FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Teaching Teens to Follow the Rules, Part 2

with Dennis Rainey | May 15, 2009
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Who rules the roost at your home--you or your teen? Today Dennis Rainey shares some timeless principles about boundaries that every parent needs to hear as he or she raises a teen to follow the rules.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Who rules the roost at your home--you or your teen? Today Dennis Rainey shares some timeless principles about boundaries that every parent needs to hear as he or she raises a teen to follow the rules.

  • 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.

Who rules the roost at your home–you or your teen?

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Teaching Teens to Follow the Rules, Part 2

With Dennis Rainey
May 15, 2009
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[Musical transition]

Dennis Rainey:  Ambiguity will cost you.  If you’re not clear around the rules, they are clear in how to argue their case.  They know how to bring about dump truck loads full of self doubt.  They know how to cause you to have temporary memory loss, where you begin to question, “Was I there?  Did I say that?  Am I the mother?”


How many of you have been there, huh?  Yes!

[Musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 15th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  And today Dennis has some advice for us as parents on how we can stand firm, even when we think sometimes we are just losing our minds.  Stay tuned.

[Musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  One of the things we’re talking about this week is how as parents we can help our teenagers by establishing some guidelines.  We’re trying to use a softer word than “rules” or “boundaries” because, you know, children don’t like it when you talk about rules or boundaries.  But guidelines – they’ll soften up to something like that.

Dennis: You can couch them however you want to couch them.  If you don’t have some boundaries and rules in your family, your children are going to rule the roost.  And we must, as parents, clearly define the boundaries and the rules, especially for teenagers.  Now, you need them all the way through for children.  But what brings the sanity and encouragement is when you’ve got it clearly defined, and your teenager understands and you understand.  That way you can determine success or failure, Bob.  A lot of times, it’s impossible to know if the teenager has really obeyed you because you’ve not made it clear exactly what they’re to do.  Like “clean the room.”  What does that mean?  And by when?  And who’s supposed to do it?

Bob: And what is clean?

Dennis: That’s right.  And I think it’s so important for parents, especially husbands and wives, to have a few – not many – but a few rules.  In fact, Barbara and I went out, just the other night, on our date night and the entire purpose of the evening was to define our rules for the phone and the computer.  And that sounds easy.

Bob: We’ve had that date at our house about four times and we’ve defined it over and over again. 

Dennis: I’m telling you.  It’s not easy.  Right now we have a fourteen, a sixteen and an eighteen year old.  And it’s fun.  I mean, it really is fun.  The phone rings off the hook.  The boys are lined up like airplanes at O Hare Airport coming down our driveway.  I mean, they’re on the phone; they’re circling our house….

Bob: And Dad’s there with the baseball house to meet them.

Dennis: I’m there ready to interview them.  But you know, you’ve got to have some boundaries around the phone and the computer.  Otherwise, because of the amount of communication coming in to our families, other people are going to intrude.  You’re not going to have any privacy.  Over the next couple of days, I share some principles about boundaries that I think every parent needs to heed as he or she raises a teenager to obey those rules.

Bob:   We heard part one of this message yesterday on the broadcast.  This is a message that was given to our staff shortly after your book Parenting Today’s Adolescent had been released, and everybody on the staff had a copy of the book and we were already hearing back from staff couples who were saying, “It’s such a helpful book.  It’s given us practical insight into how to raise our children.”  And the response to this message was also very affirming from the staff because it helped them know that the Rainey house is no different than anybody else’s house.  You’ve got challenges just like the rest of us.  And you’re doing your best as a dad, and Barbara as a mom, trying to do what the Scriptures say as you raise your children.  This is part two of a message from our host, Dennis Rainey, on how we can teach our teenagers to follow the rules.

[Musical transition]

Dennis [in front of audience]: A second thing, though, that we need to do is we need to be in agreement with our spouses about the rules.  Be in agreement with our spouses about the rules, and the penalty for breaking the rules.  I received a national survey and report from the Family First Foundation.  It’s called “Kids and Violence.”  And in this report, which was quite extensive, one of the key findings of this report was, the thing that keeps teenagers from youth violence is parents who are still married and still committed to one another.

These rule breakers – these kids who commit violent crimes have been strengthened just by the simplicity of parents who have maintained their commitment to one another.  And I think that’s where we’ve got to stat.  We’ve got to be together in our covenant and our commitment, but it goes beyond that.

Our children have tried to drive Barbara and me apart and drive wedges between us, just like I did when I was a teenager.  I can remember that if I went to my mom and she said no, I would slip off and try to slide in behind the enemy lines and head off dad before he talked to her, by asking Dad if he’d let me go do it.  And I knew that if it could get one of them to soften without the other one knowing it, I could build just a little wedge in there and I might get my way.  Well, that sin has been passed down to our children.

Our children have tried to slip between Barbara and me.  They’ve tried to get us to disagree with one another.  And so, if you want to raise a teenager who respects the rules, you need to do some planning.  Spend some time together and agree with your spouse on what the rules are. 

And there are a lot of areas that you need to cover:  Curfews, television, media.  On the list goes and we’ll talk about some of those in just a second.  But you as a couple have to sit down and you have to be in agreement around that.  Because if you aren’t, these teens and their craftiness are going to try to drive a wedge between you and your spouse and get you in disagreement with one another.  And at that point they’ll divide and conquer you.  Just like an enemy that breaks through the lines in a battle front.  Barbara and I have had to call a time out in discussing these issues, rather than discuss it with them. 

In fact, this happened last night.  We were talking about an issue of a rule and what it meant to break that rule, and we were discussing it in front of our children.  And I could see it as it was beginning to happen.  This child knew that if she could be present as the discussion was occurring, then she could be a little lawyer there in presenting her case and making her side as we’re trying to make a clear – minded decision.

And I immediately stopped the legal proceedings and told Barbara we needed to talk about that privately.  Why?  Because we were getting ready to set up a triangle.  This child was watching it happen, was going to pull our legal degree, and was going to plead her case.  Be in agreement with your spouse about the rules, and the penalty for breaking the rules.  Sometimes it’s easy to hammer out what you believe, but you may find when the children disobey the rules, that one spouse will want to come down hard, and the other spouse will want to take the lighter road.  The road that’s a lot easier.  And I see some of you nodding your heads who are the peacemakers.  “They’re just such sweet things.  We don’t need to hurt them, cause them pain.”

Usually, we marry each other, these two extremes.  And so, you ask me, as one man did last week at a meeting here at FamilyLife, “What should be the penalty if a teenager misses a curfew?”  I don’t know for that teen.  That’s why God gave two parents to teenagers.  So you could disagree with each other and find a middle ground.  In the process of working it through, God will lead you and guide you to what is a meaningful, purposeful, painful, penalty for that teen so that he or she gets the point.

First of all you’ve got to keep the rules.  Secondly, you’ve got to be in agreement with your spouse about the rules and the penalty for breaking the rules.  Thirdly, you and your spouse need to clearly establish the rules and inspect them.  Clearly establish the rules and inspect them.  You can write this statement down, because it’s an understatement.  Ambiguity will cost you.  If you’re not clear around the rules, they are clear in how to argue their case.  They know how to bring about dump truck loads full of self doubt.  They know how to cause you to have temporary memory loss, where you begin to question: “Was I there?  Did I say that?  Am I the mother?”


How many of you have been there, huh?  Yes!  We’ve all been there.  There’s comfort there, isn’t there?  Look at what God did over in Proverbs chapter 6.  This is one of our key passages in raising children.  Why?  Because God clearly steps out of Heaven as our Heavenly Father and He tells us half a dozen things which God hates – actually seven.  And if God hated it, then it had better reinforced in your family.  Verse 16 of chapter 6:  “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.  Haughty eyes, a lying tongue hands that shed innocent blood.  A heart that devises wicked plans.  Feet that run rapidly to evil.  A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”  I mean, it’s all there: tattles, sibling rivalry, lacerating tongues, deceptive spirits, pride, arrogance – it’s right there in the Scripture. 

All the issues that fill teenagers’ hearts today, right here.  God says He hates them.  Drive them out of your home.  Not the teenagers, the wrong attitude.

As a couple you need to know what the rules are around issues that you’re going to face as you raise your children.  It may help you to actually help you to write these rules down and post them in a public place.  If you’re finding that you have a number of children and they are –by sheer mass and by sheer number - confusing you as a mother or as a father because the rules get muddied by these youngsters, write them down in permanent ink.  Post them in a public place there in your home, for all to see, along with the penalty with the rule.  For such issues as study habits after school.  Yes, there can be a snack after school, but there can be no television, no radio, and you must get your homework done before making any phone calls.  That is the rule.

Another one: phone use after school when homework is done.  Or phone use in the evenings.  We actually put a time limit on the length of conversations.  I remember when Samuel turned 13.  It was like this little boy became a handsome little boy and the phone started going bonkers.  Girls were calling our house by the herd.  We couldn’t eat dinner because girls were calling.  Barbara and I huddled up.  We got together and we decided I would say something to these young ladies.  And you know what – this is fascinating – there is a connection, a grapevine among junior high girls that is powerful.   If we could find the secret to this we could take over America.  Because all I had to do was talk to one young lady and said something to the effect of, “You know, young lady, Samuel’s mom and I have talked about this and we really don’t think it’s wise that girls should be calling boys and pursuing boys.  And so we’d really appreciate you as a young lady if you wouldn’t call Samuel anymore.”

It was as though Bell telephone went on strike.  Instantly, it dried up, it was gone, over, history right there.  Put a limit on the length of conversations, the number of conversations, and if your children are really abusing the phone, ground them from the phone.  I’ll tell you what – Barbara and I  - you’re going to think this is very cruel.  You’re going to think we are really wicked parents, but I got to tell you.  We have prayed for opportunities to ground our kids from the phone.  Because when you get them loose from the phone, that means the world doesn’t have access to your teenager, and guess who has all the influence and access and who gets to have the attention of the child?  We do.

[Musical transition]

Bob: Well, we’ve been listening together to a message from Dennis Rainey on raising teenagers and raising them with some boundaries, and I’m convinced --- I’m going home.  We’re going to ground our kids from the phone for a year.  I’d like a little peace and quiet and unhindered access to my children. 

Dennis: Well, that wouldn’t be appropriate.  But call Mary Ann up and say, “Let’s go on a date.  And let’s review the rules in our household.”  Maybe you take the phone.  And you go over for the fifth time, and you refresh your boundaries around this issue, and together you establish the rule and the consequences.  And you shouldn’t have a lot of them.  If you got too many, it’s oppressive.  It really can be, not only for the children, but for the parents.  Because you can’t enforce it.  And if you can’t enforce it, what good is it?  But go out together as a couple, and clearly establish your rules.  Then sit down together as a family and review the rules and go over them with your teenager, so they clearly understand.  And then post them.  Post them in a public place. 

Bob: With witnesses.

Dennis: That’s right.  With the consequence.  Ok?  So the rules become the enemy, not the parent.  And you know,  if you don’t have a game plan and you don’t have some godly counsel alongside of you.  You’re just left to blindly kind of go down the path bumping into things and you’ll do many things right, because God will lead you and His Holy Spirit will guide you.  But it really helps to have a resource alongside you of someone who’s already gone ahead of you and made a lot of mistakes in advance and who’s willing to share with you those lessons learned.  Not only what a person did right, but also when they fail.

Bob: And that’s one of the things I’ve had a lot listeners share with me, that they most appreciate as they listen to FamilyLife Today or read the books that you and Barbara have written.  How you’re willing to be transparent about the challenges you faced and the times you haven’t done it right.  And you allow us to learn – not only from your triumphs, but from the mistakes you’ve made, too.  The book you and Barbara wrote, Parenting Today’s Adolescent gives all of us the kind of game plan we’ve been talking about for how we deal with the issues we’re going to face as our kids go through adolescence.  But it also gives us insight into the things that worked for you guys, and the things that didn’t work, and how you applied the Scriptures as you raised your sons and your daughters.  We’ve got copies of the book, Parenting Today’s Adolescent, in our FamilyLife resource center, along with other books you have written to help parents of teens.  The book you wrote for dads, Interviewing your Daughter’s Date – we’ve got that in our FamilyLife resource center as well.  And the book that you and your kids wrote together, written for pre teens, called So, You’re About to be a Teenager.  Again, there’s more information about all of these resource on our website which is FamilyLife  Go to FamilyLife  The information you need about these books is right there. You can order online if you’d like.  Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  1-800-358-6329.   That’s 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  When you get in touch with us, someone will let you know how you can get the books you need sent to you.

You know, we are halfway through the month of May, which means we are halfway through our matching gift challenge that has been issued this month.  We had some friends of the ministry who stepped forward and they offered to match every donation that we receive this month on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $356,000.  And we appreciate their generosity.  And we hope to take full advantage of their generosity.  That’s why we’re coming to listeners and asking you, if you can make as generous a donation as possible this month.  Whether it’s ten dollars or twenty dollars or fifty or a hundred, or five hundred or a thousand, or whatever you can do, we’re asking everyone to pitch in so that we can take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity. 

And, frankly, it could not have come at a better time.  Some of you have heard Dennis mention this month that we about a million dollars behind this year where we were this time last year when it comes to donations.  And so we’re hoping that through this matching gift, we can make up some of that lost ground.  We’ve already taken steps as a ministry to try to deal with the financial shortfall.  We’ve had some layoffs and we’ve adjusted salaries.  We want to be good stewards of our finances.  We’re a ministry that has never gone into debt.  We’re not going to do that at this point, either.  But we’re going to ask as generous a donation as you possibly can to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. 

You can do that either online at or can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and I just want to say thanks in advance for whatever you’re able to do to help support the ministry.  We appreciate your financial partnership with us.  Dennis?

Dennis:  You know, on the broadcast today we’ve talked about the importance of boundaries and why we as parents we need to establish those boundaries and make them clear to our children.  And, Bob, I’m afraid sometimes on the broadcast, in painting life the way it is, we don’t give the hope that we ought to communicate to parents.  All this hard work pays off.  I’m telling you.  Our children are catching much more than we realize.  And although there may be a lot of battles, and maybe even feel like you’re losing the war – I mean, just the other night Barbara said, “I want to resign as a mom.  I want to turn in my badge, you know?”  But children are worth it, and they do grow up and they do give you, even in the teenage years, those mystical moments when you catch a glimpse of God really working in their lives.  They’re maturing, they’re growing up, they’re becoming an adult. 

Bob:  You shared one of those moments as you spoke with our staff and it does give you hope in the middle of difficult circumstances.  Let’s listen together to the story that you shared.  Here’s our host, Dennis Rainey.

Dennis:  I have my own big fish story that I can’t resist telling at this point.  The boys and I were in Canada, a number of years ago, and it was the last day.  And we had not caught a lunker – a trophy Northern Pike.  But the sun was going down and it was orange on the horizon and we were fishing around this island that had huge boulders as big as cars and the water was crystal clear and you could see them cascading off into the darkness of that lake.  And this particular area was known for some big Northern Pike to hang out. 

It was well after ten.  It had to be 10:30 and the sun hadn’t gone down in that far north reach of Canada.  All of a sudden I hooked into a big one.  I handed my pole to Samuel, because I knew it was a good one.  So he began to reel him in, much faster than I was ready for, and I was fumbling around the back of the boat and he had the fish here, which was huge, just splashing around beside the boat.  And the fist made a run away from the boat.  Samuel reeled him in again.  By then I had the net.  And Samuel started screaming and saying, “Dad! Dad!  The line broke!  The line broke!” 

I said, “No, no, son.  The line isn’t broken.  The fish is just right here.  And I could watch the fish right there with the lure hanging out of its mouth.  And it was just suspended there, about that far, under the surface of the water.  And I said, “Lift him on up, lift him on up.” 

Samuel said, “I can’t, I can’t the line’s broke.” 

I said, “No, it’s not, it’s not.  It’s right here.”  And so, with my arms, I nearly went overboard as I reached into the water, all the way up to nearly my armpits, nearly tipping the boat.  And by then the fist was four feet under the surface under the surface of the water.  And I wrestled him to the surface, got him inside the boat.  And I turned around to see Samuel, holding the pole with a little line, stringing down, flapping in the wind. 

I had illegally netted the fish.  Not really.  But I had gotten him.  And we had him in the boat.  Lunker status in Canada is forty two inches.  And we had a yardstick in that boat, that no matter how we swished the fins of that fish together, the closest we could ever get was 41 and ¾ of an inch.  We turned that fish back and we watched him swim away and we went back to camp.  And here on the camp wall was a list of all the men and all the fishermen who had caught 42 inch trophy Northern Pike.  And I’ll never forget the camp host asking Samuel, “How’d you do?”

He said, “We’ll, I almost did it.”  Samuel at the time was 11 year of age, maybe 10.  He said “I almost did it.” 

The guy said, “What do you mean?”

He said “The fish was one quarter of an inch too short.” 

And I’ll never forget that guy.  He looked at that young lad and said, “You know, you’re a lot more mature who listed their fish up here because a lot of those fist were shorter than that.”

Men who stretched the first to get their name on the board and to get a dumb little pin from the country of Canada that they’d caught a lunker Northern Pike.  If you’re going to respect for the rules to your children, it means you and I have to respect them as well.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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