Power Parenting is possible!
It IS possible to have an actual conversation with your kids, even your teenagers.
Michelle Dunn, a Counselor & coordinator of the Regeneration Ministries PG series for parents, is on the podcast offering tips on powerful parenting through topics such as school, sports, and even sex.
Parents need to push past the anticipated eye roll or angsty attitude to keep connecting. As much as they pull away, moms and dads need to lean into their teen’s life, learn their interests, and ask questions. The big kids are not the only ones who need to learn how to do things differently.
Parents need to shift and grow too.
As you’ll learn in this episode, there’s more power in parenting from a place of relationship versus a place of dictatorship. Learn how to develop a real connection with your teenager. Listen for words like margin and agenda and comparison.
Take it all in. You’ve got this.
Our kids are going to hear and get information from sources other than us
If we don’t have that relationship with them we miss out on the opportunity to influence
If we’re only coming to our kids where we want to mold, shape, change their thinking and their behaviors; they’re going to be fatigued by that
Make Margin (room) in your day to talk with your teen about the difficult things. Don’t let fatigue keep you from engaging with your teen.
Try having a conversation without an Agenda.
Deal with your past: address your own sexual dysfunction, get help, don’t panic/freeze/avoid
How am I wired? How is my kid wired? What are we good at? Use that as your framework to move forward in building a relationship FREE of comparison. Be you and let your kid be him/herself.
Outsource: Encourage them to connect with other people
Ideal v reality: media, peers, family give us a picture of what it looks like to interact with our teens. Try not to be tricked into thinking that it’s always good and it’s supposed to look a certain way.
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
So I have a question for everyone listening today, whether you’re a parent, or don’t have kids yourself, I want you to think back to when you were a kid. How many times on average, do you think in a year your parents talk to you while you’re growing up about table manners? How about a year on average, how often they talk about money? And then for some of you, this would be more than others. But how many of you they talk to you about sports? Alright, so I don’t know what your numbers are there. But here’s the last question on average every year how many times your parents talk to you about sex. Now, out of those three are those four areas table manners, finances, sports and sex. Which do you think is is that has the most potential to do good in your life and the most potential to do harm? And might be a, you know, a close call between finances and sex, but I would almost wager that it’s theory of sex. And so why is it that our parents typically did not talk to us very much it did not Shepherd us much in the area of sexuality. So today, I’m joined with by Michelle Dunn, she is a member of our staff here at regeneration. She’s also a licensed clinical professional counselor. And she’s really the architect of the events that we’ve been doing over the last several years called PG, Parental Guidance needed. And so Michelle, glad to have you with me today.
Thank you for having me.
We are going to unpack this a little bit. We want to talk to parents about getting in the game with their kids in regards to disciple in them in the area of sexuality. Our kids have sexual lives. God’s made them be Sexual creatures and part of our job as parents is to disciple them Shepherd them help them guide them in this area of their life. So Michelle, why don’t we start just like let’s just share with with our those who don’t know you a little bit about your own your own family your I know you and your husband married for how long now?
Oh 23 years. I think it’s 23. So we’ve got some time logged.
And tell us about your kids.
I have two boys and they are both teenagers. So we are in the thick of it and it is a lot of fun. Yeah, that’s so I have two sons.
Yeah. And listeners, many of you know, my wife and I have five kids ranging from 16 down to six and we’re also currently fostering a little one year old. So we have a household too. So, so all that just to say Michelle and I are not just talking about this from our perspective regeneration, or from Michelle and her with her private practice, but also as parents ourselves, like, we know, the challenges of talking with our kids and being in the game with our kids in the realm of sexuality. But So Michelle, I wanted to launch us off today by asking this question to you, in this an easy one. But what is what is the most important so for parents listening, what’s the most important thing that they can do? To begin, or to grow? How they’re shepherding their kids guiding their kids in the realm of sexuality?
Hmm, I love the question. It’s, to me, it’s all of this comes or stems from the relationship that we’re building. And so if there is a most important thing, really, it would be investing time and investing that emotional energy that it takes to build relationship with our kids. And a lot of people do think that it gets more difficult to do as our kids age. But and some people even like let off the gas as their kids get older thinking they don’t need quite as much guidance. We’ve got a stay in it with them where we are can To figure out how to stay connected with our kids and build relationships, that’s, I think the top priority. So yeah,
I think I think there is a sense of our, not only do parents pull away, I think a lot of parents pull away because our experiences our kids get older as they’re pulling away, they want to spend less time with us more time with their friends. And that can feel, however, that feels reparent it can be a hard place to then continue to say, well, it’s important for me to be investing in that relationship in the same way. Talk to us, Michelle, about individuation. And the importance of that, even for some parents what that is, I think some parents might not know.
Yeah, well, the job that our teens needs to accomplish when they’re going through those teenage years is this thing called individuation, and it’s really where they are forming their own unique identity, who am I and not just a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a member of this family, but who am I as an individual, and so they’re starting to discover that and they want to exercise that and that’s part of the reason they love hanging out with Friends so much, because they can try on different hats and to differentiate from their family members. So again, this is a normal and healthy process. We want our kids to do that. But it does make connecting with them trickier, because in part, we just have less face time with our kids, because they’re spending more time doing activities more time with their friends. And that’s also why I think the stakes are a little bit higher, because that means if we’re getting less time with them, we can’t always be zoning out when we’re around them. We really do want to make good use of some of that time.
I think another another aspect here as our kids get older is that sexuality is not just a concept anymore when they’re younger. And if you have younger kids and you haven’t talked to him about sex and you that’s not a part of your conversations, then you need to make it a part of your conversations with them but as they get older now sexuality has a spark to it. There’s a there’s a link between what our kids are experiencing and what they’re hearing. And so I think there’s there can be a level of intimidation for parents in that way too and and and difficulty for kids because it’s now like mom, you know please you know like when you see you got two boys like that without without throwing either of them into the spotlight here cuz I want to respect them but like, what would you say to moms about talking to sons about sexual issues?
Well, I do think there’s something to be said about starting when they’re when they’re little because then it’s a non issue. This is just a part of what our family does. We talk about things if you have questions, you’re going to talk about it rather than trying to boot that up when they’re 13. If we tried that, that wouldn’t work. I know that. I know it would just be really hard for them. And so start young and talk about everything just like you would your favorite color your you know, your favorite sport, you’re going to get to know them and that kind of creates this, this fertile ground and I do think I was actually at the pool a couple weeks ago. And it struck me because there was this one mom, who was talking to this other group of moms about how she hadn’t given her middle school children cell phones, because there was too much they could be exposed to. But I happen to hear her son’s talking and they know way more than she thinks that they know. And so just even though it’s a good reminder, our kids are going to get here and get information from sources other than than us, which you were alluding to just a few minutes, a few moments ago. But if we have this relationship with them, we can Hey, what’s everybody talking about? What’s your perspective on that? Oh, I didn’t know that. We can have that interactive conversation with them where we have a voice and we can influence but if we don’t have this relationship with them, then we miss out on the opportunity to influence
i wanted i love that you just shared that is so true. And it’s it is a hard kind of speed bump or hard thing for parents Push through on the on the front end. But once they do it’s it is such a gift it greases the skids and makes life so much better throughout the rest of years like but introducing these topics early to our kids and our kids don’t know what what parents do and don’t do we teach them. And so if we’re talking to our kids about about healthy sexuality, when they’re young, in appropriate age appropriate ways when they’re young, then as they grow older, they may or may not like it, they may go through seasons where it’s more and more comfortable, less comfortable, there may be topics or elements of the conversations that are that are easy for them to have and harder for them to have. But nonetheless like they know their experience has always been this is normal. This is part of what mom does that does like they talk to us about manners. They talk about doing the dishes they talk to us about homework they talk to us about sex they talk to us about sports, it’s just it’s just a part of of what happens in a house in a home and wouldn’t be great like you know when we do these PG events it’s it’s not infrequent last the audience. How many of you had parents who taught you in a regular basis in a healthy way about sexuality? Very, very few hands go up, if any, wouldn’t be great in in, in 20 years to ask the same question of the kids growing up in our church today. And have most of the hands go up. Yeah, this was just a part of how my parents guided me. I mean, I always thought this was normal. So, and just as a shameless plug here, if you’re if you’re listening, and this is all new to you, and you’re wondering, like, well, how young and what do I talk to my kids about when they’re young? I want to commend to you our RPG content, which will actually I’m not sure when this this podcast release, but September 2021, or October 2021, we will have that PG content available online for everybody listening, so keep an eye out for that, or take a look for that. So. So Michelle, let me let me ask you another another question. You talked about the centrality of relationships, the importance of relationships and really investing in relationships our kids as a as really the backbone To support the foundation for having conversations about sexuality. So what are some of the roadblocks that might get in the way of a parent in this regard? Either talking about it having this be a part of their relationship with their kids? Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that.
Um, I think a big roadblock that probably we all can relate to is, if a parent has an agenda for their kid. I think kids can sniff that out a mile away.
What do you mean by an agenda? Like, what does that mean? Um,
the very clear, I want you to do this be this. Think this. Now as parents, we do have desires for our kids in that regard. And those are good things. So I’m not dismissing that. But if we’re only coming to our kids, where we want to mold shape, change their thinking and their behaviors, they’re going to be fatigued by that and they’re not going to Oh, here comes mom. She just wants to talk to me about this again. So I think that can be a common roadblock. Because often, especially as kids get older, they it feels a little bit like they’re running on autopilot. And so oftentimes parents will choose to connect when there is a problem. And so that agenda item, or I’m talking to about a serious thing, when there is a problem, I think, I think kids can be resistant to that because it feels difficult and annoying.
So what are you saying is basically like, Don’t distill down your idea of parenting to your only job is to teach your kids lessons. something along that line like either to correct them for things are doing wrong or to tell them things they need to understand or one of the things I get in trouble for as a parent is, is the critiques I give of culture or of shows we watch or have sermons we listen to and my kids are, I mean, I’m resonate with what you’re saying because I have made this mistake and they just could that’s like we you stop like it doesn’t. We don’t need to hear this, we get it, we get it, you know. And so so what’s the what’s the opposite of that that Michelle? Or what’s the give us a, the that’s the negative? What’s the positive? If Yeah, do give us a picture of the positive and in regards to what we want to help our parents to learn to do.
Well, maybe part of that, I’d love to hear what you think. I think I’m wondering if part of it would be making it more of a dialogue when we don’t have an agenda, like, Hey, I heard this new song came out. I was reading the lyrics. What do you think about that? What are your friends saying about that? And learning to not just to it, we have to adjust our role, right as our kids are going through teenagers, so they’re not going through adolescence. They’re not the only one that ones as teenagers who have to figure out how to do some things differently. I think we as parents have to do that too. So we want to shift so that we are not always talking about They’re listening, but we can become good listeners as well. We can ask good questions. And in that, I think, I think from there an even better doorway opens. And it’s that doorway of influence, where we’re able to influence how they think about things rather than tell them how they should think about things. And I think that can be a pretty powerful place when we’re able to get there. Have you ever experienced that where, what it looks like to shift from I’m talking to my kids versus I’m listening to them and asking them their perspectives about different things that we’re seeing around us?
Yeah. Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, and I’m kind of jumping out of my seat over here because, I mean, Elise railer, who’s one of the people who speaks at our PG conference, I remember her saying once if we treated our our kids or if we treated our friends, like we treat our kids, and here I think about what you’re saying about agenda. I’m asking you questions, not really because I care what you think or because I want to get to know you, but because I I want to tell you what you should think they are we are if we wouldn’t have any friends, like, nobody wants to be in relationship like that. So why do we think our kids would be. And what I hear you saying instead is, is we want to get to know these unique creatures that ultimately we didn’t make. We aren’t the potter who’s kind of, you know, holding their, their the clay, God is the potter, he’s made them. And we’re trying to get to know them. And as they get older, we’re also trying to get to know the kinds of things they they now are thinking about, including those things that we may, quite frankly disagree with. And I know it for me, like when I’m willing to do that with my kids, including biting my tongue when they’re saying things that I think are, are not quite right or that I would disagree with or that I hope they grow to learn more about. Those have been really fruitful conversations. So here’s here’s one example I’d give. I remember we were talking about technology in our house and one of my concerns about technology certainly is I don’t want my kids to get gets to struggle with pornography like I did. And but we’re talking about technology. And we’re talking about boundaries and technology. And my kids, you know, my, like, four of them were in the room and their heads were kind of all, you know, either down or they were looking away. And you could tell they didn’t really want to be there. And at one point, I was like, Wait, hold on a second, like, this is not going well. And I said, I said, kids, like, Look, I’m not really wanting to have a conversation about technology. Really, what I want to be having conversations about is, what are we about? What do we want to live for? What What do we want our lives to be like? That was the larger picture. And all of a sudden, their heads popped up. They were talking over each other, they really wanted to get engaged, because they had ideas about like, this is the kind of life I want. And it was fascinating. And then and then the technology question and the potential for risk of pornography question became a small category that we could address based on some of the good desires that I was learning about from them and, you know, if they already here, you know, they’re talking about their experience, that conversation might be slightly differently but but I would say For me as a parent, it was it was a big difference in how I was approaching the conversation and a big difference in the energy level in the room and their engagement. So yeah, does that click with what you’re saying about the difference between agenda and getting into our kids. So maybe the application there as we think about sexual discipleship or shepherding our kids in the realm of their sexual lives, we we want to build on a solid relationship and nurture solid relationship. And one of the great ways to do that is simply be curious about our kids, like, continue to be a student of our kids and learn about them and take an interest in the things they do. And you’re actually a parent, I think you’re a great role model for me and others because I think you, you do take an interest in your kids, even to the point of like getting engaged and stuff with them that doesn’t necessarily interest you, but because it interests them. I’ve heard you talk about like, diving into them on some of those things like I don’t know what it video games or whatever else it might be for you, which I think is awesome.
Oh, and in full disclosure, there was a point earlier with COVID that I said we, we have to stop talking about video games for a couple of days. I let’s talk about something else just has a tiny break. But yeah, I think I’m connecting with. You know what, though, Josh, you said something earlier and it made me think of it.
Part of the reason that this is so important these conversations should be coming out of relationship is because the conversation can’t be limited to to a one time thing if we’re talking about discipleship. And so having one conversation, it’s not possible to cover all of what we want to cover with our kids. Because they’re even things like I’m dating etiquette. What’s it what how should you treat? How should you treat a man or a woman when you’re going on a date? Whoa, what how do we want you to think about this. And so again, it’s not it’s not the kinds of things that I think we want to disciple our kids and cannot be covered in one or two or even three conversations. But they really are a part of that grander conversation that we want to be having with them. And there’s
Yeah, and there’s a tension there. Because on the one hand that what you’re saying is really freeing, it’s like, okay, like, the pressures off, I don’t need to get all the right information together and delivered in a in a charismatic way that my kids are engaged in. And then, you know, they walk away with heads lifted hide, saying, you know, dad is great, mom is great, like, they taught me but like, we don’t have to do that. That’s not possible anyway. But the other the other side of that is that as those things arise, then we actually have to continue to take the step toward our kids to talk about them. And that I think, can be scary and intimidating. It’s not both because we have to navigate the relationship, the relationship, and also because sometimes talking about these things are things that we’re uncomfortable with. I mean, so let’s just talk about that for a minute. It’s not just our kids who get did have difficulty talking about sexual things. It’s us like, I think often it’s the parents here like I I don’t Know how to talk about this in a way that feels comfortable to me. And so when when an issue comes up, or when you’re watching that show, and they start talking about something and you hope your kids didn’t see it, but maybe they did, and maybe it’s time to address it, like to take that courageous step of saying, we’re going to talk about it like, Michelle, what’s that about for parents? And what can parents do to kind of pay attention to their own resistance?
Well, I love that you said, sometimes it’s I think that parents feel, but they just don’t feel equipped. You know, I’m not sure if I’m gonna say the right thing that that’s one thought that parents have. I think another challenge is that it’s pretty easy to not have very much margin for these conversations in our lives, where maybe we’re watching a show with our kids, that would be a great topic to discuss, and it’s 1045 at night, and the last thing we want to do is open that up because we’re tired too. And so even finding ways To make sure that we’re keeping margin in our lives, so even if we don’t address it, then we can say let’s talk about it tomorrow. But I do think margin is probably a big thing. Parents are just tired out. And that can kind of prevent them from engaging.
Yeah, that’s one I think another one for a lot of people is their their own struggles with sexuality, their own histories of sexuality, past sexual abuse, their own struggles with premarital sex, or with the current sexual behaviors, pornography, I mean, parents are not immune to these things either. So even as we want to guide and protect our kids, we have to face the reality that we’ve got our own baggage in regards to sexuality. And I’d say like one of the most important things parents can do for their kids is to to take seriously addressing their own sexual dysfunction. So I’ll say it again, like when the most important things I think parents can do for their kids in regards to sexual discipleship is taking care of their own sexual dysfunction. And that isn’t mean like, you know, deciding once and for all, I’m going to do better, you know, whatever it’s sometimes it means getting help, it means I don’t know how to I don’t I don’t know how to live healthy sexual life. So I better get some help if I want to help my kids. And I knew a man once who this is a different way, just as by way of illustration, he he didn’t know how to play baseball well, and, and when he he was raising his son, he talked about how he learned to throw and catch and got better at it, because he went out to throw and catch with his son. And so instead of just avoiding it, he wanted to want to help us kid in this regard. And so he worked on it himself. And I, I think this is also true in this in this realm. I know you and I have talked before and other members of our staff have experienced that. that a lot of times when our kids hit certain ages, we inadvertently begin to feel things that we felt at their ages or we begin to kind of reference back so for example, I say I started struggling with pornography when I was about 12 years old, so unprocessed and undealt. With that means when my kids hit 12, I’m I start to have some reactivity inside around the issue of pornography. Same thing happened in the realm of sexual abuse or physical abuse, or, you know, if there was bullying for a kid, all of a sudden you find ourselves feeling a lot more anxiety, or we find ourselves being more over protective or even, you know, having some, some depression happen for us. Sometimes that stuff can go back to, you know, where we are, we have not dealt with our own past is related to our kids. So anything else you’d say about that?
No, I love what you’re saying. Yeah, because I think a lot of times that is a that’s probably actually one of the biggest roadblocks if a parents thinking this sounds great. But I panic or I freeze or I feel depressed, or I just want to avoid this topic. With my kids, and there’s something under there. I can see how one that’d be a roadblock into, like, even just our desire for parents like, Okay, that makes complete sense. So let’s find a way so that you’re not you’re not feeling stuck there anymore as well, right? So that you can experience freedom from that. But it would make sense that someone could feel that way and they wouldn’t have to stay in that place.
So I’m watching the clock. You’re not gonna I’m gonna stop talking too much. I want to hear from you on a few things that you had, you had kind of brought up earlier that we wanted to talk about today. One is, so let me just ask you two questions. One, I want to hear you talk a little about the ideal versus reality and how that plays into sexual discipleship for our kids. And the other thing I’d like to hear you speak a little bit about is what about when our when our kids are, they do not want to talk and they shut down when we when we talk about sexual matters. Can you talk a little about both of those things?
Yeah, the ideal versus reality We all get into dangerous territory when we start comparing. And I think we we get this ideal picture of what it looks like to connect to our kids, either through media or through our, our vantage point of what it looks like. And when we look at our friends and their families, their
social media feed,
yes, yes. And so we can be tricked into thinking that it’s always good and it’s supposed to look a certain way. And so we really just want to lean into how how my wired, how is my kid wired, what are we good at? and using that as your framework for what you want your relationship to, to be like? And so I yeah, I think we want to stay stay away from comparison and just lean into the way you’re wired is, that’s who your kid knows. And so be you. And continue to look to connect with your son or your daughter as he or she is. Do you have anything to add to that the ideal versus the re reality
The only thing I’d add is just a nuanced thing. If you’ve got multiple kids that’s gonna look different, perhaps for each kid. And so even not comparing your life with one kid to another, like, you know, you’re gonna have different connection points and different kinds of different chemistry with your kids. And that’s actually can be a wonderful adventure. Again, if we think about getting to know our kids and knowing ourselves, but yeah, so And what about the situation where we’re, you know, got a parent who’s they’re engaged, they’re, they talk about the stuff, maybe they’ve been talking to kids about it, but they reach a point, or they find that their kids shut down. Like, I’m not talking about this, what do you do?
That’s good. Um, I think there could be, there could be a couple of options. I mean, the first one is, I wouldn’t jump to this conclusion, but I would be Oh, is it just, you know, that this is just how my kids wired? Or maybe my kid has anxiety and this just talking about this makes them feel anxious? Like I’d I’d probably be curious and want to get to know a little bit about why the child might be not responsive to this conversation. And I So remember, as parents, we don’t do everything for our kids, we do also want to resource our kids. And so maybe you have a difficult time talking to your son or daughter about a topic, but maybe they have a favorite aunt or a favorite uncle who you you trust and respect. And so we also want to encourage them connecting with other people. It doesn’t have to be just us as their their sole lifeline. What could you add to that Josh? Is there what else am I missing?
I think those are good. The other thing I’d say, there’s always the possibility that that was happening for our kid is that they they’re struggling some that they’re ashamed of. And so part of them shutting down or getting angry with you is is, is the fear of being found out with whatever that is. I know in the years that I use pornography, there was a direct correlation between how angry I would get at my parents, and how frequently or how recently I had I’d been doing And it was the years later that I discovered I was just it was shame I was feeling associated with what I had done. That’s not an assumption to jump to, but it can be a reality. And so I think for parents in those situations one one thing to throw out is is is always this the open hate? Are you like, Can you tell me what’s what’s hard for you about talking about this or I want you to know, you know, this may not be an issue for you but but if you were ever dealing with any of these things, or struggling in any way in this in this realm, like I want to know because I love you and I just want I’m here to help and that may not open the door for them or not, but but it still can minister to them, perhaps reach them where they are something like that. So
one thing to add to that how do you think I know we’re out of time, anger can be a cover up emotion. And so if it’s if it’s not just that the child doesn’t want to communicate, but what you’re experiencing from them is actually anger. Then there’s likely something else under it loneliness fear Shame, like you said, there are going to be other emotions under there. And that’s going to give you a clue on if there is something else happening. And so I think that’s a specific to look for. Because then you can, you know, offer some, you know, guidance and love and support, if it’s needed in that area.
It’s great. So yeah, that’s really helpful. Michelle, thank you for that. And, and I know, you know, as we’ve been for these last several years doing these conferences, there’s, there’s a ton more we could talk about. And we will, we’ll talk we’ll have some more podcasts on these. And again, keep an eye out for and if you’re listening and want to learn more look for our PG content on our website. But Michelle, any any closing thoughts just to wrap up this part of the conversation?
Yeah, I think the thing for all of us we do want to keep in mind is yes, discipleship comes out of relationship. And also, we don’t want to just build relationship with an agenda. And and I know that that’s not anyone’s intention. But we also want to build relationships for the sake of building relationship for the sake of loving our kids and being connected with them and supporting them and knowing them. And so, yeah, all of this is important. And also, it is important that they know that they have parents who are, you know, reaching out to them and looking to just know who they are and delight in that. And so that can sometimes I think, help simplify things when we feel a little bit lost and muddled. And not sure what what our next step should be.
Yeah, it’s so so good. I mean, I think it just mirrors the heart of God who’s who was came into our, our lives, right as we were with our brokenness, our sin or rebellion, the places we knew about places we didn’t know about our anger, all of that, and from that space, without the agenda of just wanting us to do everything he says, but with the agenda. wanting us to become whole, full, overflowing with life and love people. So if you had an agenda, it was really that that that we would become all that we were intended to be. And you did that from relationship for our sake, not not so that he’d feel good about himself. But I think it’s a good picture for us as parents. So, Michelle, thanks for this conversation today. And so, Lord, I just want to I want to pause just for a second before we close and just pray for Michelle and me and all the parents listening. Got it? It seems difficult in so many ways, these days to parents and in the realm of sexuality. It has gotten a lot more complex out there. And we need your help. Lord, You are our Savior. You are the one who has knit our kids together and who formed them. And so what would you help us to to see our kids and to get to know them well, and to be parents who can walk alongside them and love them? Well, both are just for the sake of who They are including Lord who you’ve designed them to be sexually as men and women, and pray these things in Jesus name, amen.
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