Gary Chapman: And when they say something that you disagree with, rather than giving them the answer and say, “Know what the Bible says?” you say, “Tell me more about that.” You know, and then you can say, “That’s an interesting perspective. Now let me share my perspective.” And because you’ve listened to them, they will now likely listen to you.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Reflections from Dr. Gary Chapman who’s talking about ways to more effectively communicate with and love your teenager. He’s back with us again today, on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and Jim, I have so benefitted from Gary’s five love languages concept. I’ve used that in our marriage – certainly with our children, 5 of whom are grown up. I still have one teen in the home, however, and it’s a good reminder to listen in and hear Dr. Chapman talking about how to use these love languages with our teens.
Jim Daly: That’s exactly right, John. And if our listeners missed the conversation we had with Gary last time, download it from our website or get the CD. And if you’re a grandparent, get a copy for your kids who are raising your grandkids because this will help them tremendously, and there’s no reason to wait. I mean, why wait five – ten years to figure this out? Gary always brings such wonderful nuggets of wisdom whenever he’s with us. He has a passion for helping families thrive and I think that comes from his pastoral heart. His book series about the five love languages – it’s truly inspired by God.
John: And as we mentioned last time, we’re covering one of the books in the series, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, and so now, let’s resume that conversation with Dr. Chapman on today’s Focus on the Family.
Jim: So often we communicate with our teenager in a way that it maintains the strong kind of parent-child relationship. And let me speak to the parental side of that. What in us wants to maintain that control? Why do we overreach in that regard? We want to control that teenager beyond what’s healthy?
Gary: I think primarily because we care. We really do care. We don’t want them to make poor decisions. Some of us look back on our own lives and realize we made poor decisions. We don’t want them to do what we did. Or we see other teenagers makin’ decisions that are detrimental to life and we don’t want that to happen to them. I think it’s genuine concern.
But what we have to recognize, Jim, is that that can be very detrimental because if we hover over them and we make all the decisions and don’t let them make any decisions, by the time they get to be 18, they’re off – going off to the university with no idea how to make decisions.
So, you know, I say you start this young, before teenager years. You say to the 3-year-old or 4-year-old, “Do you want to bring your tricycle in before dinner or after dinner?”
They get to make a decision. And as teenagers, we do the same thing. There’s parameters, you know. “Within this framework, you can make decisions.” Will they make some bad decisions? Yes, but you now – you have the framework. Anything within that framework’s not gonna be too bad. And if they make a poor decision, they will learn from it that when there’s poor decisions, there’s negative consequences.
Jim: That is so good and I’ve never thought of it this way, but let me pop you this question which may be too difficult to answer. How do you think God looks at teenagers?
Gary: I think He sees all of us as teenagers.
Jim: Rebellious, independent, yeah, that’s fair.
Gary: But isn’t this what God does? He gives us guidelines, you know. “Don’t do these things and do these things.” And we know they’re all for our good, but He gives us the freedom to make the wrong choice. But we suffer the consequences. And from the consequences, we learn and He’s there with open arms to say, “You can come home. You can come back from that poor decision now.” You know, the Prodigal Son picture’s a beautiful idea of that.
Jim: Well and I love that simplicity because I ask that question with that purpose. So often we overcomplicate the way this life works. But I think it’s that simple, the way God has described it, His character, His nature is in us. I mean, He’s being that example as a good Father. And you’re right; we all do act like teenagers. And that’s a – that’s a great place to start.
Hey, let’s continue now. We – we ended last time briefly touching on quality time and let’s go back there. Uh, with quality time, so often, if there’s strain in that relationship, maybe there’s no communication occurring or very little. The quality time is maybe getting one meal a week with that child and you’re trying. But the walls are up; uh, the child’s not opening up to you as a teenager. They’ve been wounded for whatever reason, rightly or wrongly. How does that parent, who notices this teen of theirs, their primary love language is quality time, but they’re not connecting. How do they crack that code?
Gary: Jim, I’m gonna go back to one of the things we said yesterday in the program and that is there’s a proper place for parents to apologize to teenagers. And I know some parents think, “If I apologize to them, they will lose respect for me.” No, the opposite’s true. Your respect will go up in their mind because they know you’re wrong. They know the things – some things you’ve said and done are wrong. And when you acknowledge that, you open the door to the possibility of forgiveness, the tearing down of the wall and then going deeper with them.
Another suggestion I’d make is after you apologize for whatever you see has been a failure on your part, to say to them, “I really want to be a better dad or a better mom. So I want you to think about this. You don’t have to give me an answer now, but tell me one thing that I could do or stop doing that would make me a better dad.”
Jim: That’s a great question.
Gary: And it – when they answer that question, you’ll probably know their love language.
John: And Gary, there are a lot of moms listening who just can’t go there. A lot of mom guilt, a lot of mom awareness of her failures, so how can she get over that hurdle to approach her teen in such a way?
Gary: Well I think first of all is to recognize that all of uh, none of us are perfect. There are no perfect parents. And accept that first of all and acknowledge to God, “I’m not perfect, but God, I want to be better. So give me the grace to deal with my failures.” And I think God will do that. And it’s a prayer God will answer. “Give us the grace to say to a teenager, I failed you in this way. And I hope you can forgive me.” Uh, that’s the biblical pattern, whether it’s a teenager or your next-door neighbor, you know, is to be honest about your failures. And that always opens the door to the possibility of things getting better. But if we don’t apologize, then the barrier sits there and it can go on for years, you know. And the re – relationship can be fractured for years and it doesn’t have to happen if we’re willin’ to deal with our failures.
Jim: Gary, as you’ve expressed it, by sitting down or by expressing a heartfelt sincere apology to say, “I’ve obviously wounded you.” It’s difficult for parents to do that. Um, and maybe some of that comes with temperament that you can do that. What kind of teenager were you? And how were your parents instilling these things that you can manage these things the way you do?
Gary: Well, you know, I personally was a rather compliant child growing up. And I really had no teenage rebellion. I mean, it was just a normal relationship.
Jim: Do you credit your parents for most of that or your temperament?
Gary: You know, probably both. My parents were not overbearing and my parents were – their model was really what led me, because they were both committed Christians and they lived it at home. And so, you know, I grew up in a very healthy home. I mean, I feel very fortunate about that.
But of course, over the last 35 years in my counseling, I have dealt with so many, many families that uh, that’s just totally different with them. And of course, Jim, your background was very different from that, as well. So I think we can’t control our past, but we can deal with it and then we can move on to make the future better.
Jim: Well and that’s so important, because I think as parents, we get rooted in our behavior patterns. And if you didn’t have a good experience, it’s kind of like the breaking of the sins of your fathers. I mean how – how do you now as a dad or a mom break those patterns that you learned as a teenager and do it better? Gary, do you find that, depending on your birth order, which of course, is Kevin Leman…
Jim: …your good friend, my good friend – do you find that that plays a role in your love language if you’re the firstborn or the last born, social person?
Gary: You know, Jim, it may well play a role. I really have never done any research to try to put those two ideas together.
John: I believe we have a new book here.
Gary: Maybe I’ll let Kevin write that one.
John: Well if you do, then we get some credit I think for – for owning that one there. So, Jim, and Gary mentioned this, your background, obviously very dysfunctional family dynamics.
John: Well I mean the, you know, you having gone through foster care and being essentially…
John: …on your own as a teenager.
Jim: Well, Gary, it’s interesting as I’ve sat and uh, listened to you, you know, as a teen, I was tryin’ to become a wallflower because I’d gone through so much trauma with the death of my mom at 9 and being in foster care and my stepfather leaving us, my biological father, living with him for a year at age 12 and then him dying. Um, you know as a teenager, I think it was quite muddled. I’m not sure. I think all five are important to me, but I can’t think of a single one. I was just tryin’ to survive.
Jim: And so I don’t know if in that kind of environment, especially for a teenager who perhaps their parents have divorced or there’s been abuse or whatever has occurred in their lives, how the love languages either are suppressed in their environment or actually are enhanced. Any insight on that?
Gary: Well I do think that a lot of teenagers are in a survival mode because they’re in families like you mentioned or they’re in a single-parent family where the one parent has no time for them except they’re making the money and bringin’ home the food and that’s about all they can do, possibly…
Jim: And never hear from their dad, perhaps.
Gary: …and never hear from their dad. So I think many of them, they’re just hoping that somebody, somewhere, someday will love them. And I think anything that we can do as church members who encounter those kind of children, is being empathetic with their past. Letting the child – letting that teenager talk about their past, if indeed, they will talk about their past, and being empathetic with the pain that they’re experiencing. And letting them know that, “I can’t change that, but I do want – want you to know that I love you. And as a Bible Fellowship teacher or whatever in the church, you know, I’m here for you. And I can’t be your father, but I can be your friend. And sometimes it’s just one friend that can make the difference in a teenager’s life.
Jim: I would suggest it’s like this, going through it as a teenager and all that uh, structural difficulty I had, it’s like being in a desert. And you’re a plant trying to grow in the desert. And any drop of water is life to you. And thinking back, whether it was a word of affirmation or a gift or uh, acts of service, whatever it might have been in my life as a teenager, any one of ‘em was a drop of water to me…
Jim: …something that was quenching a deep thirst.
Jim: And uh, it’s interesting now, ‘cause I – I don’t know that I can put my finger on any one thing. I think all of ‘em are important to me.
Gary: Yeah. Yeah. Well I think, you know, when you haven’t received any of ‘em and you grew up not feeling loved and you become an adult, now you’re looking back and asking, you know, what really would’ve made me feel loved during that time? Sometimes you can pinpoint it, you know. I was speaking at a prison and I said uh, these are guys that were all in there for life. And I said, “I want to try to explain to you why you either felt loved or didn’t feel love growing up.” And I shared the five love languages. And when I got through, this young man stood up. He was probably 31, 32 and he said, “I want to thank you for coming here today because for the first time in my life, I finally understand my mother loves me.” He said, “You were giving the languages and I knew immediately that my language was physical touch. But my mother never hugged me.”
Gary: He said, “The only hug I ever remember getting from my mother was the day I left for prison.”
Gary: He said, “But you gave those other languages and my mother spoke acts of service. She was a single mom. She worked full time. She kept food on the table. She kept our clothes clean. Mama was loving me. I just didn’t get it because she wasn’t speaking my language…”
Jim: She was speaking hers.
Gary: Yeah, so, you know, as an adult, we can look back and sometimes find individuals in the past who did love us.
John: Well that’s profound, Gary, and it just illustrates again why these – these five love languages are so important for us to recognize and what an illumination it was for that prisoner. We’re gonna have the list of the five love languages and details about the book, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, for you uh, at our website. That’s focusonthefamily.com/radio. And in fact, we’ll send a copy of that book, The 5 Love Languages of Teens, to you for a gift of any amount today, as our way of saying thank you for your contribution to this ministry.
Jim: Gary, I so appreciate the wisdom that you’re bringing. Let me ask you this question. Is it as simple as what we’re talking about today? Do men and women end up in prison because they weren’t loved?
Gary: Jim, I think the most fundamental issue for any of us is to feel loved. If we feel loved by the significant people in our lives, we are going to reach our potential – are more like – maybe I should more likely to reach our potential for God and good in the world. If we don’t feel loved by the significant people in our lives, we will likely never reach our potential. It’s just that fundamental. And that’s why…
Jim: It sounds…
Gary: …I think for parents, it’s so important to realize this concept.
Jim: It sounds so easy in that context. It’s not easy though. We don’t want to paint that picture. But when you look at the difficulty, um, that so many households are facing, I mean, we’re talkin’ about teenagers here.
Jim: And you’re looking at a culture that’s grabbing them every step of the way, premarital sex, everything. And we as parents, we get frustrated, perhaps embarrassed, especially in the Christian community. Um, we start clamping down on that and we start restricting. We speak in higher and higher pitches and we get into these arena matches with our teenager, perhaps shouting matches with our teenager. And we ground them and we do all these things. But isn’t it interesting, getting back to the words of Jesus, He’s talking about love? Love them and you’ll see something blossom in them. Uh, we do that culturally as Christians. We want the rules to be adhered to. “Dog-gone it, this is the it’s gotta work.” And yet, the culture’s saying, “You don’t love anybody.”
Jim: There’s an application there, isn’t there? It’s almost that we’re becoming so rigid regarding the rules, that we’re forgetting one of the two most important rules of them all and that’s when the – the Lord expressed to us to love your neighbor as yourself.
Gary: Yeah. And I think, Jim, if indeed the teenager feels loved by the parents, the teenager is gonna be much more responsive to what we’re tryin’ to do with our boundaries. And there needs to be boundaries. I mean, please don’t hear me saying that there shouldn’t be boundaries. Teenagers need boundaries. But if they feel love, they’re likely to respect those boundaries. And if they break those boundaries, they still need to feel loved. “I love you no matter what you do.” You know, we break God’s laws. God still loves us. We suffer the consequences and the teenager should suffer the consequences. You know, I say to parents, “If your teenager gets in jail because they were driving under the influence, don’t go down and bail them out. Let them stay there a day or two. They will never forget it. You go down and bail them out, they’re drunk again in two weeks,” you know? So consequences are important for the teenager, but they need to be administered in love. “I love you son. Because I love you, you have to suffer the consequences of what you did, but I’m here and we’re here for you. We’ll visit you every day in jail or whatever the situation is.” You know, you’re there for them, but you let them suffer the consequences. All of us learn from suffering the consequences of our failures.
Jim: Well, and let’s explore that, that bailout culture that we have, that you know, we don’t want any pain or suffering. We will avoid that at all costs and we as parents will do everything to make sure that our teenager is avoiding pain and suffering. It’s not a good parenting approach, is it?
Gary: No, it’s not. You know, Jim, one of the things I did with my son when he was a teenager, I would go over on Saturday nights to the local detention center, youth detention center. I would take him with me. We’d play ping pong with the teenagers who were there. And driving home I would say to him, “Derrick, think about it, son. They’re your age and they’re incarcerated. Think about it.” That’s all, you know, just trying to expose them to reality, that when you make poor decisions, bad things happen. You don’t have to preach to them, it’s just exposing them. I would clip out articles in the newspaper where a 16-year-old was killed driving under the influence. And I’d say, “Son, read this. Isn’t this sad? This guy’s only 16.” So, you know, it was teaching, but it wasn’t preaching. Teenagers don’t need preaching, but they do need teaching.
Jim: Well, in a way, the way you’re expressing that, Gary, again it reminds me of how the Lord dealt with people. Um, “I’ll answer your question if you answer My question.”
Jim: It wasn’t uh, kind of an in your – “Hey, you’re – you’re messin’ up with the rules. Knock it off.” It wasn’t that forceful behavior. It was, “Okay, let’s play.”
Jim: “Here’s how we’re gonna do it.” And I think in parenting we need to look at it. I love that, the clipping of the articles. I think it’s a great way to go.
Gary: Yeah, and I think all – I think also when we have to discipline, if we know the teenager’s love language and we can wrap the discipline in love, for example, if words is their language and we say, “Son, I hope you know how much I love you. I am proud of you. But you know, you broke this rule and you know the consequences. So I have to administer the consequences, but I just want you to know, I love you. I’m proud of you. You seldom do this and I’m just – I love you.” So you wrap the discipline in love and the child goes away feeling, “This was fair.”
Jim: Let me ask you this tough question, because so often we at Focus are getting this question about how to discipline. Do you think the love languages uh, play into the way you might discipline? Let me give you an example. My older son, when we would discipline him physically, uh, it really crushed him. I mean, it was soft, too. I mean, I never, ever really did it harshly or in a hard way. But I remember one time it was profound. He went into his bedroom and I had the habit of I would go in and express my love to him, but he wouldn’t speak to me.
Jim: He had clammed up and I said, “Are you okay?” And he shook his head, no. And I said, uh, “Will you talk to me?” And he shook his head, no. I said, “Well, will you write a note to me?” And he nodded his head, yes.
Jim: And so, I went and got a notepad and a paper and I sat down and I said, “How do you feel when Daddy disciplines you?” And he scribbled a note and he handed it to me and it said, “I feel like you don’t love me.” And that was interesting to me and it changed the way I would discipline Trent.