FamilyLife Today®

David Eaton: How to Love Your Teenager

with David Eaton | October 13, 2022
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Overreacting with your teen? Author David Eaton knows the anger is real and stakes are high. Grab ideas on how to love your teenager even when they blow it.

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Overreacting with your teen? Author David Eaton knows the anger is real and stakes are high. Grab ideas on how to love your teenager even when they blow it.

David Eaton: How to Love Your Teenager

With David Eaton
October 13, 2022
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Ann: Hey, before we get to today’s program, I want you to know that Dave and I were perfect parents. [Laughter]

Dave: —until we had a child. [Laughter]

Ann: Exactly! And we used to think that there were perfect parents, but there are—

Ann and Dave: —no perfect parents.

Ann: That’s why we wrote the book, No Perfect Parents; and we are excited because, now, we have an online video course for you. You can go through it as a small group, individually, or even just as a couple. To get that, you can go to to find out more; again,

David: How do we know if you are raising a sin-concealer versus a sin-confessor is: “Are you modeling confession?” “Is it okay to say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’?” How do we understand that we are supposed to forgive as we’ve been forgiven? We want to have karma; we want to have, like, “You reap what you sow,” in many ways; but we have a God, who has stepped into reality, and has stepped into our world, and said, “No, you are forgiven.”


Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife

Dave and Ann: Today.

Dave: So we’ve got David Eaton in the studio today. David is a teenage expert, not really. [Laughter]

David: Wow!

Dave: He is an expert on raising teenagers because you started a ministry called AXIS. David, you tell me you communicate with 200,000 parents and teenagers a month?

David: Oh, yes.

Dave: —about what?

David: No, we equip 200,000 parents,—

Dave: Wow, that’s even better.

David: —who have 400,000 tweens and teens in their lives. We help them have non-anxious Christ-centered conversations about culture, and about Tik-Tok, and about fashion trends, and about Jesus, and about technology. We want Jesus to be at the center of a family, so that is what AXIS is all about.

Ann: I hope every parent listening just leaned forward and thought,—

Dave: Oh, they did.

Ann: —“I need this program.”

Dave: I knew they did; they are all like: “How do I get this?” “How do I get this?”

Ann: Yes.


David: Yes—AXIS—A-X-I-S, not A-C-C-E-S-S—so Go there and check out “The Culture Translator”; it comes out every Friday. It says: “Here are three things going on in your kids’ world”; and it is awesome.

Dave: Oh, I get it. Every time, I have no idea what you are talking about when I am reading it—I’m like, “I don’t have teenagers in the home anymore,”—but it’s like we need to be on top of this: understanding culture. Especially, if you are the parents of preteens or teenagers, you want to be able to talk their language, and understand what is going on, and start conversations.

But one of the reasons I brought this up really early: you said you have three trick questions?

David: Oh, yes, I am hijacking this radio show right now.

Dave: Alright; let’s see it.

David: It’s like, “Enough interviewing me; I’m interviewing you now, so the tables have turned.”

Ann: Uh-oh.

Dave: This has never happened.

David: “Wilsons, watch out! Game on.”

Dave: I guarantee my wife will be able to answer all three of these.

Ann: No, I will not!

Dave: I won’t be able to answer any of them.

David: Okay; well, there are three trick questions; and they’re are scenarios/they’re situations.

Dave: Oh, no.

David: So bear with me. The first one is you are looking for something in your 17-year-old’s room because, clearly, he took something of yours—maybe, you lost it—and you are just like looking. You are an innocent, awesome parent, looking. You are looking, and you can’t find it; so you are like, “Oh, I will in his closet. Maybe, it is in his closet.”

You open up the closet, and you see, “Oh, there is a box down there.” So you are like, “Maybe, it is in the box.” You pick up the box; you open the box; and as you look inside the box, you find a half-consumed bottle of whiskey. What do you do, Wilsons?

Dave: I say, “Ann, you might want to have a conversation with our sons about this.” [Laughter]

No, I mean, honestly, here is my answer—I’m not saying it is the right answer—I’d love to know what Ann would do. I would go to Ann, and we would go, “Hey, look what I found. Let’s sit down with”—whichever son’s room it was—all three of our sons were in the same room, so it could have been any one of the three. [Laughter] I probably would choose the oldest one first, and say, “You know, is this yours?” and “Can we talk?”

I mean, we did find porn on our home computer when our oldest was 13; and that’s exactly what we did. We sat down—first, Ann said, “Is it you [Dave]?!” I said, “No, it is not me.” Then we had a conversation, and he admitted it was him. It led to a really good conversation—that is ongoing; you know?—I mean, that is what I would do.

David: Well, I have two questions about that. First of all,—

Dave: You’re not allowed to ask another one!

David: Oh, yes! It’s on; it is on. [Laughter] You thought this was safe.

How would you feel when you opened the box for the first time and you see those things down there?

Ann: Oh, I would have just a pit in my stomach, especially, if you were non-suspecting—like if you had no idea and you find that—I would cry, honestly. My first thought was—same thing—I would take it to Dave. If he wasn’t home at that time, I would probably—and I did this many, many times—I’d get on my knees. I would tell Jesus everything I’m feeling: “I’m afraid,” “Lord, what’s happening?” “I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to say,” “What should I do?” James 1 says that He will give us wisdom—

David: —generously will give wisdom.

Ann: —generously.

David: Yes.

Ann: And I would pray, “Lord, we need wisdom.” These are scenarios that we actually did.

Dave: I’m laughing because I thought you were going to say what you did when one of our sons came home drunk. [Laughter] She kicked him out of bed because he said, “I drank too much last night and crawled into bed.” She kicked him out of bed/said, “You are going to do the front yard right now.” She is yelling at him, in the front yard, like, “Who do you think you are?!”

Ann: David, this wasn’t a good moment.

David: This wasn’t?

Ann: This wasn’t a good moment for me, because it had happened before; and this time—I mean, he came home, reeking of alcohol—so he is like, “I just need to go to bed.” It was prom night.

David: Oh.

Ann: I reacted instead of responded—I didn’t pray; I didn’t do anything—I’m like, “Get out of bed!—because you are working today.” So yes, I was not calm or cool by any—

David: Did he do a good job on the yard?

Ann: Yes.

David: How was the/was it nice and level?—straight lines?

Ann: It was super sad, thinking back about it—like he was crying—this 18-year-old boy was crying the whole time. I think sometimes, as parents, we do—I had to apologize later: “It probably wasn’t the best way to respond in the moment”; but I did say, “I was so/I am so afraid. I’m afraid, and my fear caused me to react,”—we had that conversation. Then, I feel like God salvaged it; because I remember saying to him, “You are amazing, and I can see that God has so much for you. I can’t wait to see all that He has for you. I get scared because I think, ‘Don’t waste all that He has.’”

I said so many wrong things; I might have said a few good things—but as parents, we do make mistakes—and when we are in it, we don’t always respond well.

Dave: And God did redeem the moment, and he is an amazing man and father.

Ann: Yes, he is amazing.

David: “And he hasn’t made a mistake since”; that’s really great. [Laughter]

Dave: —just like his dad!

David: The one final clarifying question—because everybody, who is listening to this, wants to know—you mentioned finding something on your computer. You said you kind of teamed up, talked about it; the conversation went really well. “Why did it go really well? What happened?”—because that’s not—

Dave: You’re hijacking the show; you really are.

David: I told you—[Laughter]—it’s not/this is not a surprise, because I made it clear—I am hijacking it.

Dave: I mean, when I look back, I can see us sitting there, in the basement, having this conversation; because it’s one of those parenting moments, where you hope it will never happen; but you know it could happen, and here we are. I think we listened; we said, “Tell us your story. Tell us what’s going on. Why did we find this?”

David: Wow.

Dave: He was very honest.

Ann: But Dave, I think the thing that really—I feel like was so impactful—is you started to cry; because you said, “This has been my struggle when I was younger. Man, I hate for you to have to experience what I’ve gone through.” I think that was so impactful for you to relate, like, “Man, I’ve struggled with this too.” I think his response, then, was he cried, too, and was basically saying, “What do I do?”

Dave: Honestly, it wasn’t tears of—“Oh, my kid messed up,”—they were tears of: “I know this battle. You are stepping into a warzone, dude. It’s a hard journey. I’ll walk it with you”; but those were my tears.

Ann: That happened more than once in our home—lots of times—stuff like that.

Dave: Anyway, back to the trick question.

David: Well, first of all, it’s kind of just a metaphor/a parable for: “How would you react?” “How would you respond?” “How would you feel?” So thank you for giving us beautiful insights into your story. I’ve had parents—I’ll tell that story—it’s a real story; it happened to a friend of mine. But then, I have parents say, “Our plumber is in the house; he is fixing something in our kids’ bathroom and found something behind the sink.”

Here is the trick question—the aspect of this:

  • One is that, whatever is the box and inside the box can become an adversary between you and your kids—then, that is just really tough—if you’re not on the same team, and you are opposing each other.

But the real punchline with the box/the real punchline is that:

  • “What’s inside the box—that cultural artifact: that marijuana, that self-harm, that cutting, that perfectionism, that personal shame—that will kill your body. What is inside the box will kill your body.”
  • “But the box/that secrecy will kill your soul,”—it says—“I’ve got to hide this from my parents,” “I’ve got to hide this from God,” “I’ve got to hide this from other people,” “Where are my fig leaves?” “I don’t belong here; I am unworthy,” or “This is my secret, special sin.” As they say in AA: “We are only as sick as our secrets.”

Guess what? The box isn’t just in our closet; it’s in our pockets now—it’s called a smartphone—so there is a brand-new box in town.

Okay, second question—are you ready for the trick question number two?—drum roll [mimicking a drum roll]; here we come!

Ann: Oh, man.

Dave: I don’t know.

David: Guys, thank you, again, for your vulnerability/honesty.

Second question—I’ll frame this up as an awesome youth pastor failure—because I was a youth pastor, and I had an awesome youth pastor failure. There was a family—they invited me over to their house, because I was supposed to mediate—first problem—between a mom and her teenage daughter and her teenage son. Total failure! They wouldn’t even look at each other—so mad—mad tears down this young lady’s face—mad, mad; not sad tears—mad tears.

Ann: Why was she mad?

David: “You don’t understand my mom.” Then there was also a challenge here that the mom would take the smartphone away, and wouldn’t say what the kid could do to get it back or when they were getting it back. If they asked, she held onto it longer. So there were some challenges; right? As we all have challenges, it’s hard; the smartphone is hard.

But as I was walking down the steps of this house, the young lady said to me a phrase I will never forget—and this is my second question for you, Dave and Ann—she says, “The stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager.” My question to you: “True or false?”

Ann: I would say that is true if there is no relationship going on with the kids.

David: So, when you say, “relationship,” what do you mean “relationship”? Of course, there is a relationship there; what kind of relationship? Tell me more, Ann. [Laughter]

Ann: If the kids feel loved and encouraged to talk—to share their heart, to share their mind, to share their opinion, to share their fears with their parents—that’s what I mean by relationship, that the door is open for communication.

I feel like that is one of the things I did poorly, at times, as a mom of a teenager. I became so fearful of what they were doing that I wasn’t as concerned about their heart—and this is from our kids telling us now, as adults—my one said, “Mom, you were more concerned about my actions than why I was doing the things that I was doing.”

Dave: You know, we wrote a book on parenting, and we tried to get a little bit into that:

  • “Rules are good.”
  • “Strict is fine. You’ve got to lay down boundaries for your kids when they are toddlers and when they are teenagers. It isn’t like the greatest parents are the most permissive, and there are no rules; in fact, as you interview teens, they want rules; they really do.”

Ann: I had one 14-year-old say, “My mom and dad have never given me one rule in my life, and I feel like they don’t love me,”—

David: Wow.

Ann: —which was really interesting for a 14-year-old to say.

Dave: Yes, so I’m going at the idea that you lay down rules; but it has to be in the context of a loving relationship, where they are feeling heard. The key, I think, is if the rule’s a good rule, then keep it; but make sure your teen understands it—is able to push back on it,—

Ann: —has an opinion about it.

Dave: —and you hear that. Sometimes, when you hear it, you go, “Okay, I’m going to adjust it a little bit; the rule is still here.”

I remember one of our sons said to us—because we had a conversation at the dinner table—I think we’ve shared this here before—but Ann said, “Hey, tell us some things you don’t like about our parenting.” This is when they were teenagers.

David: Bold.

Ann: “Maybe, some rules you think that it’s dumb.”

Dave: One of our sons said, “I think it is stupid that, when you guys are gone, I can’t have a girlfriend over here.” “Well, tell us why you think that is stupid.” “Well, I’m mature enough”—blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, we were like, “You know what? That’s not a stupid rule. You are not going to have a girlfriend over here when we are gone.” [Laughter]

Ann: But we kind of explained our side of it: “Here is why…” “Here is what we are thinking…”

He also said, “I think it’s dumb that you guys give me this bedtime. I’m in high school now. I should be able to determine…”—it wasn’t that we had a strict bedtime; but I would say, “You should get to bed,”—he was like, “I can figure that out.” I said—[Ann and Dave in unison]—“You’re right; yes.”

Dave: So we let that one go. But I think, at the end of the day, he would say, “I felt heard. Even though they kept the one rule, they still let me push back.” So is that what you are saying?

David: You are building that trust; right? A great sports analogy for this is playing soccer, by a cliff, without a fence; it’s not very fun. [Laughter]

So this young lady says this to me: “The stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager.” I agreed and disagreed simultaneously; and then, I realized, “This is a great question to ask”; so I’d ask it to my friends. Then it really brought some great vulnerability from that. At a dinner party, or every now and then, I would talk to somebody; I was trying to figure it out, like, “Where is the answer?”

A grandfather actually solved the riddle. Do you know how he solved it?—he solved it by answering my question with a question; he went like Jesus on me with that one. [Laughter] I’m like, “You’ve got this.” He said, “David, to answer the question,”—he says—“you have to say this: ‘Are you raising a sin-concealer, or are you raising a sin- confessor?”

So one, I just want to say, “Thank you,” to the people at FamilyLife; because the person who brought that up to me was Bob Lepine.

Dave: Really?

David: It was his answer—maybe, he got it from somewhere else, from all the years of doing radio shows like this—just the collection of wisdom that he has. So FamilyLife has been very good to AXIS, so thank you. Even to have me out today is such an honor for me and the team.

But yes, that idea of “sin-concealer versus sin-confessor” is the heart of the gospel and how we deal with forgiveness—like you said, Ann—you asked forgiveness from your kid for overreacting before. So how do we know if you are raising a sin-concealer versus a sin-confessor is: “Are you modeling confession? Is it okay to say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’?” How do we understand that we are supposed to forgive as we’ve been forgiven?

Forgiveness is still hard for me; it doesn’t fit the math/the calculus of reality—we want to have karma; we want to have: “You reap what you sow,” in many ways—but we have a God, who has stepped into reality, and stepped into our world, and said, “No, you are forgiven.”

Dave: And it is important—don’t you think?—to confess your sin to your kids—I mean, the sin that you’ve hurt them; you know, “I disciplined you this way; it was hard,”—whatever it is—it’s a healthy conversation—

David: Absolutely!

Dave: —to say, “I’m sorry.”

David: It’s actually a really—it requires wisdom that we should ask from God, and He will generously give—do not doubt on how to confess, and who to confess to, and what to say. And even the question of: “How much do I tell my kids about my past?” and “When?” Well, they need to hear because there is a reason, where you said, “Trust me; nothing good is going to happen in our house, after 9 o’clock at night, when we are not there with your girlfriend,”—or 10 o’clock or 11—whatever.

Dave: Right.

David: “So, well, why?”—[asked by the child.] [Parental answer]: “Well, you are just not going to do it right now,” or “I’m going to tell you later”; or “We’re going to go out for coffee, and we’re going to figure this out.”

Okay, so here is the deal: sin-concealing versus sin-confessing.

Dave: I knew Bob Lepine would end up back in the studio.

Ann: Sounds like a pastor’s sermon.

David: Yes, that will preach; right? That will preach.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Well, I have preached—literally, I can see it in my sermon notes—“Conceal equals death”; “Reveal equals life.” I was, obviously, talking about our relationship with God: we all conceal; we all hide; we all have fig leaves—and it always leads to death—because if you are playing something in the dark, the dark is going to win; but if you bring it to the light—which is the scariest thing ever—to tell your spouse, or a teenager to tell your parents, or parent to even confess something to their teenage son or daughter that they’ve done wrong is scary—but it always leads/the light always leads to life; right?

David: So tell me how: “How do you raise a sin-confessor?” How have you done it?—how have you done it right?—how have you done it wrong?

Dave: Well, you are the guy who wrote the book on understanding teens. You must have an answer.

David: I just like to lob these really amazing philosophical conundrums, wrapped in enigmas. [Laughter]

Dave: My only thought—and Ann is sitting right here, so she can say if it’s a lie or it is true—is modeling in front of our kids what it looks like.

Ann: Yes, that is what I was going to say, too; and our kids have not been perfect, and we have not been perfect. Many times, they have hidden their sin; we have hidden our sins. But there is a beauty of being able to confess it. We were big confessors, of saying, “You guys, we messed up.” I think that modeling is probably the thing—

David: Alright; I want to actually hear this: you mess up—and it takes a full week to come around or it’s like 30 minutes later—you’re like, “I messed up,”—like what did you—

Dave: —I would say, for me, often, weeks.

David: Okay.

Dave: I mean, there were probably times, where it was pretty immediate; but a lot of times, it is like I concealed that sin secret for a while. It’s like, “I’m going to beat this on my own,”—

David: Got it.

Dave: —whether it is a struggle with the phone—you name it—it’s like, “No, I’m not winning this thing; I need help.” So Ann is one of the first partners that knows the truth and then the guys I’m doing life with.

That is the other thing I think my sons—we just had three sons—they saw dad in relationship with men, who were [my] accountability partners and soldiers beside me. So that is a modeling as well. They knew I was saying that to these guys, and that, hopefully, helped them to say, “This is how a man lives: ‘You don’t conceal; you reveal.’”

Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with David Eaton on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear three specific things you can say to your kids when you mess up; that is in just a minute. But first, David Eaton’s book is called Engaging Your Teen’s World: Understanding What Today’s Youth Are Thinking, Doing, and Watching. You can get your copy at

You know, one way to help your child open up with you and not conceal their sin is to be a parent, who models discerning vulnerability to them with our sin—easier said than done—right? But that’s the kind of culture we believe in, here at FamilyLife: being honest, owning our failures, and forgiving lavishly.

Well, one of the ways we can do that is by being learners of how to forgive well. To help you with that, we want to send you a copy of Brant Hansen’s book called Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. It’s our gift to you when you financially partner today with FamilyLife. You can give online at or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Alright; here is David Eaton and three things you can say to your kids when you mess up.

David: I will say, again, this is something that will make you address your own shame. AXIS is going to help you with social media, and smartphones, and video games, and all that other stuff—all of those are kind of artifacts that are kind of out there/constellations of issues that are out there—but oftentimes, it comes back to: “Do I believe what God says about who I am?” and “How am I dealing with my personal shame?”

Because if you are parenting out of shame, that’s a hard parent to be parented by. So again, it is modeling—and I think, especially if you blow it with your kid, to come back to them and say, “I’m sorry,”—this is something we do with our kids. It’s like, “I hope they remember this, and I hope this just becomes a part of their vocabulary—‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I was wrong,’ ‘Would you forgive me?’—those are the three things.

Sometimes, it’s very heartfelt. And then, I’ll hear my kids say it back to us; they will be like: “I’m sorry; I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” or “I’m just sorry; will you forgive me?” or “I was wrong; will you forgive me?” All three of those components are really important—to really own it, and realize it, and then to invite them—and honestly, to say, “You don’t have to forgive me,”—

Dave: “It may take time.”

David: —like, “I’m okay with the time on this; because this is one of those things, that it doesn’t always solve itself.”

Dave: Alright, so you’ve got a third question?

David: Oh, I do.

Dave: You said there were three.

David: I do; this is a doozy. So the third question is—and this is the number-one question we get asked—“What age should I get my kid a smartphone?” [Laughter]

Dave: You know what?—we are out of time.

Ann: Well, we’re going to have to save this one for tomorrow.

Dave: Yes; “Stay tuned; we will answer that tomorrow.”

Shelby: Your kid’s teen years should have an instruction manual for cell phones; right? Oh, my goodness! Tomorrow, the Wilsons are joined, again, by David Eaton to talk about the road we need to be taking when giving our kids phones; that’s tomorrow.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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Episodes in this Series

FamilyLife Today
David Eaton: Phones for Teens: How to Deal
with David Eaton October 14, 2022
The drawbacks and dangers of phones for teens can feel intimidating. Author David Eaton offers tips to turn teen's phones from a liability to an asset.
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FamilyLife Today
David Eaton: Engaging Your Teen’s World
with David Eaton October 12, 2022
By age 15, over 40 million walk away from faith. How can we handle hard, awkward moments? Author David Eaton offers ideas for engaging your teen's world.
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