’s true. Knowing the.. the… the way something works, knowing how it’s put together. Wisdom is applying the knowledge. So there are people who are really brilliant, who have accumulated incredible quantities of knowledge, but lack the wisdom to put it to work in particular ways. So wisdom is knowledge applied. It’s takin’ it to the street.
John: Well said. How do we help our kids grab on to that when it comes to identifying and defining success, Dan? Because just this morning, I had breakfast with a friend. He’s got an adult child who’s just kind of spinning and – and very, very adept and – and capable but just can’t seem to get any movement in life. What’s the – how do we help our kids understand what wisdom is for that moment?
Dan: Yeah. The – I think walking through the moment with them – and the older they are, I think, John, with – particularly with adults, we’re in more of a peer relationship at that point than we are – we’re still the parent, but the conversation’s different than the one we would have had with them if they’re 12.And I think asking good questions is so critical. It’s worth thinking ahead of time, what would be the question I would want to ask this young man at this moment? And rehearsing it.
Carol and I had a tough conversation we had to have with one of our kids a couple of years ago. And for two hours in the car, we rehearsed how that conversation was going to go. And most of what I had originally thought we were going to say got left on the cutting-room floor.
Jim: Yeah, right.
Jim: That always happens. Yeah.
Dan: It’s like, well, that would not be helpful, yeah. Yeah. But we – what we wanted to get to was some questions that would help that person own for themselves, you know – our son own for himself what he wanted to do, what’s important to him – and because he’s gonna be the one – and in this case, this young man – he’s gonna be the one who’s gonna to have to – to walk through this with other people. But we can’t – we can’t solve the problem for him.
Jim: Yeah, it’s so true. And I – I think that ownership, you know, launching a child properly means they can own their circumstances and, uh, make wise decisions. That’s the goal, right? That’s why we fill ‘em with, hopefully, biblical wisdom to be able to do that.
Let me ask you this, too, with respect to the veneer of perfection. I think in Christian community, we tend to do this more than the world and that is to project – everything’s fine. There’s this veneer. And you mention this in your bookIt’s Not Too Late, um, to don’t default to that spot. So the question, for me, is two-part. One, why we as Christians – truth seekers…
Jim: …Why – why do we want to put a veneer in front of us so that people can’t really see who we are? And then secondly, what’s the damage being done there, with our children, when we’re acting one way at home, saying certain things, and then in public, or at church on Sunday, acting differently?
Dan: That is the crux of the issue because our kids wanna see the faith lived out authentically. There’s a – there’s an asterisk by the influence that we have on teenagers. And that is that – that there’s consistency between the things that we’re saying we believe and what they’re actually seeing.
And when we -when we talk a really good game, and when we project a veneer of perfection and don’t give any room for the real, imperfect parent to show up at home, we’re setting our kids up for, uh, being pretty disillusioned about the experience they’re havin’ in their homes with their parents, who are trying to model Christ for them. And we’re missin’ huge opportunities.
Jim: Now did you see this in self-observation or others?
Jim: Did you and Carol fail at this, uh, in the early days? Did you guys say, wow, OK, we’re struggling here, or did you have a good handle on it?
Dan: I – I’m sure we failed in ways that will – I think we felt it, though, because being part of a church community and being part of the wider body of Christ, the – the feeling that you oughta have it together – I have a picture in my mind of when our girls were baptized. You know, we’re Presbyterian, so we have infant baptism.
Dan: And we – we waited until we had moved to Pittsburgh. So our girls were 1. They were past the age of 1, and they were mobile. And we’re trying to have these mobile toddlers who don’t want to be still, baptized. They were all over the front of the church. I was sweating.
Dan: I mean, it was – it was a picture of chaos.
Jim: You will get baptized right now. (laughter)
Dan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, right. You will.
Jim: Stop your crying.
Dan: Here- here comes the water. But, you know, that’s – that’s a moment where, well, if we ever thought – we just did this in front of everybody.
Dan: So the perfection thing’s clearly not working for us.
Jim: No. I mean, it’s so true. And I think, for parents, particularly, the – to live in imperfection.
Jim: That’s the world we live in. And your household will do so much better when you can do that. When – and your kids will see that authenticity. In fact, uh, I don’t know which part of the research you found this, but, um, in the notes, young people looking at their parents said this. The observation was, they could be hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual. That is a big one. And our listeners who don’t have teens today or 20-somethings, maybe they’ve moved beyond that. This is big because this one area, they feel that the Christian church does not treat these people appropriately.
Jim: Even though we may disagree with them, and we may see their behavior as sinful – eh, but we, too, are sinners.
Dan: Right. Yeah.
Jim: But that’s something the young people catch, is the attitude and the verbal expression against homosexuals, maybe feel sheltered, too political, too judgmental. Speak to those attributes., as many of us that are active in, uh, public policy arena or maybe in our community, maybe the school board, whatever it might be, our – our teens might be saying you’re too aggressive. You don’t – I don’t read that in the New Testament the way you’re acting it out.
Dan: Yeah. And that’s from – from the bookunChristian– uh, Dave Kinnaman, Gabe Lyons wrote that book. And the interesting part about that, to me, is we would think that those are impressions that have been created by the media of who we are as Christians. And we’ve been unfairly labeled and characterized. The point the writers make at the end of the book is, those are from firsthand experiences that young people actually had with Christians.
So it wasn’t – wasn’t stuff filtered through the media. It was real person-to-person interaction that led them to draw those conclusions. So you know, I think we’ve got some work to do here, in living into what it means to love our neighbors. And I think the – the greatest influence we can have, culturally, is to have congruity between what we’re saying we believe and what we actually do. There is so much room for influence in that part of the playing field, particular to homes, but also in the broader culture. It – it’s – and it – we see it on college campuses.
That’s very winsome to students because more and more students have grown up in homes where they’ve never heard the Gospel. That’s very winsome to students who don’t know Christ when they see that kind of lived-out faithfulness. And they see it expressed individually, and they see it expressed in Christian community.
Dan: It’s-yeah, authentic.
Jim: And the – the key thing there is that it matches what they’re reading. I mean, and that’s critical. I mean, when you sit – you know, my family, we sit and we read Scripture together several nights a week – not every night, uh, to be imperfect.
Jim: But often, we do. And one of the key things is, we have almost finished reading through the New Testament together. They, now – on – they have read it together with us. So they can begin to measure how we behave – we, as parents. Are we lining up with what it says there? And you need to be careful that you’re doing your best. And when you’re failing, you’re talking about it – why I just yelled in the car at that guy that cut me off or, you know, that was inappropriate. I’m sorry. You know, we’re still living in a fallen world. We still have a sin nature.
Jim: I mean, you need to be as mindful of those things I think as projecting the right things…
Jim: …So that they could put this into some context.
Dan: Well, and I think the opportunities that come out of our brokenness, I mentioned they’re significant. And quick story – when our boys were 10, they were playing Little League Baseball. And the thing about twins is you get double whatever – whatever happens you’ve got the…
Jim: It happens twice as much.
Dan: And in this case, it was back-to-back called third strikes, which, for those of you who are not baseball fans, is not a good thing.
Jim: You’ve got to be swinging. You’ve got to be swinging.
Dan: You’ve got to swing. And so I felt that was the teachable moment as a parent.
Dan: So between innings, I chose to share my perspective with my sons. I made them both cry.
Dan: So I had become that guy, you know, the over-the-top Little League parent that people look at and go wow, who let this guy loose.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Dan: But we had a way of doing this in our family rooted in the gospel that my wife, Carol, really oriented us toward. So my job at that point was I had to name the thing I’d done. That was how we did it in our house. And so I told them, I’m sorry I took something fun and made it unfun. You know, later, I could say I’m sorry I projected my own failings as a…
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Dan: …Young athlete onto you and put unrealistic expectations on you – but at that point, I took something fun. I made it unfun. I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me? And we learned in our home that in that moment, what we needed wasn’t oh, that’s OK. What we needed in that moment was those three awesome words. I forgive you. And – which released me and released my kids from developing bitterness but also was a mini gospel drama. I mean, this is the stuff that we hear from Jesus. You know, when we first come into faith, those words that we hear from him, I forgive you, are so powerful and so precious and so sweet. And here we have this opportunity, born out of our own imperfection, to do this in our own families. And that’spretty big.
Jim: Back to this point of anxiety, Dan, uh, many parents, as we talked about, do face a lot of anxiety when it comes to sending their child to college, especially – I mean, Jean and I right now, we’re having that discussion about I don’t know that we pay for their first year of college if they choose to go to a non-Christian campus.
We get the fact that behavior isn’t perfect at a Christian campus, but we’re struggling through how do we give them the best launch pad and to launch them into something where they have that community where people do talk about God because they’re coming for that purpose. Those are tough choices though, aren’t they? Is there some tip or some insight you could provide, to us, with that kind of decision-making right in front of us. I mean, my one son’s going to be a junior now, so college hunting is the next step.
Dan: Yeah, I think the – and there’s not a one-size-fits-all. Three of our four kids went to Christian schools – or two of them are still at Christian schools right now. They’ve had great experiences. One of them went to a state school in Ohio, and he had a great experience. It was a good fit. So I think continuing to get at what do you like about this particular place?
What don’t you like? The hard part about the college decision – it’s huge in terms of the amount of, uh, financial outlay and the consequences lifelong of making that choice. But it’s not made very rationally, which would be an understatement. I mean, you go to a school on a nice spring day…
Jim: Right, and they’re recruiting you.
Dan: Yeah, the deal could be done right there because the next four places you go, it might be raining. Well, you know, that’s kind of a tough one to swallow.
Dan: So I think talking through what is it that you’re wanting to have happen during the college years, what’s the stuff that you – that’s important to you, just to kind of force them to zero in a little bit more on what do I actually want to get out of this thing?
You know, what happens if you do go here? Uh, what do you imagine that looking like? ‘Cause I see in many cases, that doesn’t happen. A young person goes on the campus. They’re in the wrong environment. And then they get in some of the wrong courses. You know, they’re…
Jim: Right. They get challenged beyond their ability to defend.
Dan: Right, they go into the deep end.
Jim: These are great insights. I’m so thankful that you’ve written the book to help guide parents right where John and I are at and many thousands, perhaps millions of others of us who are in that spot that’s so critical right now and, uh, the help to reduce that anxiety, to think clearly, to embrace God’s wisdom, his knowledge and to, um, you know, let your kids find their way with, gentle instruction. Those are all wonderful insights, and we need more of it today. I have one more promise that I’ve made and one more question for you after John’s done.
John: All right. So get the bookIt’s Not Too Lateand a CD download or the mobile app so you can listen on the go to our conversation. All of that at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we’d be happy to help you, find these and other helpful resources. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459.
Jim: And, John, just so everyone knows, uh, you know, Focus on the Family is donor supported. It takes care of the costs of the radio program, um, the resources that we provide, the counseling department if you need that kind of help. We’re here for you, and we’re grateful to the, supporters of the ministry that make that happen. In part, you could do that today for a gift of any amount, we’ll get you a copy of Dan’s bookIt’s Not Too Lateas our way of saying thank you.
Dan, here’s the golden question. And I mentioned it again at the top, and I don’t want to leave those parents who are desperate because they are now maybe a 16, 17-year-old, more likely a 24, 27-year-old who, um, has really turned their back on God, and they don’t see any sign of that child coming back. And they weep at night. They talk at night about it. It breaks their heart because this is eternal, and this is the core thing, as we as believers believe, that, you know, eternal life is what’s in the balance here. And so you go to bed every night, tears and anxiety, thinking will Johnny (ph), will Mary (ph) ever find God again? And they’re probably doing things that grieve your heart. Speak to that parent who is in that spot right now who sees no way forward for their child.
Dan: Yeah, and that’s a tough – that’s a very tough place to be when you know what’s most important in life and your son or your daughter isn’t embracing that. That’s a hard, hard thing. The relationship that you have ongoing with that child matters a lot. In my research, one of the things that came through very clearly is the relational connection that we have with our kids at any age is our transmission line for influence. When that relationship is whole and healthy and robust and reciprocal, man, that influence goes, and it goes in both directions.
We need to stay in the game with those sons and daughters, continue to demonstrate to them that we love them, that we care about them, certainly not pull any punches about the exercise of our own faith and how that’s going to shape not only us, but it’s going to shape the culture of our family. That’s going to be the way it’s going to be(chuckle)because that’s the life-giving way God designed it.
Jim: Dan, this has been great, so good – um, your bookIt’s Not Too Late.As the Word says, uh, His word will not return void. And, we as parents got to keep striving to make sure it’s delivered in a package that our kids will accept and that that Word will blossom at some point. Thank you.
Dan: You’re welcome. Thank you.
John: Well, join us next time as we hear from Eric Metaxas about the contributions that Martin Luther made to our lives.
Eric Metaxas: I really think that Luther challenges us to what is God really calling us to do; what does it mean to be a human being zealously following God and how does that make us more human?
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