Dr. Kara Powell offers parents help from her book The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family: Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids. (Part 2 of 2)
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Dr. Kara Powell: One of the big "ah-ha's" for me out of this research was, in one of the interviews, a very wise dad said, "As long as you have relationship, you have influence." As long as you have relationship, you have influence. So, for parents who are grieving over the choices that their children are making, I would say, keep building relationship with them, because you just never know when God's gonna use that relationship for some ah-ha on your child's end.
End of Recap
John Fuller: Well, some thoughts from Dr. Kara Powell about how you can help your child cultivate an everlasting faith in Christ. And she's back with us on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly." I'm John Fuller and Jim, more insights and practical steps for every parent to employ as we try to pass on our faith to our kids.
Jim Daly: John, Kara's suggestions I think were spot on last time. I'm makin' mental notes. I've got the notes from the show. And last time we did talk about how children look to their parents as the model for spiritual matters. Certainly they begin to mimic what we do and that puts a lot of responsibility on us as moms and dads. We can't shrink back from that. I know we'd like to, but let's not make excuses. Let's know the role; embrace the role and know that kids are gonna see faith through us, so often, especially as younger children. Our faith in fact, reflects what they're learning, right and how they need to move forward.
Kara talked about faith conversations that parents should share how God is working in their lives, as well as asking their children questions and asking them if they can see faith present in their behavior as parents. That's a gutsy move, but a good one. I like it and I've tried to do that with my boys. Usually it's a good response. Sometimes they challenge me.
And then finally we also talked about that role of mother and father and I want to speak to the dads. You play an important role in the faith formation of your children. Don't think that's somethin' that mom predominantly does. I'm sure your wife does that, but you know what? As a husband, as a father, it's important for you to take on that role and that's right out of Jewish history and Jewish tradition, as well. It wasn't just mom that taught these things to their children. Dads play an important role and we're gonna continue to discuss that today. Kara, let me simply welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."
Kara: [It's] wonderful to be here with y'all.
Jim: It's so good to have you and of course, you're executive director for Fuller Youth Institute. You teach at Fuller. You do a lot of research and I like that, Kara. I think sometimes we can downplay research, but research is an indicator of what's happening.
Last time we talked about, in fact, the gripping moment, I think [it] was talking about 1 in 2 Christian kids that will walk away from their faith for a period of time. We can't keep the research clock rolling on that, so we don't know if they come back to faith at 29, 39, 49. My hope in my heart is that parents as they sow that seed, even if they walk away for a period of time, it could be 10 years, 20 years, that those seeds bring fruit. I mean, God's Word says that it will not return void. And we need to trust that as parents.
Jim: But let's talk about the practical nature of research and how we apply it. I've got two boys. When I hear 1 out of 2 will walk away from the faith, it doesn't mean that one out of my two kids will go and I don't need to be thinking like that. It just means generally out of the population, about 50 percent. Both of my kids could stick with the Lord. Both of them may walk away for a period of time. There's no guarantee.
Kara: Absolutely and in our research, we're not trying to be fatalistic, that you know, parents need to walk around with eeny, meeny, miny, moeing their kids to try to kind of internally guess who's gonna drift and who's gonna stick. That's not what we're trying to say with our research.
We believe that parents need to know the reality of what happens with kids in general. And then we studied families, as well as young people to give parents practical ideas on what they can do to increase the odds that their own kids' faith will stick.
Jim: And in that context, we want to get to some practical advice. You talk about the busy nature of life today. It's one of the things that we've talked about for years here at Focus on the Family, the hectic pace of life we think is the No. 1 kind of deterrent to healthy family structure. Talk about that, the busy kid who's overcommitted and what can a parent do to help and to be a better model in that regard?
Kara: Yeah, well, I have three kids myself and they're all involved in sports and Scouts and very involved in their schools and youth group, etc. So, I understand what it's like to be shuttling kids back and forth and have very full afternoons and evenings.
Out of our research, we've been some very powerful ways that busy families can connect and build sticky faith. Most notably, we encourage parents to figure out their kid's spark, to figure out their kid's passion, abilities, interests and lean into those. Let that be a way that you connect with your kid.
So, if your kid's interested in dance or art or model airplanes, whatever it might be, that you lean into your kids' world and support them and invest in that way, instead of expecting them to lean into yours.
Jim: Let me ask you the tough question. Let's say your kids really love videogames. That seems to be a plight. That seems to be, you know, a very difficult situation for lots of parents, how to monitor the amount of hours. What do parents do to understand being part of their world is important, but also drawing a line that this could be abused or being used too much?
Kara: Wonderful question, Jim and I know that's a daily issue for many families. We learned as we interviewed parents, that wise families do definitely limit technology, absolutely as we do in our family. But wise parents also, if that's what their kids are into, they figure out how to carve out some time to actually play that videogame with them and even better, if your kid is better at something than you, i.e. technology, then let them teach you. Let them tutor you. Let them mentor you a little bit, a half hour here, a half hour there. Show your kid that you care about what they care about.
Jim: Because in essence, that's building relationship.
Jim: And one of the things I would think, one of the errors that we make as parents is, we discount those interests that our kids might have. It's a waste of time.
Jim: It's taking them away from doing other things. At our age, we might think hiking and doing these wonderful outdoor things gets you closer to God. Why would you want to play a videogame?
Jim: And there's balance in that. I'm not saying there's not, but the key there is, you've gotta recognize your child has interests of their own that are age-appropriate. They may not like hiking. (Laughter)
Kara: Yeah, right.
Jim: They think it's boring.
Kara: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: And you need to balance that--
Jim: --and not put a grade on those activities.
Jim: Is that fair?
Kara: Very fair and in fact, in our new book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, probably the page that has garnered the most interest, the most reaction is the page where we talk about how favoritism can erode family faith. There's interesting research that when kids perceive favoritism and it's very important when they perceive favoritism, that a parent prefers one child in the family over another, then that child who feels not like the favorite, tries to distance themselves from their parents as well as what's important to their parents.
Kara: So, we've got a lot of quite honestly, dads who are contacting us and saying, "You know what? I know how to connect with my kid who cares about sports, whether it's my son or my daughter. I know how to connect with them. I have a harder time connecting with my kid who's into dance or into--"
Jim: Other things--
Kara: --other things—
Kara: --yeah, exactly. (Laughing) Art, exactly. And so, it's been a wake-up call for a lot of parents to say, "Okay, I need to stretch myself to support my kids in what's important to them if I want to build long-term faith."
Jim: And that is a great point. You gotta be careful and I could see that happening, that it's easy when you show or applaud the behavior you like. And it tends to land more specifically or more frequently on one of your children.
Jim: And yeah.
Kara: Absolutely. I'm a parent who also loves sports and so, for my son who loves sports, it's easy for me to connect with him. Our youngest child, she doesn't love sports. She loves art. I don't love art. In fact, I joke that I came into our marriage with zero glue guns and Dave came into our marriage with two glue guns. (Laughter) So, he is far more artistic than me.
But because of our sticky faith research, I have to say to Jessica, you know, I'll try … "Hey, Jessica, you want to play a game with me?" "No, mom, it's okay." "Hey, Jessica, you want to sit on the couch and … and snuggle and read by the fire?" "No, mom, it's okay." "Jessica, do you want to do an art project?" "Yeah, mom, I'd love to." And I have to stretch myself in a spirit of sticky faith to enter her world and build a relationship with her in ways that she cares about.
Jim: Well, and now you're talkin' about something that's so critical and it's that selfishness that we have as human beings. We do it in our marriages—
Jim: --and we also do it in our parenting.
Jim: When the idea is to be giving of yourself, of your time—
Jim: --toward the interests of the others. Kara, you talked in your book about (Chuckling) something that caught my attention. It sounds like those little banners from the old Batman show. It's "Wow, Pow, Holy Cow and How." What are you gettin' at there?
Kara: Yeah, well, families who want to be able to talk about deep and fun and daily issues around the dinner table, they often need handholds to know how to bring that up with their kids. And so, one of the families we interviewed during out sticky faith research, they had this great four-step process.
So, "wow" was where everyone around the dinner table shares something that was exciting about the day. "Pow" was a step where everyone shares a challenge for the day, where they feel like they've been punched a little bit--
Jim: They got knocked down.
Kara: --hence the pow. Yeah, hence the pow.
Jim: I like that.
Kara: "Holy cow" is where that family talks about how they see God at work, ways that they saw God move and it could be as simple as, we won the kickball tournament to an answer to prayer, whatever it might be. And then lastly, "how," I love what this wise family does is, they talk together about how they might be able to make a difference in somebody else's life. So, wow, pow, holy cow and how.
Now that might work for your family. Perhaps it sounds a little cheesy for other families. Well, what I would urge families to do is to come up with their own framework. For our family, we do our high, our low, how we saws God at work today and what mistake you made today. Those are our four questions. So, for each family to figure out and to involve your kids even in creating the two to four questions that you'll talk about at dinner, bedtime, as you're drivin' around in the minivan.
Jim: How do you prevent that from becoming too stale?
Jim: You go to eat, you know, spaghetti. (Laughing) And you're sittin' there and the kids start spouting out, "Okay, my 'how' was this. (Laughter) My 'pow' was that."
Kara: (Laughing) Yeah.
Jim: "My bad moment was this."
Kara: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: I mean, how do you avoid that?
Kara: Oh, yeah, fantastic question, Jim. Well, what we do in our family is sometimes we do something totally different. Sometimes we'll just have an unstructured conversation over dinner, believe it or not, without set questions. Other times I'll say, "Hey, you know what? I just want to know what the best thing that happened to you this last week?" So, kinda change it up. So, for us, our four questions around the Powell family, they give us a framework we use maybe 70, 80 percent of the time, but a lot of times we do other spontaneous things or just simply talk about whatever's goin' on in life.
Jim: Kara, in fact, for some families, that's hard to come up with those questions. It's something we did with our Make Every Day Count campaign. And it's just a wheel that you can spin around and you know, the kids can get into it and it allows them to ask a question of mom and dad and mom and dad to the kids. So, it's a neat little tool to use and John, you can give more details about that.
Let's talk a moment about that parent that feels that they're alone, you know. Obviously a single-parent mom or a single-parent dad feels like they're limping because they don't have that partner to be able to engage and be there for their children for whatever reason. It could be divorce. It could be the death of your spouse, whatever you're going through. Speak, Kara, to that parent who feels like they're not fully equipped, 'cause they're running the race with only half a team.
Kara: Yeah, well, first, I empathize. I'm the daughter of divorce. I was raised in many ways by a single mom, so I certainly have a deep burden and affection for parents who are in that situation.
You know, when we started our sticky faith research, we were hoping to find the silver bullet, that if every family, if every church could just do this one thing it would yield sticky faith.
Now, we haven't found that. Ultimately, it's the Holy Spirit Who brings about transformation. While we haven't found the silver bullet, we have found silver shavings and these silver shavings are so important for families where they're in a single-parent home, but also for intact families also and it's this.
We looked at 13 different youth group participation variables—13 things that kids tend to do in the context of youth group. You'll be glad to know that studying Scripture was related to mature faith. Being involved in service and justice was related to mature faith. But of everything we looked at, what was most related to mature faith was intergenerational relationships and worship.
Jim: What does that mean?
Kara: It means that kids feel surrounded by a team of adults who care about them. So, this is what my mom did very well growing up. I had contact with my dad to be sure, but she was actually intentional in making sure that other men were investing, especially in my brother, but also in me.
So, one of the ways that we try to operationalize this, make it practical for families in all situations is, we invite families to have five adults surround each of their kids—five adults who we say in the Powell family, five adults who are on your team, five adults that you can go to for support, five adults who are praying for you, five adults who will show up for that soccer game or that drama practice, whatever it might be, five adults who that kid knows are there for them.
Jim: Kara, that is so important and I give Jean credit, because when Trent was in sixth grade, she felt it would be important to pull together a Bible study and we've now done that with Troy and some of his friends, as well. And my hat goes off to her and for the other moms who really saw the need for that and pulled it together and it provides that kind of intimacy.
Jim:. I think we've got seven or eight—
Jim: --kids in each of those two groups and the parents, we're getting closer and closer and those are the people I would hope that Trent or Troy would want to turn to, that have a consistent relationship there and it's something you learn. You don't just start there, do you?
Kara: No, not at all and to encourage parents, who don't know exactly where to start, what we've seen as we've tracked with young people, is those five adults are often adults who are already in their lives. It's that coach. It's that Sunday school teacher. It's that youth group volunteer. It's that friend that maybe you, as a mom, go walking with, but you say, "Hey, you know what? Will you be a little bit more intentional in investing in my kid? And I would love to do the same in your kid.
Jim: Right and your son, Nathan—
Jim: --when he was 13, this really played a critical role. How did that practically work out when he turned 13? What did you do?
Kara: Well, my husband Dave and I wanted to mark his entry into adolescence in a tangible and memorable way. So, in the spirit of sticky faith, we went to him and we said, "Nathan, we would love for you to spend time with five different men in these few months before you turn 13. Are you up for that?" And he said, "Yes." And then we said, "Which five men would you like to spend time with?" He named the five men that we thought he would.
Jim: He didn't struggle with that.
Kara: No, he didn't. He was very open to it. He likes and respects all five of these men and so--
Jim: But he named 'em pretty quickly.
Kara: --he named them pretty quickly.
Jim: Wow, that's great.
Kara: Yeah, so we went to all five of these men and we said, "Will you spend a few hours with Nathan? You can take him on a hike. You can take him to run errands. We don't care what you do, but will you spend time with him?" All five said yes and so, Nathan over the course of that summer got marvelous chunks of time with these amazing men and we asked the men, "Will you share life advice and spiritual advice with Nathan?"
And so, they did all that. They wrote it down and now we've created this Teen Box for Nathan. It sits on a shelf above his desk in his room and it's got pictures of these five men. It's got the life advice and the spiritual advice that they've written down and Nathan sees that box every day as a reminder of the amazing adults that God's put in his life.
Jim: Would you see that happening differently with temperaments? 'Cause I thinking some children are extroverted. Some children are more introverted and I would think the introverts would struggle a bit more with that, because they're not comfortable. How would you manage those two personality types?
Kara: Wonderful question and one of our children is introverted and so, it'll be interesting when she turns 13, how we handle that with her. But what I would encourage families who have more introverted children or just children of different personalities, is ask them, "How would you want to spend time with five adults? Would you like to do it all together? Would you like to just do a meal at our house? Is there some way, you know."
With Nathan, it was a one-on-one and he was very comfortable with that. That could be overwhelming for a lot of 12-, 13-, 16-year-olds. And so, perhaps let them come up with an idea that fits for them. Maybe it's watching a movie together and having a conversation afterwards and that becomes the significant memory of hey, these are five adults who care enough about me that they're here for me.
Jim: Kara, let's talk a few moments about that closed-down relationship. We've talked about how to do it from the beginning with your 3-year-old, your 5-year-old, that kind of structured approach and how to develop a deep relationship and be selfless. Get involved with what they're interested in--
Jim: --and ask good questions, say you're sorry. We covered that last time as a parent, to be able to apologize when your behavior is out of line. Talk about that parent who has a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old. The relationship is not healthy for all kinds of reasons and it really isn't that significant for us to dwell on that, but what do they do today to begin to change the course of that relationship?
Kara: One of the moms we met during the course of our research had such a wise approach to that. Her teenage son, she wanted to spend time with him and he never, quite honestly, wanted to spend time with her. She would say, "Hey, do you want to go out shopping?" "No, mom." "Hey, you want to go out to eat or grab coffee?" "No, mom; no mom."
Well, her son did love movies and so, this mom became a student of movies. She went online, tried to understand directors, genres, actors, actresses, etc. And she would ask her son, "Would you like to go to a movie?" He said, "Yes." That was the one thing that he wanted to do, is he wanted to go to movies and so, this wise mom realized, I need to enter into his world to build a relationship with him.
She said, the best conversations she would have with her son were on the drive home and in fact, this wise mom, she would choose movie theaters further away than need be, so that she'd have an even longer ride home with her son--
Jim: Wow, that's good.
Kara: --so she could ask him these questions. So, for parents who are struggling to connect with their kid, I think we have to ask ourselves as the adults in the relationship, what's important to my child? And how can I take a step or two toward them in terms and in activities and in conversations that are meaningful to them, even if I have to study up in order to do it.
Jim: Kara, I would think the follow-on to that would be, how we jump into the discussion and it can go something like this. "Are you sure you want to see that movie? I mean, it's got so much bad stuff." How do you manage that?
Kara: Well, what this mom did is, she was wise and picked movies that were interesting enough to her son, but didn't cross the line into things that weren't appropriate for him to see. But she had—
Jim: So, that middle ground.
Kara: --absolutely and she had to do a lot of homework and do a lot of online research to figure it out. I'm, as a parent myself, I use Focus on the Family's online reviews of movies to help me make those choices.
Jim: Well, I appreciate that. That's Plugged In.
Kara: Yeah! (Laughter) I wasn't intending to say that—
John: Good shout out there.
John: Thank you.
Kara: --I'm on it at least once a month.
John: Well, you can find out more about Plugged In and about Dr. Kara Powell's book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and a CD or download of our program today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: Kara, let's talk about those moments where a child's faith has to become their own.
Jim: They've been tutored under their moms and dads and … and then there are moments when they doubt. There's moments [sic] when they are making that pilgrimage to make this their own. So often that happens in their 20s. It happened for me. I didn't have parents in the home in those critical years. I had a brother, but going off to college, I had my doubts. I had made a commitment to Christ at 15, but I wasn't fully there. I wanted I guess you'd say, some kind of insurance, but at 22 I really committed my life to the Lord. Parents need to nurture that kind of grappling for their child, don't they? They need to create an environment where grappling is okay, that asking the tough questions are okay. How does a parent best set up a scenario where they're not judgmental about it, but helpful?
Kara: Yeah, it's so easy as a parent to get freaked out when our kids start asking us questions or seem to drift. And kids perceive that. When we freak out as parents, that causes them usually to run away from us. So, what we recommend for parents to do is, first of all, stay calm. Stay prayerful. Keep your kid connected not just to you, but to other adults who will continue to reinforce the Jesus-centered messages that we would want them to.
And keep building that relationship in the midst of the ups and downs that your kids are going through. Do they know that you love them? Do they know that you not only love them, but that you like them? That is what kids are longing to know. Kids of all ages are longing to know that and so, for parents to continue to be intentional in sharing those messages.
John: Well, how do you help a parent, Kara, who sees that all is lost, because my child is choosing not to own any faith at all or is choosing to own a different faith? And now he or she is 18, 19, 20 and everything that I'd hoped for and prayed for spiritually for this child doesn't seem to be workin' out.
Kara: Yeah. I think you said something key in how you ended that question, John, "It doesn't seem to be working out." There's so much more going on in our young people than we as parents can see. And while it's easy to give up hope, God never gives up hope. God never gives hope on our kids. And so, we can rest in that, that parenting, it's not a sprint; it's a marathon. It's a marathon of love and acceptance and support and cheerleading and advocacy.
So, as we talk to parents at the Fuller Youth Institute, who are in exactly that situation that you're … you're talking about, we just remind them that Jesus loves their kids even more than they do and that the faith community can wrap its arm around their kids. And you know, as hard as it is for us as parents to see our kids suffer, a lot of times the ways that God draws young people back to Himself is through suffering. And that's the wake-up call. And so, especially for parents to be attentive when they start to see their child going through tough situations, that could be divine timing for them to return to God.
Jim: Dr. Kara Powell, you have really helped me, I think you, too, John--
John: I've been takin' notes, yeah.
Jim: --how to be more intentional about parenting our children toward a relationship with Christ and … and helping them to maintain it and embrace it for themselves, which is so helpful. It gives us hope that what we're doing matters and to be intentional about that. Your book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and I love again, the little button there, Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids. That is what all of our hearts as parents, want to see happen. Thank you for being with us and for that advice on doing it well.
Kara: My pleasure. It's been a wonderful conversation.
John: Well, it really has been a great time here in the studio and I've learned some things. Jim, you mentioned that. I can apply these things to my family's faith walk.
Jim: And that was the whole point of this program, John. There are so many notes that we took; we can go home and apply them. I hope many of you feel the same way. I think it really was a good conversation.
Hey, one of the reasons we're here at Focus on the Family is to help parents pass their Christian faith to their children and future generations to help them better understand the Scripture, to come to a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ.
You know, we've said that for all 38 years here at Focus on the Family. If we fail introducing you that don't know Jesus, if we fail at that core mission, we have not done our job. So, we want to start with kids and we want to help you as parents introduce your children to Jesus. That's job No. 1.
Over the years we've learned many parents feel ill-equipped to guide and shepherd their children in that way and they're looking for tools that can--
Jim: --help them. In fact, one of our listeners wrote to tell us this. "You clearly have a spiritual focus beyond the goal of just better-behaved kids. Thank you for the zeal you're applying to the work God has set before you of helping families remain on the path to righteousness." That is well-said.
John: Great comment, encouraging for us to hear that kind of feedback.
Jim: And John, I am so grateful for the research that we do; 660,000 households credit Focus on the Family with helping them build stronger, healthier and more God-honoring families. That's ... that's a big number.
Jim: And I want to say--
John: It is.
Jim: --thanks for all that you have done to pray for us in that assignment and to provide the financial resources to accomplish it. It sometimes sounds very rote or very trite, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for those Friends of the Family supporters, every month providing 20, $30 so that we could do exactly this, for those that give a one-time gift, whatever that amount might be, I hope you can help us, because without your help, we won't be able to help those families. And I think that's part of the mission and we're doin' it and I hope you recognize that and are willing to help us financially.
John: And when you make a generous gift of any amount today to Focus on the Family, we'll send you a copy of Kara's book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. It'll be a great resource for you. It has such practical ideas and offers ways to capture those teachable moments, really to leverage those so you can start building a strong foundation of faith in your child, including your teen.
Let us tell you more when you donate. Just call 1-800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or you'll find the book and ways to donate, as well as the CD, the download and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you to join us on Monday. We'll be talking with journalist Kirsten Powers about religious freedom of speech, as we once again, share trusted advice to help your family thrive.
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Kara PowellView Bio
Kara Powell, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of more than 20 years, she serves as an advisor to Youth Specialties and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or co-author of numerous books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys and Deep Justice in a Broken World.