FamilyLife Today® Podcast

I’m a Grandparent of Teens. Now What? Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler

with Larry Fowler, Mark Gregston | September 21, 2023
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Grandparenting teenagers? Then you likely know the stakes are high—and you can't afford to phone this one in. Authors Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler help you engage in ways that matter and make an impact that keeps echoing.

One thing is you have to stop parenting. You have to realize your role as a grandparent is different. You're not the parent. You're still the parent of your adult kids, but you don't parent anymore unless you're invited.  -- Larry Fowler

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Grandparenting teenagers? Authors Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler help you engage in ways that matter and make an impact that keeps echoing.

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I’m a Grandparent of Teens. Now What? Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler

With Larry Fowler, Mark Gregston
September 21, 2023
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Larry: One thing is you have to stop parenting. You have to realize your role as a grandparent is different. You’re not the parent. You’re still the parent of your adult kids, but you don’t parent anymore unless you’re invited.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann:  This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Alright, I know the answer you’re going to give me to this question.

Ann: Okay.

Dave: I don’t usually know, but I know this answer.

Ann: Well, maybe I’m going to surprise you.

Dave: Yes, maybe you will. Best moment of the week for you, every week?

Ann: Grandkids. [Laughter] You knew I was going to say that.

Dave: Well, I know we’re talking about that today, but even if we were going to talk about anything else, I know you. You light up! If I’m upstairs, and I hear you say, “Wooo,” the grandkids just came over.

Ann: You’re right.

Dave: I know it.

Ann: You’re right. And it’s—you know, we’ve got six grandkids, eight to two, and so, [in] those years, they love us. [Laughter] They’re so excited—

Dave: We know that’s going away, but right now—

Ann: –they’re so excited to see us; but also, we get tired quicker now. I will say, they really do refuel me. It’s fun. It reminds me, “Man, this is what it’s all about.” And we do a lot of great things, but that’s one of my favorites.

Dave: Yes; so, we’re going to spend a couple days talking about it, but I’ve got to be honest. You know, I wish when I walked in the house, you cried, “Wooo!”

Ann: Inside, I’m doing that. I’m saying, “Oh, yeah! He’s in.”

Dave: I’m jealous, sometimes, of when the grandkids come in, because they get the energy. Anyway, enough about us. We’ve got Mark Gregson and Larry Fowler in the studio in Orlando at FamilyLife Today. Larry’s been here before. Mark, you’ve never been to our studio in Orlando.

Mark: I have not been here in Orlando, no.

Dave: What do you think?

Mark: It’s unbelievable.

Dave: It’s a lot better than the Little Rock days, right?

Mark: Well, I think so.

Dave: Yes.

Mark: I think so. I think the mere fact that—

Dave: Now, you’re not supposed to say that! [Laughter] You’re supposed to say, “Little Rock; Bob Lepine, those were the best days of FamilyLife?”

Mark: You know, Little Rock and Bob Lepine were the best days of FamilyLife. [Laughter]

Dave: Tell our listeners: you’ve known Bob how long?

Mark: I have known Bob since I was 19 years of age. We led Young Life clubs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he’s one of those obnoxious guys that I love to death. [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Mark: I love his wife even more. I mean, she is just an absolute jewel; but the two of them together: they’re just wonderful, wonderful people.

Ann: Pretty dynamic.

Mark: Yes, they really are

Ann: Mark, tell us a little bit about your life, what you’re doing, your family.

Mark: Yes, you know it’s interesting. When I started this Young Life thing, when I was 19, I worked for a church for a while and made the decision to start working with kids, and in particular, kids who are struggling. And so, I moved to Branson, Missouri, and I lived there for a number of years at a Christian Sports Camp called Kanakuk.

Dave: We were just there!

Mark: Were you?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Not Kanakuk; we did a marriage conference at Big Cedar Lodge.

Mark: Oh yes, yes.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: In Branson.

Mark: Wonderful. I was the area director for Young Life at the same time. My heart has always been for kids who are struggling and so, 35 years ago, I left that and moved back to Texas where I was born, and we started the program called Heartlight, where I lived with 60 high school kids from all over the country. {Laughter]

Ann: Wait. Stop right there. You lived with 60 high school kids?

Mark: Yes.

Ann: And you’ve been married how long?

Mark: 48 years.

Ann: So, she’s in there with you?

Mark: Oh, yes, yes.

Ann: And you have two kids?

Mark: Yes, and then grandkids, but we have 60 kids; so, we’ve had over 3,000 kids live with us throughout our life. And it all started when I was a Young Life area director, or a Young Life leader, and a man walked up to me and said, “I’m struggling with my son. What do I do?” and I’m saying, “I’m 19! I have no idea! [Laughter] But why don’t you let him come live with me?”

Ann: Wait, you said that!?

Mark: And that’s how it started. So, this kid lived with me for four months before Jane and I got married. Then after we got married, even when I worked for a church or wherever it was, we would always have kids living with us, and I said, “Let’s keep doing this.” So, we started this program. And so here we are, 3,000 kids later, and we’ve learned a lot about kids, and a lot about parenting, and we’ve learned a lot about grandparenting as well in the process.

Dave: Now, how long do they live with you?

Mark: They live with us a year. They commit. These are kids who are struggling. They’re great kids; they are wonderful kids. They are spinning out of control, and half of them wouldn’t be alive had they not come to us. So, they come, and we—it’s intense counseling and group therapy, and it’s a relational ministry. I would say, more than anything else, it’s the relationships that are created with our staff and other kids that really transform their lives and give them the opportunity for change. It’s just a ministry we started, and it’s been fantastic.

I get to spend my time—when I go home tomorrow night, I’ll have 50 parents over to my home eating dinner. I get to cook dinner for them. And then, on Sunday night, I get to have another group of kids come over from one of the houses. They’re great kids. They’re just struggling, out of control; fooling around with stuff they don’t need to be fooling around with.

Ann: There are a lot of parents that are probably listening right now that are thinking, “Just give me the website. I need to go there right now. [Laughter] I need to. I need help.” Because especially, man, you’ve been doing that a long time. Are you seeing a difference today? Are parents in more need, or is it pretty much the same?

Mark: Well, I think kids are being raised in a contrary culture, and I think the biggest challenge that any parent has is truly to figure out how to take those values and principles that they believe in, those biblical principles, and say, “How do I apply it to this crazy world that I’m dealing with—the tough stuff?”

And we seem to get the tough stuff. Anything that you can think of that’s challenging to kids, from fentanyl, to cutting, to gender identity issues, to descending moods, to depression and anxiety; all those things. We deal with the tougher stuff that kids are going through, and you begin to learn, the challenge is: how do I apply what I believe to this out-of-control situation? And I think that’s where we get so many calls. We get 12,000 calls a year from parents who want to place kids with us, and we only have 60 spots. So, that’s where we spend a lot of time developing other resources and trying to prepare, you know, not only parents, but grandparents, to be involved in the lives of their teens, because it’s greatly needed. It’s wanted, but it’s greatly needed.

Ann: You’re not the typical grandparent then. [Laughter] You’re zipping off they’re cutting, they’re doing fentanyl. You know what’s going on in the lives of kids today, so it’s going to be fun to talk to you about grandparenting and bringing that into it.

Dave: Yes, and you’ve got Larry Fowler sitting beside you. Larry’s been here before.

Larry: I have, yes.

Dave: Tell our listeners a little bit about Legacy Coalition and what you do.

Larry: Well, Legacy Coalition started in 2016 and, at that time, there really wasn’t a national ministry; just a couple people in the US that were talking about grandparenting. We wanted to have a national focus on it, so we started with the big vision of reaching the 30 million Christian grandparents in America and getting them excited about their role because, like Mark just said, grandparents can have a significant impact in their grandkids’ lives. But most grandparents are missing it, and we want to give them a vision; we want to equip them to do that. That’s what Legacy Coalition is all about

Dave: And you’ve got a summit coming up.

Larry: We have a summit coming up. It’s in October, and it’s live in Dallas, Texas, but live streamed to over 150 sites all across North America. That’s one of the ways that we envision and equip grandparents at our national conference.

Dave: I hope you have some good speakers. Do you have anybody good coming? [Laughter]

Larry: We have one guy named Mark Gregston that’s going to be there and a few others that people might know of as well.


Dave: Mark, let’s talk about grandparenting teens and your book, Leaving a Legacy of Hope. We’re grandparents—

Ann: We all are.

Mark: Congratulations!

Ann: Thank you. And Larry, how many grandchildren do you have?

Larry: I have seven. I have two sets. I think Mark has two sets, too. We both have two [sets]. We have an older set and a younger set. You guys just have a younger set.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Yes.

Larry: For mine, 22-28 is the older set, and I have a younger set that is 8 to 12.

Dave: Wow!

Mark: Yes, mine are 10 and 11, and 18 and 23.

Dave: Wow! We’re just—our oldest is just eight. Like Ann said, they’re at the stage that they love us. Nonni and Poppi are the greatest people in the world. But you’re ahead of us, so talk to us and any grandparent. Where do we start? What would you say first of all, right to grandparents?

Mark: Well, this is a great time that you guys are in. I mean—

Ann: –it’s so fun.

Mark: –you can do no wrong.

Ann: Yes.

Mark: I mean, they love you. They run to you.

Dave: Yes.

Mark: They love you. They hang on every word. They love doing puzzles, and I mean playing with a box or [Laughter] whatever it is. They just love—

Dave: –yes.


Mark: –doing everything; but it’s coming.

Dave: Yes.

Mark: It’s coming. When they turn 11 or 12 and get to middle school, things begin to change.

Ann: Well, just like our kids did.

Mark: Yes, they do, and they begin to change, and their social circles get expanded so much that what happens is, they start to lop off people that they’re close to. And if parents and grandparents aren’t intentional about moving toward their grandkids during that time, grandparents will be eliminated. I mean, they’re one of the first people to go.

Dave: Yes.

Mark: So, that’s where it’s telling grandparents, “You’ve got to be involved, because these kids need your support. They need your wisdom more than anything else.”

Ann: Larry, did you experience that with your older grandkids?

Larry: Yes, but there’s hope, too. You know, they come back; not to the same extent that they did when they were little but—

Ann: –yes—

Larry: –we’ve gotten through those teenage years. We saw exactly what Mark’s talking about, where our grandkids didn’t have time for us. But now that they’re young adults, guess what?

They’re coming back to us and spending time with us. Yes, you really have to be intentional during the younger years in order to be able to anticipate what’s going to happen during the teenage years and be there for them.

Dave: What would you say that looks like, to be intentional? Coach us up.

Larry: Okay. For me, the primary thing is that you develop a loving, individual relationship with each one. I think one of the best practices that grandparents can have—you guys can have—when they’re younger is [to] spend individual time with each one of them, especially as they get toward, you know, 10 to 12 years, so that you really are building a personal relationship with each one of them (not just family time). Family time is great and family time can really be important, but individual time—

Ann: –one-on-one.

Larry: Mark, I’m sure, has something to add.

Mark: Yes, I feel like I had to be intentional in saying, “Let’s go to the country music awards.” I mean, here is my 11-year-old granddaughter who loves country music, and I take her to the country music awards. The crazy thing that night is, we end up going to one of the after parties. [Laughter] And all of the sudden, we walk into this place, and Kid Rock has a coat wrapped around my granddaughter, walking her in to get her in.

I mean, it’s something that she’ll never forget, and I’ve always said the memories of a lifetime are often found in those all-but-forgotten times during adolescence. So, it’s creating those things.

She can’t tell you who sang at the Country Music Awards that night. She can’t tell you who was at the CMA fest. She can’t tell you all of those things, but she knows she was with me, and we got to spend that time together. And over a period of time, by what Larry is saying—spending time, being intentional, developing that deeper relationship and saying, “I’m going to make that happen. I’m going to spend the money to make that happen. I’m going to give the time. I’m going to make the trip. I’m going to make the journey to find you and find something you enjoy; something that you want to do.” And say, “That’s what we’re going to do.”

Then eventually, there will be a time in life that she will look at me and go, “Poppa, I’ve got a question for you,” and I remember her coming home saying, “Poppa, can I talk to you, just you and me having dinner?” “Yes!” And she says, “Well, I’ll go wherever you want.” “Yes. Let’s do!” We sit down, and she says, “I got drunk last night,” and I think, “This is what I’ve been practicing for!”

Because it is during those times that I want to have the opportunity to speak truth into her life, to give her an ear to listen, to give her a voice of reason, to give her a non- judgmental approach that says, “I love you. There’s nothing you can do to make me love you more. There’s nothing you can do to make me love you less.” Encouraging her that, “You can get through this. Let’s figure out what you’re going to do with all of this.”  I think if she felt like she could tell her mom and dad, [but] then that would be a mess, and then we’ve got these rules and grounding.

We get so consumed in that as a parent, whereas a grandparent has that special relationship that can be non-judgmental and help share wisdom to them. Now, did her parents find out? Oh, yes! Because I said, “You need to tell your mom and dad,” and so she did. So, the relationship just continues, but it’s with intentionality that a grandparent says, “I’m going to be involved. I want to be involved.” And you have no excuses as a grandparent to not communicate, because you have every way known to man to communicate with your grandkids. You just have to make it happen.

Ann: That’s what I was going to ask. We’re so separated in the country right now. We’re living all over the world. You guys, did you have grandkids that didn’t live around you as well? Were they in other parts of the country?

Larry: Yes, I live in California, and my older set of grandkids live in Colorado. So, we practice this thing of spending individual time with them. When we go to visit, Diane and I would make dates with our grandkids. We take them out for breakfast or coffee or lunch. I have one that’s especially memorable, because our second grandson is kind of an introvert. In family gatherings, he doesn’t talk a lot. If he’s addressed, yes.

So, we went out to have coffee together at a Starbucks. We sat down, and we sat down across the table. He’s 17, and the very first thing he says to me is, “Grandpa and Grandma, I’ve got a girlfriend.” Now, he would not have even told us that in a family—

Ann: –context—

Larry: –setting, yes. Then he says, “And I want you to know she’s a virgin, and so am I. And we’re going to keep it that way.”

Ann: He tells you this?

Larry: Just like this, when he’s 17. And that never, never would have happened without the kind of grandparenting that Mark just talked about. That’s really significant, and it showed that he understood our values. We didn’t have to say, “Now, don’t you ever have sex with your girlfriend,” you know? He knew that already. He knew where we’re coming from, and he wanted to be able to let us know that he was honoring that. Well, that relationship didn’t last very long [Laughter]; but still, we were honored, we were honored, that he would share that with us. That was very, very significant for us.

Dave: I mean, how do you coach grandparents to have a relationship with their grandkids in such a way that these kinds of conversations happen? I mean, you both shared stories about, “Man, I got drunk.” Those are intimate conversations that don’t come out of nowhere. You’ve done something that a lot of grandparents probably haven’t done. They’re leaning in saying, “My grandchild would never say that to me.” How did that happen?

Larry: Well, I think—let me add one thought and Mark can jump in—one thing is, you have to stop parenting. You have to realize your role as a grandparent is different. You’re not the parent. You’re still the parent of your adult kids, but you don’t parent any more, unless you’re invited. That’s the caveat for that moment.

Ann: Oh, that’s so hard.

Larry: That means you have a different kind of relationship. You’re not judgmental. Grace first, truth later. You’re demonstrating grace to your grandkids in the relationship.

Dave: In many ways, it's simpler. You’re not parenting your adult kids anymore either.

Larry: Exactly.

Mark: If you know that it’s coming, and there are going to be challenges—and anybody who says, “Well my kid will never, never go through any challenges.” I say, “Then you don’t know kids.”

Dave: Yes.

Mark: Because adolescence is that time that they go through challenges, and they have these identity issues, and they experiment, and they’re curious, and they do stupid things and make poor decisions. I think that’s great, because if you have a relationship with them, then you get to be with them and speak truth into their life; but it’s not the same way, even in the preteen years. I mean, [in] the preteen years, you’re doing this teaching model.

What you’re doing in the teen years and beyond is a training model where you’re shifting the way you engage with them. You’re wanting to give more things to them, have them take responsibility, make decisions. Then you become kind of a coach that's beside them. But it doesn’t automatically happen at age 16 when they wreck the car and they have a DUI, or they got drunk, or have sex for the first time. It doesn’t–it begins when they’re 11 or 12, and you start building that relationship, and you share things in your life. You know, one of the things that I think is so important is sharing your imperfections with your grandkids that are becoming teens, to let them know that it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to be a mess. I mean, I’m still a mess—

Ann: Aren’t we all?

Mark: –even to this day, I am! Somebody says, “Well it seems like you have it all together.” Then you don’t know me. [Laughter] I’m a mess. I struggle with this; I struggle with that. I have a tough time. I get hurt. I’m disappointed. I feel rejected. You know, I want them to know that ’m an imperfect person, because nobody likes hanging out with perfect people.

Ann: I’ve been amazed with our grandkids. When I tell them a struggle I’ve had, a fear I’ve had, a failure, they always want to know more: “What do you mean? What happened?” And I don’t think we understand the pressure that they feel, especially as teens, to live up to our expectations. So, when we share our own failures, I think they’re relieved, and I think that opens their hearts up to us

Mark: Well, I think it does, because look at the world they grow up in.

Ann: Yes.

Mark: I mean, everything’s perfect. They get on fakebook and spend time on Instagram and Tik Tok and they see perfection, perfection, perfection, and they never measure up.

Ann: Yes.

Mark: And they are so relieved when they hear that their parents are imperfect. The teaching model—in those preteen years, of course, you want to do something perfect--but during the teen years, you want to start sharing those imperfections, those difficulties.

Dave: How honest do you get?

Mark: Well, I get as honest as anything

Dave: Yes

Mark: I mean, I tell them anything. I’ve just said, “I’m not hiding anything.”

Dave: Well, I remember, you know, sitting at the dinner table with our youngest son, because the other two were off in college. He’s there by himself, and he’s a minister now, but he’s sitting there in his high school years, and he looks at us one night—remember this? And he just says, “So, did you guys drink? Did you guys get drunk in college? Let’s talk about that.” We looked at each other like—

We’ve talked about, “Should we share this kind of stuff with them?” But it was one of those moments when you’re thinking, as a parent, “If I say, ‘yes,’ because I did, he may think, “Well, look at you. You’re fine. You’re a pastor.’”

Mark: Yes.

Dave: So, I guess it's okay. If I say, “No,” I’m lying; so, we said yes. “Let’s tell you our story and why it was bad, and why you shouldn’t, but here’s the truth.” It was that moment of, “Well, how vulnerable do I want to be?” And you’re saying, “Be vulnerable, especially with your grandkids.”

Mark: They need it.

Dave: Yes.

Mark: Especially because it’s a life and death situation for them.

Ann: It’s true.

Mark: I mean, it’s a different world. Kids are taking their life right and left, and you don’t even know it. That’s the amazing thing. All the kids that I know that have committed suicide, nobody knew that it was coming. And I say, I want to share anything and everything. And then, they start to ask questions: “Well, how did you get out of that?” “Well, let me tell you.”

Dave: And there’s the wisdom.

Mark: “Let me tell you what I’ve learned from this. Let me tell you about where my faith plays a role in my life. Let me tell you what Jesus says about this. Let me share some wisdom from Scripture.” But it’s never without the introduction or the invitation by them to ask that, and I find that that happens more and more when I share those things that they struggle with as well.

Ann: I think this has been so valuable today, and as a grandparent, I think it spurs us on. “Maybe I need to make a call, or I need to text, or I need to get in contact with our grandkids, because we don’t want to miss that.” So, keep pursuing those grandkids. Reconnect with them, because it will pay off in the long run.

Shelby: We’re going to hear more encouragement from Ann in just a second, but you know, Proverbs says, “The splendor of the old is their gray hair.” Now, splendor is wisdom; wisdom that can be passed on to younger generations in the context of caring and loving relationships. I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler on FamilyLife Today.

I love this conversation, and Mark Gregston, who you just heard there at the end, has written a book called Grandparenting Teens: Leaving a Legacy of Hope. It’s a great way to learn more practical steps on how to pour into your grandkids and do that, like I said, in the context of relationships. You can pick up a copy of Mark’s book, Grandparenting Teens, at, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800- ‘F’ as in family, ‘L’ as in life, and then the word, ‘TODAY.’

You know, leaving a legacy as a grandparent is something that is maybe sometimes difficult to figure out, difficult to practically work out. Well, the Legacy Coalition Grandparenting Summit is coming up to help you with just that. You can attend the summit in person in Dallas, Texas, or you can actually log on online and attend. It’s coming up October 19th and 20th, and if you want more details and to see about the Legacy Coalition Grandparenting Summit, the link will be in the show notes at

Alright, here’s Ann Wilson with an encouragement to pursue relationships with your grandkids.

Ann: I think when we become empty nesters, we can think we’re done, and there is segment before our kids might have their own kids; but man, I feel like in a lot of ways, it’s just beginning or can begin with our grandkids, and we can have impact.

Shelby: Now, coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined again by Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler. They’re going to talk about the importance of impactful grandparenting and dispelling stereotypes about how grandparents usually act. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

Shelby: 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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