Best-selling author Vicki Courtney encourages parents to shape the lives of their sons by having meaningful conversations with them about important topics like resisting the negative influences of culture, the dangers of premarital sex and more.
John Fuller: If you're a mom and have a son, I wonder if you've ever asked God, "Why did you make boys so different from girls?" Do you have trouble relating to that boy? Well, we'll talk about ways that you can lean in and parent better and our host on today's "Focus on the Family" is Jim Daly. Jim, you and Jean have two sons, I'm just guessing--
Jim Daly: Uh-hm.
John: --well, actually you've talked about this, but you parent differently you and Jean, when it comes to the guys.
Jim: Oh, I think on many things we're on the same page, but our temperaments play into it. And so, of course, being a boy myself, I always say, Jean's got three boys. (Laughter)
John: That's true.
Jim: She would agree to that, but you know, there are differences and we don't have the blessing of a daughter, but we have friends who have daughters and usually what happens is, when they're at our house, they'll go, "Wow! Is that what havin' boys is like?" (Laughter) Because they're so energetic. It's all energy: bam, bam, bam, rata-tat-tat. I mean, it's just a lot of energy and usually having girls is at that stage can be a calmer situation, where they want to talk and they want to sit--
Jim: --and interact and that's not what having boys is like. And so, I think moms generally can struggle a bit with, what is my son doing? I don't think that way. And today, our guest, Vicki Courtney has some friendly advice and some great wisdom to share with us. She and her husband, Keith have raised two boys and a daughter, so I guess they're qualified on both genders and they're all three grown now and out of the home, so she can provide that perspective, looking back, what worked well and maybe some things, what she would've done differently. She's the author of 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son, and Vicki, let me welcome you to "Focus on the Family."
Vicki Courtney: Well, thank you for having me.
Jim: Let's talk about the five conversations you have to have. Let's touch on them quickly. What are the five top line and then we'll drill into a couple.
Vicki: Sure and I preface it first by saying that these are of course, not one-time conversations, but the whole idea when I wrote the book is, that each of these conversations should be going on through the years.
Jim: The drip irrigation.
Vicki: Right, exactly.
Jim: Yeah, I like that.
Vicki: I like that; that's a great word picture. So, the first one is, don't define manhood by the culture's wimpy standards.
Vicki: It's okay to be a man. The second conversation, what you don't learn to conquer may become your master. And the third conversation, not everyone's doing it and other naked truths about sex you won't hear in the locker room. The fourth one, boyhood is only for a season. P.S., it's time to grow up. (Laughter) And the fifth one, godly men are in short supply; dare to become one.
Jim: Okay, so let's look at that first one. How do we prevent as moms, how do you help prevent your boys being overrun by the culture of feminism, that you know, you're a boy--
Jim: --and that's okay.
Vicki: Uh-hm. And everywhere we look, it just seems like, you know, we see, whether it's commercials or TV shows that emasculate our men, um …
Vicki: Right, right.
Jim: (Laughing) I mean, they make us stupid.
Vicki: And we don't even realize it anymore that, that's really what's going on. Now a lot of moms probably won't want to hear this, but I feel like we play into that as mothers when we're too overprotective, when we hover. You know, we're the classic helicopter mom. We are, you know, doting on them too much, not realizing that, you know, you're supposed to on some level have a couple trips to the emergency room. They're supposed to--
Vicki: --climb trees and …
Jim: --everybody just gasped--
Vicki: I know.
Jim: --right there--
Vicki: I know.
Jim: --that actually what? You can preplan those things? I mean, but it is part of bein' a boy. And people today, that's even politically incorrect to say that.
Jim: That's my sense of it. Even saying that will come with some scorn. But boys are wired differently. MRI scans prove it. Physiology proves it. Doctors are now saying, yes, boys are different from girls. How does a mom settle down on that then? Jean and I have this discussion all the time, whenever they're going down the driveway without their helmets on. And I'll say--
Jim: --"You know what? They're just goin' to the mailbox." "Yeah, but that's stupid. They could be injured."
John: And we--
Jim: She's right.
John: --we've had pediatricians hear that on the radio here and they've complained that you should have helmets on.
Jim: I agree with that. I know that, but you can only go so far, like putting them in bubble wrap.
Vicki: Right, right, yeah, I'm having a flashback to, you know, we had one of those locker beds that has wheels on it. I think Pottery Barn, there's an advertisement for 'em you know, has it. And so, we were remodeling a room and I went out front where we had moved the bed briefly to do the floors. And there's my, at the time … 21 now, but he was about 13 at the time with two buddies, rolling down a hill on the bed. (Laughter) You know, like it was a giant--
Jim: That sounds like--
John: Oh, wow.
Vicki: And crashing into a gully, you know, and that kind of thing and flipping off of it. They even had paddles; that was out by our lake house. And so (Laughter) I'm not sure what good the pad … if you've gone into the water, I don't know. I'm thinking you'd sink, but you know, it's moments like that where I think, okay, just short of bubble wrapping them and locking them into a room until they turn 18 and then go out and do all those things you repressed them from doing anyway, there's really no way to you know, I mean, you can overprotect, but they'll find a way to be a boy.
Jim: And I think, you know, I help coach football for Trent's eighth class this year. And it's really interesting. I think you see that and you can almost … I don't want to be a generalist here, but I think the boys that have a mom that is really looking out for them perhaps too aggressively and just protecting them, they struggle in that environment, where you're hitting each other and they can be a bit more timid.
And I just think there is a linkage there, versus perhaps a more understanding approach to how a boy might think and encouraging them to, you know, go for it. I think there is some observation there, where some of the boys were withdrawn that way. They didn't want to hit each other. That's the nature--
Jim: --of football.
John: Yeah (Laughing).
Jim: You've gotta hit.
John: Pick up's a different sport.
Jim: You know, if 30 percent of the boys were like, not willing to do that, you can almost see that there are parents there that have for years conditioned them not to take too much risk.
Vicki: Right or you can make the, you know, ultimate mistake and actually if your son is hit on the football field, run out to see if he's okay.
Jim: But that's so natural.
Vicki: I might've had that happen one time.
Jim: Did you not … (Laughter) yeah, like did you …
Vicki: Yes. (Laughing)
Jim: Why would … I think--
Vicki: And did you notice--
Jim: --that's okay.
Vicki: --I said, "only one time" did that happen. My son got the wind knocked out of him--
Vicki: --and the first thing he said when he was laying on his back barely able to breathe as he looked up and said, "Go away." Like you know, it was very clear.
Jim: Well, and I think frankly, you know, I'll go out on a limb here. I think it's one of the reasons football is kind of in the crosshairs of the culture. They're trying to, you know, reduce and again, for your pediatrician friends, John, it's true; you don't want to over risk, but--
Jim: --I know, even for us this year, these kids are eighth graders. I mean, we had broken wrists. We had you know, separated shoulders. Those things happen and--
Jim: --you're putting yourself in that position. A lot of people, probably people listening right now are saying, "Yeah, I wouldn't put my kid in that position." Those are just choices that you know, that hopefully, the child's making, too.
Vicki: Right, right.
Jim: But that's tough. The culture I think, where there's contact like that, the culture is very divided on what is right and wrong.
John: Well, sure. And schools, Vicki, are set up to where you don't hurt somebody. So, I wonder how much of what you observed on the practice field, Jim is a--
John: --a boy who says, "Well, I'm never supposed to hurt anybody, and now I'm supposed to go hurt somebody on the field."
Vicki: And now my coach says, "Go hit him and hit him hard."
John: So the …
Jim: Well, that was the half-time discussion. Most of the time when they weren't hitting, you're going, "Guys, find your mean bone." And these are mostly Christian kids and they're lookin' at us like, really? For years I've been told I shouldn't have a mean bone. (Laughter)
Vicki: Right, right.
Jim: So, it's one of those conflicts, I guess. Okay, what's the second one?
Vicki: [The] second conversation is what you don't learn to conquer may become your master.
Jim: Wow, that's profound. Does a child at 9, does a boy at 9 understand what you're saying when you say that?
Vicki: I'm not sure they understand it, but this is where we step in and we definitely have safeguards in place. And you know, each conversation has its several chapters in it. And so, that particular conversation wouldn't be complete without talking about just the dangers of pornography that are out there. And I hear from so many, you know, mothers who are heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken, of course, when they discover that their sons have looked at porn. And I help moms maybe understand first of all, how powerful that temptation is for a boy. And that, you know, really chances are it would be more unusual for you to raise your son, full 18 years in the home and highly unusual that they would not encounter either accidentally or by seeking it out, pornography at some point.
And so, instead of pretending like, you know, okay, this isn't gonna happen in my home because I've taught my boys right from wrong. You know, to be first of all familiar with how powerful that temptation is and then to give them some principles to be on guard when they find themselves in the crosshairs of that temptation.
Jim: Would you agree with this? I think living in the culture, you know, I love the Scripture in Romansthat talks about in essence, not being of the world, to be transformed in our relationship in Christ. And I think today, because of technology, cable and everything that's coming at our children, particularly boys, it's very difficult to keep them in a bubble and also very dangerous to not equip them to discern right from wrong, rather than just tell them right from wrong. Are we perhaps making that mistake by telling them, this is good and this is evil and expecting them to know how to manage that, as opposed to equipping them that it's gonna confront them. You don't have to open--
Jim: --the door today.
Jim: The culture is gonna open the door. It's gonna present things for you through a Super Bowl ad or some ad somewhere or some other visual impression that a 9-, 10-, 11-year-old boy's gonna have. And that's gonna land in their heart. And they've gotta manage it. How do we do the right job parenting our boys in that way?
Vicki: Well, I think what you just said is so true and it's a mind-set of, you know, not reacting to this if it happens, but it's a matter of when it's going to happen. And so, I share with mothers that again, this is where we need to be proactive in having this ongoing conversation. And so, what it might look like when their son is, you know, 6-, to 9-years-old and they lack self-control, you know, they're not able to be obedient when you tell them that they need to turn off their show or get off the iPad or whatever the issue of the day is at that point and they're 8, at whatever age they are, you know, if they don't learn principles of self-control, then that can have much greater fallout and consequences on down the road.
But what you said, too, is I think what we tend to do is, we camp out as parents in the "Don't do this," "Don't do that." "Stay away from those things." And what happens is just like you said, Jim, our … you know, our boys, especially with something … well, let's take pornography as an example, it is going to cross their path on some level, whether it's as innocuous as a Super Bowl ad or something that comes up on the computer.
Or you know, in the book I share a heart-wrenching story about I believe third-grade or fourth-grade boys at a Christian private school, who were passing around during a lunch break in first couple weeks of school, a phone that belonged to one of the kids. They had a rule, you could get on the phone and you know, text your mom and you know, I don't know, tell her to bring you your school project or track shoes or whatever.
Well, an older brother had shown one of these boys a porn site. And you know, here are some 8-, 9-year-old boys that are curious about this. And for two weeks, this phone was being passed around to these boys. And they had to bring a counselor in to the school, of course, to help maybe you know, undo some damage that was done to these boys, but also to talk to the parents, as well.
And so, when I hear stories like that, that was one of the driving forces of many that led me to write the book, because I feel like we are uh … we react as parents. And instead of being proactive, we're reactive. And then when it happens, we're in a state of utter shock and we don't really know what do we do?
Jim: Let's stick with the theme. Let's talk that through age specific. So, you have that 8-, 9-year-old boy. How do you begin to plant the seeds to equip them to discern right from wrong, rather than simply telling 'em right from wrong? And then let's move up to the 12, 13 and then take it up from there.
Jim: Just role play that a bit with us, as a mom, having that conversation with your son at different stages of their development.
Vicki: Right. So, what it looked like in my home, especially when we got to, I think we didn't talk about things like sex as much with our older son until, you know, it was probably, he was maybe a couple years past when we should've been talking to him about it. And he and his brother are five years apart.
So, with our younger son, I remember probably around, you know, 9 or 10, having a conversation with him and saying something to the effect of, "Hayden, there's this word 'sex' that you are going to hear at school or you might hear it among your peers. And I want you to know right now that, that's actually something that God created to be a beautiful thing between a husband and a wife."
Vicki: "And so, you're gonna hear though sometimes that word and it's not gonna sound very beautiful, like something God created for a husband and a wife. And so, I want you to know that you can come and talk to your dad or to me about those times when you hear that word. And you are going to hear that word." And so, in doing that, first of all, I took the shame away from the word, because it is something beautiful.
Vicki: And I gave him permission then to feel comfortable coming back to us and telling us. You know what his response was when I said that? "Oh, I've already heard that word."
Vicki: "Some of my friends already said that." Well, of course, then I went in and I tried to mask the total shock of, oh, no!
Jim: Yeah, I'm too late.
Vicki: Right, you know, and so, this is the world in which we live today, that where chances are they have heard the word.
Jim: Well, and some, you know, development experts will talk about that, where you know, when you're talking about that issue of sex, that with younger boys and girls, you start introducing the concepts and animals and you know, talking about reproduction. Those are all age-appropriate things. But we're talking specifically about how this impacts you and how the slang of the culture impacts you. So, there is that distinction, just biological information and reproduction, versus relationship and God's gift and intention for you as a human being and how we manage--
Vicki: And you have to start with that foundation in order to have some conversations about the dangers of porn. And so, you know, going back to the, you know, 8-, 9-year-old boys at this private school, the sad thing about that is, they hadn't even really learned about sex in the context of God created sex to be a beautiful, you know--
Jim: They had not--
Vicki: --gift between--
Jim: -had the talk.
Vicki: --husband and wife. Right.
Vicki: So, now they've been thrown into the deep end of, okay, not only are they being educated for the first time about that word, they are seeing it in a very depraved way.
John: Yeah, this is a struggle for most of us as parents and I certainly have been the recipient of some awkward comments from my kids regarding some of this very sensitive--
John: --stuff, but things we have to talk about knowledgably with our children. If you're feeling particularly in need of some assistance here, we do have a great resource for you. It's called "The Talk"and we've got that free at www.focusonthefamily.com.
Jim: Aptly titled.
John: Yeah, it's great and it's a download. Just go to the site. You'll find that. While you're there, get details about Vicki's book, 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son. It's a great resource for getting into some of these difficult discussions and what I so appreciate, Vicki, is you said they're ongoing. They're not one-time things.
Jim: Let me ask you, Vicki, away from, you know, the obvious sexual temptations and discussions, let's talk about videogames. That's another area that boys for some reason, seemingly are far more drawn to than girls, especially at that age, 10, 11, 12. Addictions can occur. Parents can lose control.
Jim: What are some good rules of thumb when it comes to managing screen time?
Vicki: Sure and so, I have in the book, you know this is a formula that I made it up and it's called STP. You know, it's kind of along the lines of "Stop, Drop and Roll." If you learn …
Vicki: I figure if they're young enough in grade school to remember that and so, this is "Stop, Think and Pray." And so, you know, I tried to keep it as simple as possible. Now I didn't think of this until my youngest, who is very impulsive. Let's just leave it at that, very impulsive child. I, you know, was trying to figure out a way to help him rein in, you know, some of those temptations. And so, stop, think and pray, it can be helpful even in the videogame arena.
And I struggled with this with my boys. In fact, I share a story in The 5 Conversations book about my oldest son spent an entire summer with a neighbor friend of his down the street, trying to get to the next level of their favorite game.
Vicki: And my husband and I, we basically let him do that for the purpose of, by the end of the summer, he was furious at himself. And his friend was furious, too. So, they recognized. They were I think, [I] believe in ninth grade. They recognized and he even said verbally, "I cannot believe I wasted my entire summer sitting in front of this computer."
Now see our tendency is to, you know, now during the school year of course, and I'm not recommending that, that's effective parenting philosophy for anybody out there, but what happened in that situation is, my son felt the pain--
Vicki: --the consequences. He didn't stop. He didn't think about it. He didn't pray about it. He felt the emptiness that came at the end of pursuing something that at the time, felt good, but it did not feel good in the long term.
Vicki: And there's some value every now and then in, you know, doing something that goes against the grain of our parenting--
John: Yeah, well, that's--
Vicki: --to let them feel that.
John: --counterintuitive to--
John: --say, I'm gonna let him play all summer long. I mean, that's a long time.
Jim: So, limiting that is critical and actually I think, too, helping them self-limit--
Jim: --is most critical. 'Cause then you're equipping them for the launch.
Jim: You know, often here at Focus on the Family, Vicki, we'll receive you know, e-mails or letters from either parents or 20-something and 30-something wives, who their husbands are still overindulging in this area--
Jim: --perhaps addicted. I can't discern it through a letter. But what should a young wife do, whose husband, who's 26, 27, seemingly would rather play videogames than have intimacy emotionally with their new spouse, what can they do?
Vicki: Yeah, this is so tough, because I see several things going on there and some of that bleeds over into the conversation for "Boyhood Is Only for a Season, P.S., It's Time To Grow Up."
Vicki: And that's where I talk about this failure to launch that is happening. It's just rampant in homes across our country. It's difficult to get our boys, in a nutshell, to grow up. And one of the things I share with moms is the importance of having a launch plan. You know, what happens is, we get 'em to the place. We're very over-attentive in their lives most of us. And then they graduate from high school. We move 'em into the dorm. We shed some tears, you know, and all of that.
And then, we realize when they come back and they, you know, take up residence with us again for longer than a time of maybe a layover. My husband was actually very purposeful in, you know, making sure that we had a launch plan in place for our boys to become men.
Jim: What would that look like, just to be practical?
Vicki: Sure, I'm happy to brag on him and like starting at probably well, I mean, our boys had chores. And our daughter had chores, too, but they had responsibilities. They had to earn money. You know, he taught them money management. He would tell them how much it costs to, you know, have a home or to have a car and those sorts of things. And he had them share in the expense of that.
He had them get jobs as soon as they were old enough to get jobs in the summer time and set aside money toward some of the leisure activities, because you know, we learned that when they were paying for those things, it tended to mean more. They tended to be more responsible than if we were handing them things.
Jim: For that 18- or 19-year-old who's launching, what does that checklist look like for the parent?
Vicki: Well, by that time, and quite honestly, we were under the mindset that between 18 to 22, you should have grown up in the sense of, whether you are heading out the door to do something, you know, a vocational skill, if you don't choose to go to college, you go into the military. Or if you go to college, then you are basically, investing in your future career.
And my husband is an attorney, so this is not gonna be unusual, but he had my children sign a contract when they went to college. (Laughter) They signed a contract. It was very, very, you know, elaborate, basically saying that your mother and I are gifting you approximately the value in this amount toward this four-year education. And here's what we expect of you in return.
You know, but I will say, it worked, and I was the softie. You know, at times I would question, is this too harsh? Is this too much? All three of our kids have left the nest now. My two oldest children were married—my daughter at 21, my son at 22. They had homes within six months, paying mortgages--
Vicki: --which is very young in today's--
Jim: It is.
Vicki: --culture for that. And my oldest boy has, you know, a child, I have a grandchild and they have another one on the way. And they're upstanding citizens who are able to make it on their own and setting aside money into savings and all of those things. And so, this is where you get to see on the other side of it, that it pays off.
Jim: And you're describing really that next conversation, that drip irrigation conversation--
Jim: --that you should have, which is godly men are in short supply. 'Cause in essence, you're defining what that godly man looks like--
Vicki: Right, right.
Jim: --and someone who's responsible, who has integrity. Why is it that so often moms and 20-, 30-something women are saying, there are not many good men out here? That's really an indictment about the culture, isn't it?
Vicki: It really is and I would go back to, I think it catches us off guard when our boys walk out the door for college and a lot of us, it dawns on us, uh-oh, maybe I wasn't purposeful in the 18 years I've had them in developing a formal launch plan. And you know, Jim, some of that is, we need to verbally be telling them in those last few years in the home, when you go to college, it's gonna look different than maybe what it looks like for your friends.
Jim: Let me ask you about this. We're talking about outward behavior that you can see. But so much of parenting is about shaping and helping mold the heart, the emotion and the intellect, so that the outward behavior is consistent. How do you do that, the core job of shaping the heart?
Vicki: Right, right. Yeah, and this is again, where you know, we've gotta be so careful that we don't lean so much into rules and regulations, that we set the bar too high for our kids and that they then fall. And so, we had some, you know, grace and mercy factored into the plan. And our kids knew that, because we're the type of family that, it was a comfortable and safe place to have these conversations.
Jim: You could fail okay.
Vicki: Right, right.
Jim: Vicki Courtney, this is a wonderful conversation and your book title, 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son. I think it'd be good if you're willing to let us do it, let's post those five at the website--
Jim: --so people could see that. And then I'd like to make sure we offer the book for a gift of any amount and I think that'd be a good way to equip those moms and dads to help raise really healthy, spiritually healthy, emotionally healthy young men. Thanks for bein' with us.
Vicki: Well, thank you so much.
John: Well, the time goes by quickly, Vicki and you've brought some great information to us as parents about that today. And you need to know that Vicki shares a lot of stories and wisdom. I mean, you've heard some of it today on the broadcast, but she and her husband have applied these principles in raising their sons. And if you're a mom or a dad, you'll appreciate those insights that she offers.
And we'll encourage you to get a copy of the book, 5 Conversation You Must Have with Your Son, when you get in touch here. Now it's available when you make a donation of any amount to Focus on the Family. And thanks in advance for remembering our financial needs here, as we help you in your parenting journey. In fact, let me tell you that one mom wrote to us and said, "During a recent visit to Focus on the Family," I thought about the many ways that you've impacted our family.
"I began listening to your radio programs in the mid-80's and my sons discovered Adventures in Odyssey just a few years later. Raising our four boys was by no means an easy task, but your ministry helped make the parenting journey a little easier and more enjoyable for my husband and me. Our kids even recognize the value of your advice and resources. And when our two oldest sons wrote their college admissions essays, they credited both their parents and the Focus radio program for shaping their character and spirit."
Now your results may vary, if I can put it that way, but we're grateful for that kind of a story and you're a part of the fabric of that story when you pray with us and contribute to the ministry here. We're so glad that God uses these efforts to reach into the lives of families and make generational impact. And so, again, this encouragement to get in touch with us. You can do so at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll offer some trusted advice for expectant parents, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
Featured Broadcast Resource
Receive a copy of Vicki Courtney's book 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son with your donation of any amount!Give Now (Available to U.S. residents only)
Solid advice to help you courageously lead your son into a biblical masculinity that will impact others.Buy Now
This book challenges and equips parents to fully understand their position under God, helping them fulfill their role in parenting the children God has given them.Buy Now
Download our free guide to help you talk with your kids about healthy sexuality.Read more
Have a look at the back of Vicki Courtney's book 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son to see a quick list of those conversation topics.Read more
Recent Focus on the Family Broadcast EpisodesGo To Most Recent Episode