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Practical Advice for Parenting Teens (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 04/16/2015

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Dr. Kevin Leman offers practical advice to parents on maintaining a positive relationship with their children during the often-turbulent teen years. Jean Daly shares her perspectives as well. (Part 1 of 2) 

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Dr. Kevin Leman let his teenagers set their own curfew with the guideline of, "Just be home at a reasonable hour."


Dr. Kevin Leman: "Hey, I heard the garage door go up four minutes after 2. Let me ask you a question. Is that your idea of a reasonable hour?" "Yeah." "Well, I want to tell you this as straight out as I can. I'm disappointed in your judgment." That's the end of the conversation. Now here comes the fun part. The next Saturday, "Hey, dad, can I use the car?" "Honey, you know, we had this conversation, it was a brief one about what time to be home at night and I told you I was disappointed in your judgment. I just want you to think about that for a while. You can try me next week and who knows? I might even change."

End of Clip

John: Well, that should get your attention and that of your teens, as well. And we have Dr. Kevin Leman on the broadcast today. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, setting a curfew is just one of those things that every parent has to deal with at some point in time. Have you and Jean gotten to that point with your kids?

Jim Daly: Not quite yet. They're not driving, so they may never drive. I think I'll let them drive like at 25. (Laughter) What do you think?

John: That sounds a little, I don't know, draconian, a little tough on 'em.


Jim: Well, it's gotta be one of the most fearful things to have that little boy or girl that you've been workin' on all these years to help train them and then they ask for the car keys when they're 16. You're going, "Uh-oh." But I think that clip from Kevin Leman, it did put a little shudder in me to say, could I really trust my kids that much to say, "Just be home at a reasonable hour?" I don't know, but we're gonna talk more about those kinds of parenting approaches and how you deal with a teenager.

In fact, his book, Have a New Teenager by Friday is the topic for our discussion. And you know, Kevin Leman, John, he's been on the broadcast probably more than 30, 40 times and he's one of our favorite guests. And I'd like to say, Kevin, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."

Kevin: I love being here. Thanks for inviting me once again.

Jim: Now we've put a little twist in it today, John, because we needed help; I needed help. I could say it that way, talking about having a new teenager by Friday. I wanted Jean to kinda represent not only our family, but women and moms who, you know, they think a little differently from us, so Jean, it's great to have you here.

Jean Daly: Thank you, Jim. (Laughter) It's a treat being here. This is a fun way to spend time together.

Jim: It is.

Jean: But I--

Jim: Does this count as a date night?

Jean: --well, it's getting' close, yeah (Laughter), at least that we're connecting.

Jim: Man, I love that.

Jean: But I am especially thrilled to be here with one of my favorite (Laughter) broadcast guests, Dr. Leman.

Jim: Now that kinda makes me a little jealous—

Kevin: Thank you.

Jim: --Kevin.

Kevin: Good. A lot of (Laughter) women chase me, you know. (Laughter) Most of 'em are in walkers, but (Laughter) they try.

Jim: Okay, now you've written this book, Have a New Teenager by Friday and John and Dena have, how many teenagers do you have?

John: Well, we're on No. 5 right now. I mean—

Jim: Okay.

John: --some of the kids are grown and out of—

Jim: Well, you're the—

John: --the house.

Jim: --expert. We've only got one and one that's about to be a teenager, but we think your book may have some holes in it. (Laughter) How can you have a new teenager by Friday? You're talking to parents of teenagers.

Kevin: Well, it's a scam.

Jim: That sounds impossible.

Kevin: It's a scam, I'll admit it. It's a scam. You could have a new teenage by Wednesday. (Laughter) You know, let's define "teenager." Teenager is age 11 and up. I'm changing those parameters, because kids grow up way too quickly today. And by age 11, kids are into what teenagers used to do, used to think and behave in a way that's consistent with a 15-, 16-year-old teenager, which is not good news for any of us.

But it is that time where kids get really weird really quick. And you had better know how to respond, rather than react. If you react, I got news for you; your home is not gonna be a pleasurable place to live.

Jim: We're gonna follow up on that. But let's go back to that clip and you were on "Focus" before and had mentioned that--you don't set a time for your kids to come home at night. You just said, "Be here at a reasonable hour." Let me just get mom's reaction to that. Okay, Jean, how do you feel about that?

Jean: Oh, the first time I heard that, I winced at giving them the freedom to choose that curfew. That's scary for me.

Kevin: Let me ask you a question before you go any further. Who believed in you when you were a kid?

Jean: That's a tough one.

Jim, Jean and Kevin: [Talking and laughing at the same time.]

Kevin: But see, here's the problem. The problem is, for a lot of us as parents, I've asked that question. There are a lot of people in life who believed in you and people struggle to come up with someone who believed in them.

Jim: Wow.

Kevin: I would say, if you see a turtle on a fencepost, I got news for you, he didn't get there by himself. And when you tell parents such things as," Hey," kids will ask you straight out, "Hey, dad, what time do I need to be home?" "Hey, you be home at a reasonable hour." The kids will come back with, "Dad, what time do I need to be home?" The kids want that time. It's like Cinderella and the pumpkin comin' their way.

And again, I've reared five of 'em and I always had the same answer for every five, "You be home at a reasonable hour." "Dad, would you just tell me." "I just did." And so, it's the projection of positive expectations for your kids.

Kids know. I mean, after you've grown up for 16 years or 14 years in a household, a kid knows how his parent feels about where they're going, who they're with and all that.

Jim: It also equips them to be thinking, right, to use good judgment, to say, okay, you figure it out.

Kevin: Well, are we rearing kids or are we rearing adults? And I say, we're rearing adults. So, if you want a responsible kid, you give him responsibility. And somebody right now in the middle of Oklahoma said, "Hey, Leman, you don't know my kid. If I told him, be home at a reasonable hour, they'd be home at 4 a.m." Well, that'd be the last time they'd be home at 4 a.m. with a car that I owned, that I insured. So, there's ways of dealing with it.

But the question for all of us, I think as parents, is do we want to project positive expectations to your kid or negative? I think we don't train up children in our society. I think we train down children.

Jim: Hm, let's follow that through. You know, in parenting, especially as teens, which is the title of your book, Have a New Teenage by Friday, so often parents and Jean and I do this, I mean, we're always tryin' to battle between, you know, being too passive or are we being too forceful as parents? Speak to that balance, if that's the right word.

Kevin: All right, here's the brave statement of the day. There's only one way to rear a child. Now when you're a shrink, you just painted yourself in the corner in many ways. But I'm gonna tell you how I'm gonna get out of that corner when I say, there's only one way to rear a kid. I'm gonna go to a higher authority, Saint Paul. And what Saint Paul says, is "Children, obey your parents, it's the right thing to do, because God has placed them in authority over you." Now that's Ephesians 6 in The Living Bible and I love that translation, because it uses the word "authority."

And the problem is, that all, and I mean all of our childrearing practices are rooted in authoritarianism, okay, which says, "I'm bigger than you are. I'm better than you are. I can inflict my will upon you." Now for those theologians with us, is God an authoritarian? No. God doesn't grab us by the neck and rub our nose in it and tell us we're gonna do this and we're gonna do that. He loved us enough to give us free choice.

Now you don't have to walk five feet and you run into a permissive parent. Permissive parents are a dime a dozen. They all want their child to win. They very subtly push them towards success. They do their homework for 'em. They do their science projects for them.

If you bring up a kid in an authoritarian manner, okay, your kid's gonna rebel. You bring up a kid in a permissive manner, they're gonna rebel. So, there's only one real way to rear a kid and that's to be in authority over your children, but the kicker is, without being authoritarian.

The problem is, everybody around this table—there are four of us around this table—were brought up in authoritarian surroundings, where reward and punishment ruled. I got news for you. It doesn't work.

Jim: Hm, now as a parent, how do we identify our style of those three? What are some quick ways for us to know and maybe we know in our gut, but sometimes we could be deceived by that.

Kevin: You want somethin' to cry about, Jim, I'll give you somethin' to cry about. (Laughter) What, do you want to take 'em with you? Fine, stay home. Hey, I don't care what he did; you're the oldest. You know, all those things where we just pronounce the kids, it's all authoritarian.

See, this gets scary for us, especially for Christians, 'cause Christian families gravitate not toward the permissive side, they gravitate toward the authoritarian side--

Jim: Well, let's get right to it, the behavior of a teenager, of an authoritarian parenting style, describe that behavior.

Kevin: He's two different people. Every day of his life he's two different people. He's one person around you; He's a completely different person around the peer group. So, he's gonna be rebellious to whatever the standard is. If you're big on standards, oh, we gotta have rules, well, my friend Josh McDowell, I picked on him for so many years. I always said, "Josh said one profound thing in his entire ministry and that's with tongue in cheek, obviously. "Rules without relationship lead to rebellion." That's a great quote. You can't bring up kids with just a set of rules. It's all about a relationship. A part of relationship is having positive expectations for your kids.

I remember I was challenged once at a seminar. I said, I always told the kids when they went out, "Remember you're a Leman." And somebody said, "Well, what does that mean?" I said, "I don't have the foggiest idea what that means."

Jean: Right. (Laughter)

Kevin: "Just remember you're a Leman." (Laughter) In other words, there's an expectation there that you're gonna do the right thing. And I think you have to give kids opportunity to do the right thing. And I think you have to give kids an opportunity to be grateful. Kids today are not grateful for anything. They're on the take in almost every avenue of life.

Jim: How do you have a child grateful, a teenager?

Kevin: You give 'em opportunity to give to other people without anything coming back in return.

Jim: So, set up the circumstance to do that.

Kevin: Babysit free for a young couple that doesn't have two nickels to rub together. Shovel snow for that person down the street. Rake leaves. Mow lawns. Youth groups have done car washes for years, but I think the coolest car washes of all is when they do them for free, but we don't take donations either. All we do is wash people's cars. And I think that is so far removed from how we rear our kids today; it's amazing anybody grows up right.

Jim: So, really that free car wash is a character development opportunity.

Kevin: I think so. I think kids need to understand that, have you ever gone on a mission trip? My life changed goin' down to El Salvador and seeing poverty like I never saw before in my life. And I was an adult when I went there. I think kids need to service other people.

Jean: I just want to say that the authoritarian versus authoritative, what I've really noticed recently with our oldest son is, when I'm being authoritative and not authoritarian, I'm seeing our son blossom. I am seeing the wonderful attributes that he has and realizing that when I was too authoritarian, that I was squashing and squelching all of that. And I'm just really seeing, you know, the happy side of him, a joyful—

Jim: It's true.

Jean: --side, a sweeter and kinder side. I mean, so Dr. Leman, how much of that is our problem? I mean, not our child, he hasn't changed.

Kevin: Oh, yeah, in the books, Have a New Kid by Friday, Have a New Teenager by Friday, Have a New Husband by Friday, in all those books, there's one similarity. By chapter three, you understand somethin'. Wait a minute. I need to do some changing here. But what you said is downright profound. If you want your kid to bloom, parents, be the authoritative parent, which doesn't put resistance.

See, Trent as a firstborn, has got some authoritarian streams in his life right now. He knows how things oughta be. He's the firstborn, okay. And so, what you're doing is putting kerosene with a match when you become authoritarian.

Jean: Oh, yes.

Kevin: When you take stress off of your firstborn's life and most firstborns have more stress than they need to begin with, what you're doing is having, letting him be the freedom to be the person that God would have him to be, by being the authoritative parent.

Jim: Yeah, I think that is good. Let me go back to the rules for a minute though, because I think some parents would say rules are important. God has standards. And therefore, we need to incorporate the rules into relationship. Speak to the, I guess the more hard-hearted parent, that isn't buyin' what you're sayin', Kevin.

Kevin: Well, society has rules. I'm reminded that all of the Leman kids created rules for driving the family car. I didn't ask 'em to. I'll drive like there's a cop behind me. I won't have the music on too loud and all that. I remember one of my daughters got pulled over by a motorcycle cop and she noticed he had a little Christian fish. "Oh, how us Christians love that little Christian fish." And it was on his lapel.

Jim: Especially in that situation.

Kevin: And she said, "Oh, you're a Christian. I'm a Christian, too." And this is what he said. He said, "Well, then young lady, you'll understand why it's so important that I give you this ticket."

Jim: That wasn't the answer she was hoping for.

Kevin: No, it wasn't, but you know, I think we have a society of rules where there's no two ways about it, but parents love to dictate rules. Kids can be included in the rule-making. The dinner table is a great place to talk about chores that kids give back to the family.

And again, you can be an autocratic parent and just say, this is the way it's gonna be. Or you can have the kids divvy things up. Trust me; they're tougher on themselves than we would be in most cases.

Jim: You know, our kids are good kids. They're not perfect kids--

Kevin: No, we don't want 'em perfect.

Jim: --but we still have to guide and correct them. And I won't, you know, again I don't want to be too explicit.

Kevin: Give me an example of what happens in your home when you're unhappy.

Jim: Well, we have permission. I mean, I think Trent and Jean can have some collisions—firstborn with mom. And you know, they challenge each other, Jean with his homework and his inability to see the purpose of getting it done.

Kevin: So, who's winning?

Jean: Well, I suppose he's winning now, but I mean that positively.

Kevin: Okay.

Jean: We're both winning now.

Kevin: Okay, then you've made some improvement.

Jean: Absolutely.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: It has, yeah.

Jean: It's taken me—

Jim: It has, yeah.

Jean: --nearly 14 years to figure this out, the difference between authoritarian and authoritative.

Kevin: Right.

Jean: And why is that so difficult for some of us?

Kevin: 'Cause all of us are brought up in an authoritarian world, but if you're in a power struggle with a kid and I always ask, "Who's wining?" if somebody's gonna win, it's gonna be the kid, 'cause the kid has less to lose than we as an adult.

So, power struggles always end up in not a good situation. So, when a kid says something really stupid and kids are capable of saying stupid things, could you say to a kid who's 14 or 12, "You could be right. Wow." I always tell women, your husband's capable of saying very stupid things. Do you think you could say, "Wow, wow, fascinating, fascinating." (Laughter) Don't look for trouble in relationships.

Jean: Yes, yes.

Kevin: And so, it's almost an art form, Jean to get to a point where you're not the authoritarian, 'cause it's second nature for us as parents to jump in and be the authoritarian.

Jean: It is. It is, but it works and I would say I really feel like I've only been doing this well for the past few months. And it's taken me this long to figure that out--the more staunch I become, the more authoritarian.

Kevin: Right, but when Troy and Trent go after each other, as kids will do from time to time, have you ever gone in and just said to 'em something like, "Hey, I want to tell you one thing. What's goin' down here is really making me very unhappy." And turn your back and walk away. And see what that does, is I think it rakes hot coals over the kids. 'Cause kids don't like it when mama bear is unhappy with what just went down.

Jim: Okay, but now here's more nitty gritty. So, I tend to think I do that, where I'll observe and correct me if I'm wrong, Jean, but I think you see that as more passive parenting. I see it as more kind of lettin' them go through those motions so they can learn some hard knocks and not always being the referee or not always bailing them out.

Kevin: Right.

Jim: Is that—

Kevin: They'll try to—

Jim: --passive?

Kevin: --get you involved? Well, no, sometimes I think you have to let 'em slug it out. If you see blood, you interfere. They're like otters on a string. They know exactly how to get mom and dad involved. And you have to keep the tennis ball of life on their side of the court and that's what helps kids grow and learn.

Jean: Jim, you do a great job with that and I mean, that's part of my growth in becoming a better parent is realizing that and observing, okay, the kids have a great relationship with Jim and that's because he's not dictating—

Kevin: Oh, I don't think—

Jean: --to them.

Kevin:--there's a parent on this earth who's tried to be a better parent than Jim Daly. (Laughter) I really don't; I mean that.

Jean: Right and our boys love him—

Kevin: Yeah.

Jean: --and they respond so well to him.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jean: And I'm just finally figuring that out, that my way has not worked well, the authoritarian way—

Kevin: Right.

Jean: --doesn't work well. And now Jim's taught me a lot about having boys, about letting them—

Kevin: Oh, yeah, they're boys.

Jean: --get more rambunctious than …

Kevin: They go potty outside, you know.

Jean: Oh (Laughter) yeah, okay, not my boys. (Laughter)

Kevin: Oh, no, not your boys. (Laughter) No, I want to go on record, not Jean's boys, no way.

Jean: Not when mom's around. (Laughter)

Jim: Do you remember, yeah.

Kevin: Trust me; they've done it several times.

Jean: I know they have. I know they have in some funny situations.

Jim: But I mean, one of the things that I do struggle with, I'm constantly thinking, okay, am I being too passive here? Speak to the parent type like where I'm at, where I'm kinda trying to figure out what's too passive and what's authoritative?

Kevin: That's a great question and you have a great answer sitting across from you, this pretty woman named Jean, because you say to Jean, "Jean, give me your opinion on something. This is what I want to do with the boys," or with Trent or with Troy. "I'd love your opinion on that." No. 1, she's gonna love the fact that you're checking with her.

Jean: I really like that.

Kevin: No. 2, she's gonna like the fact that you're just not being authoritarian and saying, "This is the way I'm gonna do it," okay. And it makes us what? As husband and wife, it makes us a couple. It makes us a united front. Now that is very settling for kids, 'cause kids actually want to see us together shoulder to shoulder. They might look like they don't, but they want to see a union of two people who are strong.

Jim: So, they're pretending when they're trying to divide you.

Kevin: They're seeing if you're the real thing, that if you really mean it, yeah.

John: Well, and kids are always going to test you. I appreciate so much what Dr. Kevin Leman has said earlier and that is, if you don't have a teen and you have an 11-year-old in your house, you actually do have a teenager.

Kevin: Right.

John: And these are tough years for parents and it puts stress on a marriage sometimes. It puts a lot of stress on the family if you don't do this well. Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you parent well. And so, if you have questions or you'd like to follow up at all, give us a call. Our number is 800-232-6459 or stop if you could make a donation today of any amount to the ministry, we'll send the book, Have a New Teenager by Friday by Dr. Leman, to you as a way of encouragement to you and to thank you for your support of this family outreach.

As we're talking about that difference in parenting approaches, Jean, I'm really curious because you said, only in the past few months has this worked well. (Laughter) What have you done—

Jim: She's very honest.

John: --that's different? I mean, practically, what is different about your approach?

Jim: Only John can ask that question. (Laughter)

Jean: Yes, yes. (Laughter) Yes or Dr. Leman. Taking the emotion out of it.

John: So, an example.

Jean: Example, just a couple of weeks ago, we had been on a family vacation, a very fun vacation. So, I'm thinking and I also had told the kids, when we come back home, we'll need to catch up on homework and cleaning. So, I had said that several times so they knew that expectation.

So, we get back home and there's still a three-day weekend left and I tell our oldest son, that it's time to start doin' the homework and cleaning. And he erupted at it. And I did it right. I didn't say anything. I wasn't emotional. And I probably said something calmly, "Well, you know we've had such a fun time. It seems like that now we should come back and--

Jim: Get more Type A.

Jean: --get, just get some of this work done. That's all I said. He stormed off. I let him. I let him walk away. Didn't say a word. I had to take his brother to football practice and when I came back home, our son had done his homework. He did it. He chose to do it because I didn't get in his face and say, "You need to do this." Had I done that, we would've had a big fight. You know, that just damages the relationship and it doesn't accomplish what you want. I think sometimes they will do what you've asked, but at a complete expense of the relationship. And I think, Dr. Leman, you're absolutely right that it causes rebellion then.

Kevin: Well, there's ways of rearing kids that are documented in books. I won't name names, but I've said publicly so many times, these ways that are so authoritarian are an organized way of guaranteeing rebellion in your kid's life. Now let's take the example where was that Trent we were talking about?

Jean: Yes, yes.

Kevin: Trent?

Jean: Yes, I was just trying not to use his name (Laughing), but—

Kevin: No, no, it's T-R-E—

Jean: --that's okay.

Kevin: --N-T.

Jean: He knows.

Kevin: D-A-L-Y, never mind.

Jim: He's got some great attributes.

Kevin: Yeah, firstborns always do. Firstborns are the movers and shakers of life. Tell him I said that. He's gonna do well in life. But you come back and the homework is not done, okay, or the housework is not done, the question is, what do you do as a parent? You wait for the teachable moment, which is not far behind, where he says, "Can I go over to Jake's and shoot hoops?" Or can I do this or can I do that? And that's where you give the kid Vitamin N, which is "no," (Laughter) you can't.

And it's just a simple "No." "Would you drive me over to the mall. I need to get new socks for gym class." "No, I can't do that right now." Or better yet, "I don't want to do that right now." And the kid will challenge you many times with, "What do you mean you won't. You always do." "Well, Honey, I don't feel like doin' it right now. Mom is very unhappy." Turn your back and walk away.

Jim: Don't explain it.

Kevin: Don't explain it. Let them figure it. They know. I'm telling you, they know.

Jean: Less is better with teenagers with words.

Kevin: Yeah, we have seen the enemy and they are small. (Laughter) And they grow into teenager[s] and they know how to play us, so, just back off. Let the consequence come. Listen, you need a Ph.D. for this one. B doesn't start till A gets completed.

Jean: Right.

Kevin: How simple is that, parent? So, when something isn't done that's supposed to be done, don't get emotional. I tell parents, when a kid throws a temper tantrum in the mall, in the book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, I say, step over the child. There's a great temptation to step on the child. Let me point out, that is illegal, okay? And if you walk away from that child, what happens? The kid comes after you a second time. What's the kid saying? He's saying, "I am an authority over you; you're gonna get me that candy treat."

And what Saint Paul said and I tried to take that and "westernize" those thoughts as best I could in my books, is wait a minute. God says, I'm in authority over my kid, but I'm not the authoritarian. And God isn't the authoritarian. And that's where I go right back to square one again where I say, there's only one way to rear a kid and that's to be an authoritative parent. It's hard to always think that as a parent, because none of us around this table were brought up that way.

Jim: Dr. Kevin Leman, author of the book, Have a New Teenager by Friday, it is like always, it is so good to hear your wisdom for us parents of teenagers and how we need to do the job as best we can, not perfectly, but as best we can and always to remember to keep the relationship at the forefront of the meaning of parenting, as opposed to the rules.

And if you're strugglin' with that and you don't know how to figure that out, call us here at Focus on the Family. We have counselors that can help you and you know, tell us where you're at and what you're thinking. We're here for you. We're more than happy to give you more information on how to maybe do a course correction there and help. And definitely get the book, Have a New Teenager by Friday and I think, Dr. Leman, you've done an absolute[ly] outstanding job of giving the tips for parents to do a better job in their parenting. And Jean, man, you've brought some reality to this. Thank you so much for sharing, but there's more we've gotta cover, John and we've gotta come back. Can the both of you stay with us?

Jean: Yes, of course. (Laughter)

Kevin: Let's do it.


John: Yeah, I think you're right, Jim. There's a lot here and we should look forward to the continued conversation with Dr. Kevin Leman. And as you mentioned Jim, our counseling team is here. If you're up against the wall, if you're at a really hard spot, then call during normal business hours and we'll connect you with a counselor and they can help you understand better what's goin' on.

And by the way, they'll probably have to call you back. The call volume is pretty significant these days, so just know that we'll take your name and number and somebody will get back in touch with you. The number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

And that's the same number to use to order Kevin's book, Have a New Teenager by Friday. We'd be happy to send that to you as our way of saying thank you for your financial contribution to Focus on the Family or any amount today. You can also invest in our work when you're at and either way, we'll get that book to you in the next few weeks.

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, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time. You'll hear more from Kevin Leman tomorrow about the positive aspects of parenting your teen, as we provide more encouragement to help your family thrive.

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More Episode Resources


Kevin Leman

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Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order Book, Have a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. He and his wife, Sande, reside in Tucson, Ariz., and have five children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Leman by visiting his websites, and


Jean Daly

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Jean Daly became a Christian in 2nd grade and rededicated her life to Christ at 17. She attended the University of California at Davis and earned her degree in Biology from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jean has been married to her husband, Jim, since 1986; they have two boys.