Podcast: How to Intentionally Disciple Your Kids (Lindsey Carlson)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Parenting Well Through the Teen Years

Lindsey Carlson, author of Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Maturing in Christ explores what it looks like for parents to intentionally disciple their teens. She offers advice on helping young people use social media wisely, shares how she and her husband have sought to cultivate a culture of honesty and vulnerability in their home, and highlights the one thing she wishes someone would have told her about parenting teenagers.

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Growing in Godliness

Growing in Godliness

Lindsey Carlson

Through 10 practical lessons, young girls will learn to apply God’s Word to the challenges of the teen years, laying the foundation for growth in maturity throughout the rest of their lives.

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Full Transcript

01:23 - Welcome

Matt Tully
Lindsey, thank you for joining us on The Crossway Podcast today.

Lindsey Carlson
Thank you for having me.

01:28 - Personal Background

Matt Tully
So tell us a little bit about yourself and about your family.

Lindsey Carlson
So I am the wife of a church planter. We live in Baltimore, Maryland, and we’ve lived here almost four years. And we have five kids, and they range from 2 up to 14, and our 14-year-old is our only girl, so then we have four boys behind that.

Matt Tully
That sounds like quite the spread, quite the household.

Lindsey Carlson
Yes, so we’re a loud household if there’s any question.

02:00 - Discipleship in the Home

Matt Tully
So explain kind of what your process for discipleship looks like with your kids right now. I’m sure it ranges depending on the age of the kid and kind of their stage. But what does intentional discipleship look like in your home?

Lindsey Carlson
Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, I think that when my kids were younger I kind of had this picture like that discipleship was a very scheduled, you know, like we meet every Monday at the kitchen table, and you know, we have this curriculum that we go through. And for how it’s worked in our family, it really has not typically been the rhythm of this is how we always do it. It’s really been more kind of unique and custom tailored per kid. So for my daughter, I can look at my daughter’s life and think okay, she really needs encouragement in this area. And so I’m going to encourage her to read this book or study this passage, or she really needs more one-on-one time with Mom or just evaluating their specific needs. And of course, there’s family discipleship going on too. So we’re reading Scripture together. We sing a lot of hymns together because my whole family is very musical, but then the personal one-on-one discipleship I think happens a lot more creatively and as we go.

03:21 -Intentionality in Discipleship

Matt Tully
It strikes me that as you talk about that, intentionality is such an important part of the puzzle here in terms of discipling our kids. And yet often it feels like life is just busy. We have all kinds of stressors. We have church commitments and work commitments and then other social activities. How do you think about being intentional with regard to discipleship with your kids in the midst of all the other things that are kind of vying for our attention all the time?

Lindsey Carlson
So I think the approach that my husband and I have taken more has tended to be looking for those kind of like grace moments where the Lord says this is an opportunity for you to stop and speak into this situation, or this is what your kid specifically needs right now in this moment. And there are certainly times that there are more programmatic elements. Like if there’s a book that comes out that I think, "You know, that would really benefit so-and-so," or I really think that this child needs to have a very specific plan of action for his sin pattern that they’re encountering. There might be some specific programmatic elements, but I think more often than not it’s changing my heart to that understanding of: what is God calling me to give to each child at the moment that they need it? So that might be more in, you know, if my teenager is sulking on the couch, and really I just want to go to bed. I don’t want to engage. But I can tell, okay, the Lord is asking me to press in and to ask her what’s going on, you know, and so we have that conversation and then it opens up this beautiful opportunity to sit and talk for two hours about her heart and the ways that the Lord is working and encourage her in the faith. And you know, that’s a very personal way to connect with her and to disciple her in what’s actually going on in her life. And so I think it’s more about paying attention to the opportunities that the Lord is giving as they come, and I think that’s a lot easier to do because you’re not having to go out and find a curriculum. You’re not having to prepare materials and find time. It’s as you are encountering life-on-life, which is what we see Jesus doing with his disciples.

05:33 - Common Misconceptions

Matt Tully
Yeah, what are some other common maybe misconceptions that you’ve seen parents often have or maybe that you even had about what it might look like to disciple teenagers.

Lindsey Carlson
I mean, I really think that as a parent you kind of think that your kid is going to just be able to by osmosis pick up all of your theology and all of the things that you hold as, you know, important and true. And so I think that sometimes as your child starts to grow, and then they start to question the world around them, it can be a little bit jarring because you think "Well, I believe this, and why did why did they not understand why I believe this?" And it’s really–it’s hard and good to watch them start to question the world around them and to say, "Why is this good, or why is this bad, or why is this important to you?" And I think that sometimes parents can tend–and I know I have certainly tended–to respond to questions with a nervousness because it’s–you might think, "Oh my gosh, they’re going to believe something that’s complete heresy," or you know, "Watch, they’re going down the wrong path, here it goes." And to just slow down and listen to their question and actually explain with patience and gentleness what they’re looking for because I can tend to kind of jump and go, "Well, of course, it’s because..." you know, and explain very frantically because I want them to believe what I believe because I believe it’s truth, and really it’s better for them if I let them ask those questions, and I present the truth just like someone presented the truth to me at some point and let them figure out how to think through issues with a biblical worldview and a Christian ethic so that I’m not just giving them the answer. I’m teaching them how to think through things so that when they encounter things later they know how to go through the process.

7:42 - Internal Change vs. External Action

Matt Tully
That actually kind of leads into another question I had just related to helping our kids to make good decisions, to practice spiritual disciplines that are important for their own spiritual growth and maturity and development, and yet we don’t want to force them to do things and have those things just become rote or just have them just do those things to please us and not out of the right motive. So how do you balance that of–whether it’s Bible reading or participation in the church or prayer–how do you balance encouraging your kids to do those things and requiring to do some of those things at times with also trying to keep focused on cultivating their hearts and not just external actions?

Lindsey Carlson
I think with each of those–prayer, attending church, reading Scripture–I think all of those things are things that I want first and foremost for my kids to see as necessary to me personally. So if I have a bad attitude about going to church all the time and act like it’s just a duty then they’re going to think that as well. They’re not going to see the point in it. If I don’t ever reference the fact that I read Scripture or use Scripture in my daily life, they’re not going to see a need for it or have any kind of clue why they should pursue it for themselves. So I think the first part starts with looking at myself and seeing: is my heart tuned to those things, and am I pursuing those things actively? And then I think the next thing is kind of just encouraging them again specifically with where they are. With my daughter, she just knew that I regularly read Scripture, and so she would see I had a printed-out Bible plan that I read through, and she would ask me questions. What is that paper? Why are you checking those things off? And so I was reading it around her where she could see that I was reading, and she just became naturally interested because it was something that her mom cared about. And so she said, "Is that something I could do?" And I said, "Absolutely." So you better believe I jumped on the computer and printed her off the same thing. And I try to stay on top of asking her, you know, "Hey, where are you in your Bible reading plan?" you know, and she might say, "Oh gosh, you know, I got stuck in this book, and I just really can’t seem to get through it." Having those conversations like "Oh yeah, that’s totally normal. Lots of people get stuck there. Just keep going. It’s really important." You know, I think normalizing the disciplines and the challenges that you face in those disciplines is important, so I think that just kind of modeling those things and then picking up when they have interest and really fanning those flames in whatever way that looks like for your specific child.

10:27 - Social Media

Matt Tully
As you think about your daughter in particular but all your kids too, how do you and your family think about social media engagement? Obviously social media has become just such a dominant influence and something that seems ever-present in many teens’ lives today. And yeah, it can be such a dangerous difficult thing, especially as kids are growing up and starting to wrestle with issues of identity and access to information that they might not be ready for, access to material that might be inappropriate. How do you walk that road with your daughter? And how does that fit with discipling her in Christ?

Lindsey Carlson
Woo, man, with a lot of humility and a lot of prayers for the Lord’s mercy. You know, we have been we have been very lucky–I don’t want to say lucky–but we have been very thankful that my daughter has not been the the type of personality that has been begging to be really on social media a lot. She did ask to get on Instagram. And so we have allowed her to be on Instagram only. We approve her friends and try to just kind of check in on that. But we are definitely going to be on the slower, much more cautious, let’s hold out as long as possible side of things because I just feel like I evaluate it based on: if I know something is not good for me, and I’m an adult with a full set of skills and reasoning and logic, and I can tend to be addicted, and I can tend to feel that comparison trap and the anxiety that that causes, then I know that it’s not a good gift for my daughter that I want her to pursue. So I think I just try to have those conversations a lot with her when we talk about the ways that her friends are posting and when we look at things and say you know, what do you think that points to, why do you think she wants people to know that or to see that? You know and what kind of things do you think that are appropriate for people you’re working for to see or to hear. Does that change your opinion about that person because you read that? So I mean I just try to have those conversations a lot with them because I know that it is not something that I’m going to be able to hold off on for their adult lives. I want them to be able to learn to use it in a responsible appropriate way, but I think that people are much, much, much too fast to hand the keys to something that’s really, really dangerous. My kids go to a school where kids pull out their phone and are on the internet the entire class period. So if she wanted to see something, she could see something on, you know, 25 people in the classroom’s phone during science class, and then she’s going to get on the school bus, and anyone on the school bus could pull anything up. So while I protect her because I want her to see that I love her and I’m trying to protect her in very specific ways, I also want to teach her why we’re protecting her because she could go out the door and make her own choices, you know, any time of the day, so I want her to know when and if–it’s more if–you encounter something, come talk to us. Tell us what you saw. Tell us what your reaction was when you saw it. Let’s talk about how to deal with that. And that’s what we’re trying to teach each of our kids in age-appropriate ways that will be progressive as they grow.

14:04 - Honesty and Vulnerability

Matt Tully
Speak a little bit more to that. You know, so much of what we want as parents is for our kids to be honest with us and even vulnerable at times. How do you encourage that with your daughter in a way that isn’t just you trying to be her friend, and you want to be that authority figure still, but you also want her to come to you with things that she’s struggling with and be honest and kind of invite you into that conversation. How do you balance those two things?

Lindsey Carlson
Yeah, so I think that a lot of that hinges on personality. With my daughter, who has been one that’s kind of harder to crack, I think it’s just been modeling trustworthiness to her that I’m with her and for her, not just as a parent but as a sister in Christ and that I genuinely care about the ways that God is growing her and shaping her as a believer. And so she can come to me because I love Jesus, and I’m going to tell her what she needs to hear. And that means also not oversharing. I think sometimes I want to give a lot of advice and say, "Well this, you know, this is what I would have done." And so I think I’ve had to be really careful to discipline myself to, when she does open up, not immediately turn that into like, "Oh, it’s time to get out my soapbox and tell you what I think as a parent," but just to be, you know, and that’s a biblical concept to be, you know, slow to speak and fast to hear and to listen, you know, so I think modeling what being a good friend looks like to her. And then I also think about how I talk about her to other people when I’m in front of her or on the internet or, you know, I think a lot of people see their kids as material for comedy or sympathy or things like that, and so they can tend to kind of unintentionally exploit their children. And kids notice that. So they’re not going to want to tell you information if they know that you’re going to turn around and mock them to your friends, you know, or post this funny story on Facebook or something. So I try to be really respectful of her privacy and tell stories only when I know that she doesn’t mind or, you know, let her be the keeper of those stories. So I think it’s really about just modeling good friendship to her and then trying to be a friend like you would want an adult to be a friend to you.

16:30 - The Importance of the Local Church

Matt Tully
You’ve mentioned a couple times now the importance of the local church and even of other women in the church. What role would you see other older women playing in the discipleship of your own daughter?

Lindsey Carlson
Older women play such an important role in the lives of younger women in the church. I mean, I only have experiences and skill sets that I’ve acquired in 37 years. If I pair that with all of the other life experience and wisdom of the other women in my church, they’re drawing from just a bigger, vaster resource, treasure trove. And so I want them to see what faith looks like in lots of different contexts because I don’t want my kids to grow up and think, "Well, now I know how to repeat faith if I am a suburban, you know, white woman in a pastoral context, you know, with this kind of income level." I want them to be able to see different races. I want them to be able to see different careers. I want them to be able to see different life experiences and different suffering, and all of those things are available at the church. But I think that sometimes when kids often are kind of pigeon-holed into a youth group–which I’m not at all trying to bash youth groups; I think that youth groups can serve wonderful purposes–but I just think that we need to have kids look past those youth group doors and see the vast resources that lay with these older women. When we moved here, my daughter had had a really solid group of Christian girlfriends at our old church. And so when we moved into a church planting context she suddenly found herself with no Christian friends. And it was a very lonely, very hard time for her, and we have done a lot of talking to her about: look at these women in the church that love you and that are deeply invested in you, and they’re not your age. And I have friends that I’m discipling that will call and say, "Hey, can we take your daughter out to coffee?" "Hey, can we meet up and have lunch?" "Hey, you know, I bought her this birthday present." They shower her with love and affection and gentle care, and in return my daughter knows their stories and knows their testimonies, also sees their mistakes, and she is able to form an understanding of what faith looks like at lots of different ages and in lots of different experiences, and that’s something that I never had the privilege to have as a teenager because I was just so consumed by people my age and replicating what everyone around me had. So I think that sometimes, you know, if a child doesn’t know what they’re missing, they’re not going to go looking for it. So I think that as their parents we can do them a favor by saying, "Hey, you know, I know this older woman; she has an amazing testimony. I would love to pay for you guys to go out to lunch, and I just want you to ask her questions," you know, or "I want you to listen to her story." And also teaching them to see the needs of other people that they might be able to provide for. We had a woman in one of our previous churches that knew that her daughters had a love for children. And so the parents would pay their daughter to babysit for our family so we didn’t have to bear the burden financially, and it was such a gift to have this teenager who loved being with our kids come in and serve, and when we were not in a position that we could have afforded to pay someone, and it blessed her too because she loved being with children and was able to serve in her church in a context where she was using her gifts. So, I mean, I just really think that we can try to be creative about how we stir that affection for the local church within our teen’s life.

20:27 - Advice for Teens

Matt Tully
What’s one piece of advice that you wish you would have received before you had a teenager?

Lindsey Carlson
You know, honestly, I feel like the instinctive reaction when people hear that your child is becoming a teenager, the first reaction that I most frequently get is: "Oh no, hold on for dear life," or "Uh oh, oh my goodness." And I feel like it’s always kind of viewed with this gloom and doom, "here it comes," and I feel like I wish that someone had told me before I had teenagers just how wonderful it is and how fun it is because certainly there are hard things, certainly there are different mountains to climb, but I think that when you are in the years with your kids that they are toddlers and you are putting them in time out 20 times and you are saying "no" 8 million times and you are reading the same Bible story every night. I think that it’s so repetitive, and you wonder if it is ever going to bear fruit, and you wonder if it’s ever going to work, you know, and what’s my kid going to be like when they are 13 or 14? And to know that when you’ve been investing year after year after year in discipleship when your kids are young that when they turn into teenagers, many times they’re really fun people, and there’s so much good fruit there that you start to see blossom from all these years of investment that I really wish someone had just said, "Hey, the teenage years are coming. They’re going to be amazing. They might be hard, but you’re going to start turning all of the wisdom that you’ve been pouring into them into practical theology and teaching them how to apply it." So when people I think tend to give that gloom and doom sense, I just wish that people would turn that and say, "Are you ready? Because this is going to be great, and you’re going to enjoy this, and there’s going to be so many great opportunities." So I think I just wish that somebody had been encouraging about the teen years.

Matt Tully
That’s good.

Lindsey Carlson
I think people that just think like, "Oh, teenagers are so self-centered, and they only care about themselves, and no matter what you do, they’re going to do what they want." And I think I have a very thoughtful, kind, generous teenager, you know, who will clean the kitchen while I’m putting kids to bed and I’m tired. You know, so I think that it’s not necessarily right to think that you’re going to have kids that, you know, become different people when they turn 13, and suddenly, you know, are just these nasty, awful people. I think that if they’ve been growing in godliness since they were a child and seeing the fruit of the Spirit demonstrated in their house, that you have no reason to expect for them to turn 13 and suddenly become a monster.

23:29 - Encouraging Scripture

Matt Tully
As you think about discipling your teenager, what’s a key passage that comes to mind that has been encouraging to you or instructive to you as you’ve pursued that?

Lindsey Carlson
So 2 Peter 3:17 says, "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." So I just, I think that I am preparing these kids to launch out and to be able to be stable and solid and rooted in the love of Christ and in their understanding of who he is. And so if they’re able to weather the storms it’s going to be because they know who Jesus is and they’re able to discern what truth is and what error looks like. And so I just think that that picture of growing in grace and knowledge–it’s so encouraging to me to know that Jesus grew in knowledge and understanding, and so it is good and right for our kids to be growing in knowledge and growing and understanding because that is how they are going to come to know who Christ is and to be able to live out the gospel in their lives for the rest of their lives hopefully.

24:50 - Closing

Matt Tully
Well, Lindsey, thank you so much for talking with us today, for sharing a little bit about your own family and the ways that you’ve sought to disciple your kids, in particular your teenage daughter. We really appreciate you taking the time to come on the show today.

Lindsey Carlson
Thank you for having me.


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