FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Putting the Finishing Touches on Charact

with Dennis and Barbara Rainey | March 30, 2009
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Your high school senior is about to leave home, but you still have time to invest in his character! Dennis and Barbara Rainey are joined by their son Benjamin to challenge parents to finish the race well.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Your high school senior is about to leave home, but you still have time to invest in his character! Dennis and Barbara Rainey are joined by their son Benjamin to challenge parents to finish the race well.

  • 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.

Your high school senior is about to leave home, but you still have time to invest in his character!

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Putting the Finishing Touches on Charact

With Dennis and Barbara Rainey
March 30, 2009
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Bob: If you have a son or a daughter who is a senior in high school, you, as a parent, are about to do something that is very uncomfortable, almost unnatural.  You are about to let go.  Here is Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: What are the most significant release points?  The most important change points in your child's life growing up?

Whose children are these, anyway?  Are they mine to possess, or are they God's?  And have they just been on loan to us for a period of time?  And now is it time for us to unpry our fingers from them and let go and let God really be God in their lives?

This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 30th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  For some of us, as parents, the countdown clock is on.  It's ticking, and it's almost time to let go.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  I am about to do this now for the fourth time.  It's just coming up.

Dennis: Let the arrow go.

Bob: Just months away before we pack up the van full of stuff and head off to college with our son and then drop him off and drive away crying.

Dennis: Take your arrow, you're going to nock it up there, right on the string, pull it back – poof!  Gone.  Eighteen years of work under testing, under fire.

Bob: You remember this, don't you?

Dennis: Oh, my goodness, it's an emotional time.  I wept.  You know, I've talked many times here on FamilyLife Today – I wanted to hire a father to go sob for me.  I mean, there's not enough of my heart to do this six times.  And so you know what we decided to do, Bob?  We decided what we would do is we take the very finest lessons Barbara and I have learned about preparing your teen for life, and we would create a CD, the best of the best.

Bob: You launched six arrows in the process of parenting.

Dennis: You know, after six – and you're getting this feeling now, right?  After you've done a few of these …

Bob: You know a few things.

Dennis: You kind of go, you know, "I've done a few of these, there's a little bit getting ready to happen, and I have a few things I'd like to share with you – not from an arrogant standpoint because, I promise you, the parent who is arrogant has missed the whole point, because God's in the process of keeping us very dependent and raising our children, and when you let them go, I think your prayers increase rather than decrease.

Bob: Some of our listeners are just like me – they've got a high school senior about to go.  Some of our listeners are thinking, "Well, that's a year away, but it's coming quick."  Some of our listeners are thinking, "Our kids are just in elementary school." 

These issues that we're going to hear you address today are issues that parents need to be aware of throughout the time they're raising their children, but when you get into the home stretch like this, you really need to pull back and say, "Have we done the job in each of these areas."

Dennis: This is a mindset, and I really don't care whether you have a toddler all the way to a senior in high school.  There are really several key areas we talk about here – life skills, we talk about relationships and how to build them, spiritual growth, character issues – young people today desperately need to be developed in these four key areas on purpose, being intentional to equip them so that when they face the tests, they've got a Bible, they know where to go in that Bible, and they know how to answer life's challenges with wisdom rather than foolishness.

Bob: All right, well, from the CD called "Release Points," we're going to hear what you and Barbara had to say to moms and dads about the whole issue of life skills and how we make sure our kids are grounded in some of these basics before we let go of the arrow.

Dennis: And I want to say, Bob, that what folks are going to hear today is 15, 16 minutes' worth of material.  There are 72 minutes on this CD.  You're going to want to get this and listen to it as a couple so you can both be singing off the same songsheet.

[from audiotape.] 

Barbara:  And I remember the first time we sent a child, our first child, off to college.  All the fears that plagued me – was she going to be able to manage her schedule?  Was she going to stay up so late at night, night after night, talking and visiting and not studying?  Was she going to flunk out of school?  Was she going to eat the right things?  Was she going to get sick and get mono because I wasn't there to help her go to bed on time?

Just on and on and on – the fears and the concerns that you have for your child when they go off on their own are just limitless. 

Dennis: Time management is something that has to be taught to children.  They are not going to naturally learn this.  In fact, in my hands, I have Exhibit A of the great need for time management.  It starts at the very beginning of where time starts every day – getting up.

A teenager has to learn how to get up.  I walked into my daughter Rebecca's room and found all of these notes that I have in my hand.  She had these notes taped on her alarm clock, on her lampshade, on her window, on her bedpost – I mean, it looked like some kind of card game, Bob.

But here is the first one – it said, "Get up now!"  Then the second one reads, "Don't close those eyes!!"  The third one reads, "Come on now, don't go back to sleep."  And the last one reads, "Get up or else!"

Bob: Rebecca sounds like a kindred spirit.

Dennis: Yeah, really.  But, you know, as we train these young people to ultimately take on responsibility on the college campus, in a job, or in the service, they've got to learn how to get up, and they need to learn that first at home.  They ought not to sleep through half of their classes before they learn how to wake up in the morning.

Bob: Barbara, it seems that some people are just kind of naturally better time managers than other people are.  Undoubtedly, with your children, you've had some who are able to keep their schedule well in check and others who are all the time forgetting and have things double-booked or even triple-booked on a single evening.

Barbara: That's right, and we've had all kinds, but nobody who has done it really well because I think part of learning to manage your time and manage your life is going to come about through making mistakes.  You're going to have to over-commit or not do the project on time to learn what it cost you to not do it well, and then you say to yourself, "Oh, well, I better not do it that way again next time," and I think our kids have to learn some of those lessons in order to understand how to manage their time.  They're going to have to make some of those mistakes.

So, yes, we've had some kids that have been better at managing their time and keeping things flowing than others, but they have all had to make those goofs and those mistakes to really understand what it means to keep a schedule going.

Dennis: And one of the best things we've done for each of our children is give our children a notebook or a schedule, a time-minder, that enables them to be able to schedule and anticipate things in their day, in their week, in their month, and I think help them ultimately be time managers.

Barbara: One of the phrases that I've often said to my kids is, "Do your work first and play second." 

Bob: Oh, they hate that, don't they?

Barbara: Oh, they do, because I have who would rather play first always.  And I just have to remind them that the way you should do it is do your work first and then you reward yourself with your play, whatever it is.  They, of course, don't want to live that way, but that's a part of teaching them priorities and teaching them that they need to do what needs to be done first and then do what's frivolous second, and they don't like it, but it's a part of growing up.

Dennis: It's at this point that a parent has to learn the art of allowing their children to make their own choices and, at times, fail.  It's at those points that God grows our kids up, and we, as moms, as dads, have to move ourselves out of the way of that young person and let them hammer out their values, and they're going to be different because they're not identical to us, and they shouldn't be identical to us.

As a parent, what we have to do is take our hands off and let them learn the consequences of their own choices – have the pain settle in deep and let them feel it and not rush into rescue them, because if you do, you are creating an emotional cripple or perhaps a spiritual cripple at that point who isn't always going to have a mom or a dad to bail them out when they get into trouble.

[musical transition]

Barbara: One of the things that we try to do as a couple when we were raising our kids is instill the whole idea of the work ethic with our kids, and we've talked on the program before about values that you have as a couple in raising your kids.  And one of our top 10 values was teaching our kids how to work and teaching them how to complete a job and teaching them that it's important to be faithful when you've been given a task to do and to do it well and to not do a sloppy job.  Even though they try to do a sloppy job, we try to make them go back and do it well.

So I think that in addition to helping them get a job, as we have done with all of our teenagers when they were old enough to get a job, we have also tried to teach them how to work and how to be good workers and how to work hard.  So that's been kind of in tandem – those two values – teaching them how to have a good work ethic and then helping them get their first job and teaching them what it means to have a job.

Dennis: And, you know, again, our sons and daughters need parents to be involved and stay involved as they make these choices.  We need to be lighthanded about it.  We need to let them go and then let them make their own choices.  But as they open up and want to discuss it, interact with them and talk with them about where they're headed and what their values are and why they are making those choices.

[musical transition]

Barbara: If I had a child who was a senior in high school and was struggling with that balance of priorities between face boards and homework, I might say something here or there, but I would step in and actually help – I wouldn't go to the rescue as much with a senior in high school as I would with someone who is a freshman in high school, because I think there's a big difference in their ability to balance all that in those three years.  I think there's a huge difference.

So – with a senior, I would back off, and I might remind a time or two – because I'm pretty good at that, maybe too good at that – but, anyway, I can't totally let go as a mom, it's real hard for me to totally back off.  I did back off with Samuel a good bit.

Dennis: I can testify.  I watched it.

Barbara: I did, and it was hard.

Dennis: It was hard for Mother to do this.

Barbara: Because he'd rather be on the computer, so his thing wasn't sports, his thing was computer, and he'd rather read his e-mail and send e-mail and do computer games and all that kind of stuff and then start his homework at 10:00 at night, and that was his pattern, and that's what he'd rather do, and he never did buy into my "work first, play second" philosophy of life.  His was always "play first and work second," if you can do it.

So it was hard for me to back off, but I knew that I had to because I'd rather he'd learn those lessons in high school than fail and flunk out of college.

Bob: There is coming a time for him when he'll be making those decisions without Mom looking over his shoulder.

Barbara: And I won't know, and that will be easier for me, too – that I won't know.

[musical transition]

Bob: Dennis, how have you equipped your children to be ready for checking accounts and credit cards and the realities of managing their own money?

Dennis: One of the things that happened as our older two went away to college was they hit the proverbial wall.  They realized they did not have enough money coming from us to be able to sustain their tastes, and they were putting the full court press on Mom and Dad.  I can still remember the spot this occurred in our house.  Ashley and Benjamin had me cornered, and they were saying, "You're not giving us enough money," and I said, with a smile on my face, "That's by design.  I am not intending to satisfy all the wants and needs that you have as a young adult.  You both are growing into adults, and that means you have adult tastes and adult purchasing habits, and that means you need adult income.  Now, if Dad is only able to supply a childlike income, then the difference has to be made up by somebody other than Mom and Dad."

And they both began to look at one another, "Well, who might that be?"  And the answer is "You – you are the one that has to make up the difference.  You need to get a job, you need to learn the art of saving your money, and you need to determine what you're going to spend your money on because there will always be more desires, more wants, more things you'd like to have than you'll ever be able to purchase and you know what?  You can't use a credit card.  And you're going to be bombarded by credit cards as you get away to college, but I'm not going to let you have a credit card for your first year at college because you're not ready to handle credit yet."

[musical transition]

Dennis: You know, the bottom line on not releasing our kids is we prolong childhood, and when you do that, you prevent your child from becoming an adult, and what I've seen as I've ventured out onto the college campus, I am seeing a lot of young people who have been repeatedly bailed out of problems by their parents. 

And so they are still children even though they have adult-like bodies, and what we have got to do, as parents, is allow our kids to fail and then allow them to …

Barbara: To pay the price.

Dennis: That's right – to feel the pain and allow them the privilege of solving their own problems.

You see, as a parent, we have got to be developers of their conscience and of their dependence upon God for some of the fixes they get themselves in because if they act like a fool, they've got the consequences of a fool to deal with.  And when we mask the pain, when we keep them from feeling it, full force, whether it be financially or emotionally, we bail them out, we may be preventing them from really becoming dependent upon Jesus Christ and growing into the young man or young woman God wants them to become.

Barbara: Well, and then they are even more susceptible to becoming bait on the college campus because they haven't developed that sense of responsibility that says "When I get a driving ticket, I have to pay."  And if they don't ever have to pay for those, and they know Mom and Dad is going to always be there, then why worry about making mistakes.  What difference does it make?  It doesn't.

And so I think it's very important that parents understand that they've got to let their kids suffer those consequences when they're at home so that they will understand what that means when they are on their own in college.

Dennis: And, parent, do not rescue them.  Let them deal with the consequences – get another job, get two jobs, be forced to really pay the price for their wrong choice.  Sometimes those results can help our children wake up.

[musical transition]

Barbara: The ideal way to do is to begin to give them some freedom at home during those high school years, especially the later high school years, and then interact over the decisions that your child makes, and it may be that even as a junior and a senior, you need to establish some discipline for some of those poor choices, but you talk it through, and you say, "Now, this is why we believe what we believe.  This is why you're going to suffer this consequence, but we want you to understand so that you can make a wise choice later on," and help walk them through some things as juniors and seniors especially, so that when they are in college, they've got some experience to count on and to work from as they go on into college.

Dennis: Just think about it, Mom, Dad – reflect on your own lives – where you were at this age.  Reflect on the mistakes you made, and I shudder – I mean – I believe in angels.  I believe God protected me as a young man, and that's a part of our problem.  We reflect on how we were, but what we need to do is we need to reach out to our kids when they make those mistakes in love, in gentleness – not reject them, not shut down communication, not withdraw from them but love them through the process and not react emotionally to them.  They need to be loved in the middle of their mistakes.

Bob: And, Barbara, that's hard to do sometimes when their mistakes are pretty ugly.

Barbara: Well, it is, because sometimes those mistakes are pretty hard to live with.  But it's good for them.  I remember the first year of Ashley's college experience when she was balancing and keeping her checkbook on her own for the first time, and even though she had responsibility for money through her high school years, she didn't really have total responsibility like she did in college, and she was talked into joining a health club by a friend, and she didn't realize, because she just had never had to do this before.  She did not understand what it would mean to have to pay that fee every month for nine months or 12 months, whatever it was, and after she joined she couldn't get out.  So she was strapped with this financial obligation as a freshman and was just absolutely dying because she couldn't meet it month after month.

Well, we could have bailed her out and said, "Oh, honey, it's okay," and we could have just sent her the money, but we wanted her to learn the lesson about being responsible for your mistakes, and it was clearly a mistake, and it was a hard lesson for her, and she suffered throughout that year because of that commitment that she had made.

So that's the kind of lesson that I think it's important for kids to learn, and it was hard to watch her make it, and we want to rescue her, but we knew it would have been the wrong thing to do.

Dennis: And that's why, as a parent, you've got to save your silver bullets.  You've only got so many of them to fire during that senior year, and you can't unload your holster in their lives the first 30 days of their senior year.  You've got to begin to back off and say less and less and less and begin to let them know that you are trusting God in their lives to bring them into conformity of Jesus Christ.

[end audiotape]

Bob: You know, as we hear you and Barbara talk about those life skills, you were laughing, as Barbara was telling the story about Ashley, and you were laughing here listening back to Barbara tell the story about Ashley.  That seems almost cruel and sadistic.

Dennis: It is so difficult to watch your kids struggle.  Oh my gosh, that is so tough – I don't care whether they're toddlers or teenagers or adults.   Somebody has said our children – they are a parent's heart walking around outside their body.  And when our children are hurting, we're hurting, and I have to chuckle, though, Bob, because when we went to visit Ashley, because of her decision to join the health club, she was nearly starving to death on Sundays.  She had no money to eat.  And what's this …

Bob: Ramen – Ramen.

Dennis: Ramen noodles?  They're in a little – I didn't even need to tell you what they were. I just put a little circle with my hand …

Bob: I was a college student, I know Ramen.

Dennis: I think we may have had some one time, and I'm going to tell you something – that's nasty stuff.  But what a great lesson, what a great lesson for your child to learn on their own that you know what?  You can't have it all, you're not going to have it all, and you've got to learn to live with less, and the only way they're going to do that, more than likely, is to make some wrong choices.

So, Mom and Dad, you've got to go into this, you've got to pull back that arrow, let it go and let it go.  Don't try to reach out and grab it and put it back in the quiver and protect it again.

Bob: You know, we talked about the CD that we created where you and Barbara address not only life skills but spiritual growth, relationships, character, and I thin, our team has decided that with each CD we're going to make available a few packets of Ramen so that kids can have that ready to go.

Dennis: I think – you know what?  We could come up with a commissioning service whereby we give them a …

Bob: A case.

Dennis: A case – and we come up with a smile on our face as we give it to them …

Bob: "Because you're going to need this sometime during your college career."


The CD that we've talked about does not come with Ramen noodles.  It does come with a graduation gift that you can pass along to a high school senior.  It's a CD called "Congratulations to the Class of 2009," and it features some of the top contemporary Christian music of our day.  Songs by groups like Stellar Kart and Sanctus Real and Relient K and John Ruben, Toby Mack, Hawk Nelson. 

There is also an interactive DVD that comes with it.  There is a booklet that goes along with it, and we send the graduation gift to you so you can pass it along to your student.  But we send you the CD from Dennis and Barbara called "Release Points," that, again, outlines the issues we all need to be focused on as parents as we prepare to release our teenagers to the rest of their life – whether it's college or the workforce or the military – wherever they're headed – have we addressed issues related to character, related to life skills, related to relationships and related to their spiritual growth and what are some of those issues we need to make sure we're dealing with. 

That's what Dennis and Barbara talk about on this CD, and we've put both of them together.  If you'd like more information about how to receive this resource, go to our website,  Again, it's – all the information you need about both of these resources can be found on the website or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and when you get in touch with us, we'll give you all the details about how you can get the resources you're looking for sent to you.

Let me quickly say a word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Your donations, particularly in this season of the economy, are essential for FamilyLife Today to continue on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country, and we want to say thanks so much to those of you who have gone online or called 1-800-FLTODAY and said "We want to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We believe in what you guys are doing."

This month, if you are able to make a donation of any amount, we'd like to send to you a DVD called "Magadalena, Released From Shame," and it tells the story of a number of women in Jesus's day and how their lives were transformed by meeting the Master.  The DVD is our gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, again, with a donation of any amount.  All you have to do is make your donation online at, and when you come to the keycode box on the donation form, type in "Magadalena," m-a-g-d-a-l-e-n-a, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and just ask for the DVD.  Again, we're happy to send it out to you, and we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry and your partnership with us, particularly during this very difficult time.

Now, tomorrow we're going to hear more about what we need to do as moms and dads to make sure we're ready to let go as we release our children into adulthood, and I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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