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What Kids Wish Parents Knew About Parenting

What Kids Wish Parents Knew About Parenting

by Joe White

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It's an alarming moment when it dawns on parents that their child is in trouble. And if you aren't perceptive you may never know until you find a half-smoked marijuana joint in a jeans pocked on laundry day or a sexy love note left inadvertently on a dresser or a citation from the police.

In times like these, when children are making adult decisions that are


It's an alarming moment when it dawns on parents that their child is in trouble. And if you aren't perceptive you may never know until you find a half-smoked marijuana joint in a jeans pocked on laundry day or a sexy love note left inadvertently on a dresser or a citation from the police.

In times like these, when children are making adult decisions that are often devastatingly destructive, parents must examine the facts and learn how to be what their kids need them to be before it's too late.

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Howard Books
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What Kids Wish Parents Knew

By Joe White

Howard Books

Copyright © 2003 Joe White
All right reserved.

Part I

The Lights Are On, But . . .


The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until

they're (almost) too strong to be broken.

orphan \or-fan\ n. 1. A child whose parents have left him

physically. 2. A child whose parents have left him emotionally.

3. Can be evidenced by a half-smoked joint in a jeans pocket or a

sexy love note left inadvertently in a drawer or a citation from

the local police.

Chapter One: Slipping Away

We're so busy giving our kids what we didn't have

that we don't take time to give them what we did have.

I hate to sound selfish, like everything's mine,

but please don't get mad when I ask for your time.

I'll never forget the day I hit bottom in my career as a


I first started realizing my failure the day my oldest son's

babysitter taught him how to ride his bike. It's such a

monumental achievement for a boy--in fact, five decades

haven't erased the memory of reaching that milestone in my

own life. But Brady had to experience it without me.

Busy (as usual) with work, I met Brady for a quick lunch that

day, and he beamed with excitement as he shared the news.

I had all the right things to say: "Wow, Brady! That's

great! I'mso proud of you." Then I added, "Brady,

can I come watch you ride your bike later this afternoon?"

The response from my sweet, gentle-spirited six-year-old fell on

me like an avalanche. "No, Dad, that's okay.

You're busy in the summer."

I'm fighting the tears again as I remember the deep remorse

I felt. He had opened my heart more skillfully than a surgeon.

I was losing my son.

He knew it, and I knew it.

In my job as president of a large summer camp complex, I was so

busy rescuing other people's kids that my own were drowning.

And the problem--as I knew Brady couldn't help but

discover as time went on--was that I'm busy not only in

the summer but also in the fall, winter, and spring.

Brady . . . he was so little then, but he had the super

imagination and the super-sensitivity that made his daddy work

harder on smoothing his many rough edges and his hard-driving

disposition. With a quick look into the future, I could see Brady

as a teenager in someone else's counseling office trying to

sort out his bitterness toward a father too busy to show he


Not long afterward, my youngest daughter was attending one of our

short-term camps. We agreed to abide by the rule requesting

parents not to visit their children for the entire week.

(That's tough!)

On the fifth night, Courtney got a touch of homesickness. She

began to cry, and her counselor came to her bed to give her some

hugs and tenderness.

"Corky, don't cry anymore. You'll be home in two

days, and you'll get to see your daddy and everything."

"I never get to see my daddy!" was her bold protest.

When the week was over, the camp director came to my house.

"Sit down," he said abruptly. I sat down, wondering

what this was all about.

He told me about the conversation between the counselor and

Courtney--little Corky, with long, blond hair and dimples

that can't help but melt her daddy's heart. Even when

the lower lip was out in an occasional protest, a few tickles and

funny faces could bring the dimples back to their rightful place.

"What are you going to do about it?" he asked.

I squirmed. He looked deep into my eyes.

The phone rang. As I went to answer it, the intercom buzzed. Then

someone came to the door with an emergency. After responding to

all three, I sat back down. He was still looking intently at me.

"I asked you, 'What are you going to do about it?'


"I don't know . . . it's hard . . . there are so

many demands."

"Joe, who are the most important people in your life?"

"My family."

"You're not showing it!"

He sat there and didn't give an inch. Finally, I agreed to

some commitments.

This book is an expression of my gratitude for my months of

open-heart surgery that summer. To this day, I'm carrying

out the commitments I made back then. It's still hard. The

demands are still there. In fact, they're getting worse. But

my priorities changed. I aborted almost everything from my life

that stood between my children and me. The use-of-time knife

stripped away most of the fat that surrounded the lean meat of


My wife and I continued the struggle to accomplish more during

the necessary hours of daily labor, and in the remaining hours to

prioritize time with our children above anything else during

these years while they were still at home. We were wonderfully

amazed that there was even enough time for a few luxuries.

Brady became my best male friend. I worked early and late when he

wasn't available, so that when he came home, I could grab a

bat and ball or a go-cart or a fishing rod or a made-up

adventure, all for the honor of getting to be by his side for a

few golden ticks of the clock. His brother Cooper and his sisters

Jamie and Courtney . . . all of them became World's Best

Companions to me.

The four young children who captured my heart are now young

adults. The lessons I learned and put into practice then continue

to reap a joyous harvest.

Allow me, in love, to ask you the same question the camp director

asked me those many years ago: Who are the most important people

in your life?

If it's your family . . . are you showing it?

If not . . . what are you going to do about it?

Just as during the early days of work on Mount Rushmore, when the

explosives engineer was told to blast away all the granite that

didn't look like the face of a president, so I urge you to

strip away--with dynamite, if necessary--everything in

your life that doesn't look like family gold.

Chapter Two: The Champs

All children are champs--with potential they're packed;

discovery alone is the element lacked.

Son, you're the greatest!

--Herman "Sleepy" Morgan

On that Father's Day morning, something told me I was being

set up.

All four of my children bubbled with excitement as they led me to

their playroom. I felt special to have all that attention from

the ones I love the most.

Their eyes sparkled mischievously as they showed me a big white

box on the playroom floor, wrapped in fourth-grader uniqueness

with hand-drawn decorations on all six sides. It was so big!

"Hurry, Dad, open it up!" four little voices screamed

in unison, as if from fear the box would pull a self-destruction

act before I got to the contents.

As I bent down to pull off the customized wrapping paper, the box

began to move, and I heard a whimpering, whining sound from


Instantly I knew: I'd been framed!

"There's a puppy inside that thing!" I exclaimed.

Soon the lid was attacked by eight tiny hands, and up popped an

exuberant ball of black fur.

"Daddy, Daddy, can we keep it?"

"Happy Father's Day, Daddy!"

"Don't you just love him?"

"Let's name him Champ!"

The sounds of excitement filled the house.

I'd been set up to the max. Even their mother was in on the

deal. How does a daddy turn down a Father's Day

gift--hand wrapped in crayon-colored paper, no less?

"Okay, gang," I accepted cautiously, "but only if

you take care of him."

"Sure, Daddy, we'll be happy to!"

Champ was sired by my big black four-year-old retriever, Pro.

Pro, who was from the bloodline of Old Yeller, Hollywood's

most famous Labrador retriever, now had a major problem: He had

to share everything with that yipping, biting, pestering Champ,

who was nothing but an annoyance--to both of us.

Champ may have been my new Lab . . . but in my heart, I

didn't really claim him.

Our nation's homes are full of little "Champs."

Some are boys, some girls. Some are toddlers, and some are teens.

They legally belong to a mom and/or a dad, but they've never

felt totally claimed.

In various ways they send up their signals from every city,

crying out for unconditional love and acceptance from their

too-busy parents.

Almost every day I get letters from teenagers across America who

feel like little Champ. One recent letter--from Amy, age


epitomizes their cry:

I've always wanted so badly to please my father and my

mother. I hated to be yelled at. Every time I was caught doing

something wrong, I felt worthless at home and at school. It was

very embarrassing for me to get into trouble. My mom, who

I've always been close to, kicked me out of the house and

started packing my things just to get back at my dad. I kept

thinking to myself, "Is she serious? Where should I go? I

have nowhere to go." The scars run pretty deep.

After Pro and I had tolerated Champ for a couple of summer

months, an interesting event forever altered Champ's stature

in my heart. The two dogs were bounding through our summer camp,

with Champ playing his usual game of

jump-up-and-bite-Pro's-neck, lips, and-ears. As always, Pro

used every ounce of self-control in his pedigree to keep from

making supper out of his menacing offspring.

The two black beauties apparently stopped at our huge outdoor

swimming pool--which was closed for the day--to get a

drink, and Pro fell in. Labradors are born swimmers, but the

distance between the water's surface and the deck around it

was about four inches higher than a dog can reach. After what

must have been fifteen to thirty minutes, a teenage boy walking

by the pool saw what happened next: As Pro began to go under,

little sixteen-pound Champ leaned down, bit Pro in the lip, and

with some internal shot of adrenaline pulled his sixty-five-pound

daddy out of the water.

Champ found a new place in our home that night. Same pup, same

yip, same disposition, but he had a new status. Now he was a

hero, and we treated him as he had deserved to be treated all

along. He was stroked, praised, caressed, and honored.

Champ now owned a special place in my heart--a place valued

all the more when, two months later, Pro was struck and killed

while crossing a highway. Now I regard that whimpering, oversized

box as the best Father's Day present in all the wonderful

years since I first received my most cherished title,


Do you have a Champ in your home?

After working, counseling, living, and talking with hundreds of

thousands of teenagers during the past twenty-five years,

I've found that there's a Champ in every one--if

that child's parents will only take the time to discover the

vein of gold in their child's heart.

All successful homes have this in common: the discovery of


It can be done in all kinds of homes--two-parent homes,

single-parent homes, or homes where grandparents assume the role

of Mom and Dad. My grandmother found a champion in my mom while

raising her all alone. What a job she did.

My wife is truly a champion, though her father (a Navy test

pilot) was killed when she was four years old. She, too, had a

mom who courageously and patiently raised her and her two

brothers until a stepdad came into the picture.

My daddy was fortunate to have both parents there at home to do

the job and even more fortunate that both of them recognized his

great potential and allowed it to bloom.

The discovery of champions can happen in your family too.

When Champ was two years old a sudden, tragic death took him

seemingly long before his time was due. My only consolation was

that before it was too late, we learned to treat him like the

champion he was.

Our kids' lives, too, are so fragile, and the short time

we're allowed to be with them races by . . . there never

seems to be enough.

Whatever age your children are . . . today is a great day to

bring out the best in each of their lives.

Two Mothers Who

Wouldn't Give Up

Chris's Mom

I said it would never happen to my son.

Until his seventh-grade year, Chris was polite, loving, and

content. When I saw the plastic bag of dried-up leaves in his

pocket, I didn't even know what it was.

The marijuana habit led to LSD, cocaine, and hash. He lied about

it habitually, and I so wanted to believe him--love hopes all

things. He made up wild and crazy stories that I wanted to be

true. But I couldn't deny the hard facts that followed his


His grades went down. He became a skilled player of video games

to win drug money, but it wasn't enough. He stole from our

home and burglarized others.

He sold drugs to his friends. While in the ninth grade, he was

suspended from school for dealing drugs in the library. I was

humiliated. I was scared. I wanted him to know I still loved him.

I'm told a common first mistake made by parents who learn

their child is using drugs is to look the other way and pretend

it isn't happening. A second is to look for a quick, easy

remedy. A third, when you've tried everything humanly

possible and all has failed, is to give up.

We went through stages of all three. But every night we got on

our knees in prayer. We'd made mistakes as Chris's

parents--no doubt about it. But through it all, we loved him

while hating his sin.

Chris never ran away . . . but I did. The pressure got to me. I

checked into a hotel for two nights to struggle with God.

While there, I began to see that drugs weren't the enemy.

They were just weapons. It was a spiritual battle we were in. The

enemy was after my son, my family, my marriage.

I faced all the what ifs. I was sure Chris would either commit

suicide, die of an overdose, or be killed in a car accident. It

was happening in front of my eyes, and I was powerless. I had

tried everything but couldn't rescue him from his problems.

I decided I would trust God, no matter what. That was the first

and best step. I found His peace in that hotel room.

When I went home things were the same, but I was different.

Chris had become a pro at deceit, a con artist. He hated himself,

but on his own he couldn't change. I knew something drastic

had to be done. A month at a Christian summer camp helped, but it

wasn't enough time. A year at a special home for troubled

youth also helped, but even there he smuggled in drugs and had

the wrong friends.

Then two men who were constructing a Christian camp took Chris in

and gave him five months of solitary confinement, hard labor, and

love. He would work all day, listen to Christian music and go

through Bible studies in the evening, and drop exhausted into bed

at 8:00 p.m. The work kept his mind off drugs and built his

self-esteem, something he drastically needed. Phoning him from

home, we continued to pour on the encouragement while making it

clear we couldn't allow his former behavior.

Then he came home. He was now seventeen years old. In another

year he would be out on his own. We wanted to believe he was

well. But he returned to his old friends, too weak to fight their


Then I heard about Tom Johnson, a wonderful cowboy with a youth

ranch in Arkansas. We sent Chris there, and on the way he gave up

fighting. Miraculously, all the Christ-centered experience

he'd been given, plus our continuing love and unceasing

prayers, finally took root in his heart. He asked Jesus Christ to

take over his life.

At the ranch he saw an inspirational Christian model in Tom. On

the first morning there, at daybreak, Chris helped Tom deliver a

calf. As the sun came up, Chris felt as if God were showing him a

new life. He didn't tell anyone at the time, because he felt

he had talked too much. Now he wanted to show.

He hasn't done a drug since that sunrise.

The next time we saw him, he gave his dad a great big hug.

Chris will soon graduate from college.

He shares Christ with druggies and punk rockers. With his

skateboard and drums, he gets into places a preacher could never


He'll always be on the cutting edge.

Sharon's Mom

We were some of the "beautiful people" in our

community--Robert worked night and day while I played tennis

at the country club--and our teenage daughter, Sharon, was an

ornament. I had to take time away from my tennis to drive her to

school. (Kids deserve better.)

I subtly gave Sharon pressure to stay on top. She just did what I

asked her to. When I woke up she was a sizzling sixteen-year-old

brunette with big blue eyes and a body filled with alcohol and


In three hundred and sixty-five days she spiraled down from a

"most likely to succeed" to a drunk and a druggie.

No one felt worse about it than she did. She couldn't stop

because her group of friends expected her to live up to her new

image. Kids are so totally driven by acceptance. She didn't

feel acceptance at home, so she got it from whomever she could.

We were so far off as parents. We let the TV set--instead of

our example--be our child's value education. If you

don't want your kids to drink, don't drink. What you

say doesn't matter. Kids learn (or miss learning)

responsibility at home.

Things had gotten out of control in such a short time. Robert got

scared that we were losing each other over Sharon.

"You're giving her too much of your mind," he

pleaded with me. "I'm giving her up. We won't

fight over her. She's yours now--yours to love, yours to


I prayed desperately. Please take her back, Robert.

Sharon ran.

I felt like someone had blasted me with a shotgun, and I was full

of holes, bleeding.

We got her back. Then I tried everything. I played rough at

first. I took away all privileges--the phone, the TV set,

everything. But the love wasn't there to back up the

ultrastrict discipline.

Next I tried to identify with her. I took her places. I drank

with her. I wanted her to see how to drink

"responsibly." I was desperate and ready to do


My heart was repeatedly broken during those times. She lied and

misled us. She said it was better, but it wasn't. I felt so

foolish. She said she hated us, but she was really saying,

"Help!" She felt so abused and so guilty.

Today she says, "Thanks for not giving up on me after I gave

up on myself."

Here's how the turnaround happened.

Robert and I submitted our whole family to some solid biblical

counselors. They told us to keep on believing in Sharon. At first

we reacted to that: "Believe in what?" But eventually

we completely adopted our child in our hearts . . . with all of

her problems.

Next, we inventoried our own lives and began to fill our home

with consistency. We gave ourselves more lovingly to each other

and to our younger children.

I love wine, but when I caught my second daughter and her friends

downing some whiskey (from our overstocked liquor cabinet) on

their way out of the house to a party, I knew our social drinking

had to go too. (Why do we play our kids for such fools


We continued over the next six years to rebuild our ties with

Sharon. As we forged the new relationship, we wondered: How do

you go back and undo all the crossed-up circuits? She had been

programmed all wrong.

We didn't quit. We lived on our knees, it seemed.

Sharon protested, "You've never been a mother to me,

and I can't accept it now." But she did need an

authority. I kept my mouth shut and listened to her. Then I

listened some more. When she finished expressing her thoughts,

I'd ask, "What are you thinking? . . . What are you

feeling? . . . How can I help you?" I filled her with honest

praise. Then I'd state my position. Sometimes she'd get

so angry.

Robert and I worked at being more honest. We became more

available to our kids. In everything, we strove to be authentic.

With the help of the Christian youth and family counselors, we

began to see daylight. In a couple of years, the storm was over,

and our skies became only partly cloudy.

Today we are close. Our house is a home. It still rains here

sometimes, but there are also sunny days to enjoy.

I believe the tragic years with Sharon actually saved us from a

lifetime of casual misery. It was worth the trouble to begin to

understand each other and really get to know the power of Jesus

Christ in a family.

Today as he left for college, my nineteen-year-old son said,

"Mom, wouldn't you rather be called a great mom than a

great tennis player or a corporate officer?" Then he added,

"You're a great mom!"

Maybe he's exaggerating with the "great." I think

"great-ful" (grateful!) is a better word for me.

Chapter Three: Who Cares?

Think I'll buy a forty-four

Give 'em all a surprise

Think I'm gonna kill myself

Cause a little suicide.

    --Elton John

Several years ago, Elvis Presley's colorful stepbrother

spent some time with us at our summer sports camp. Elvis loved

music, but Rick Stanley loved kids.

As we talked about the plight of the modern teenager, Rick told

me of another brother's backstage encounter with David Lee

Roth, the former lead singer of Van Halen, who sang of suicide,

drugs, torture, sex, rebellion, and perversion. After a lengthy

conversation about Elvis, his fame, his music, and his tragic

death, the brother asked Roth the same question I would want to

ask him: "David, what do you think about the thousands of

kids out there in the crowd tonight who are getting stoned,

wasted, messed up?"

With a blunt, cold stare, Roth answered, "Who cares?"

At least he was honest. Roth didn't seem to care about

anyone but himself. But the problem was that so many vulnerable

kids looked up to him. At a typical concert, twenty thousand of

them--averaging fourteen years of age--would pay a half

million dollars and practically break down the doors to partake

in two hours of visual and verbal pornography. The next day at

school they'd wear their new rock T-shirts to celebrate

their evening with a hero.

Who are your kids' heroes?

They're displayed on the posters on the walls of their

rooms. Look into their eyes. What do you see?

My breakfast guest one morning was a seventeen-year-old boy who

was six-foot-two and weighed a hundred and ninety pounds. He was

as lost as a baby billy goat. He came from a wonderful home, but

nine months with the wrong three friends--and who knows how

many dozen marijuana cigarettes--had sent him into a tailspin

and turned his home upside down. To my amazement, this confused

teenager told me over breakfast how both he and his best friend

were introduced to pot by the friend's father--right in

their home.

Does that make you fighting mad?

What about the homes that expose their children to 18,000

murders, 75,000 scenes of physical intimacy between unmarried

partners, 75,000 commercials whose basic message is: "Take a

pill for a problem," and 66,000 commercials that say:

"Drink alcohol for fun"? Those are the actual estimates

of what a kid sees on television while growing up in the average

America home.

The subtlety of this invasion is crafty, and the hypocrisy behind

it is incredible. It's an intruder that slips into our homes

like a cunning burglar, and parents indifferent to it are

cultivating disaster for their kids.

Children become what they think about--it's a principle

as certain as gravity. So what type of influence at home is

worse--the father who brings home marijuana or the

"average" amount of television viewing?

Every album your kids play, every concert they attend, every

television show they watch . . . each one is like a stepdad

temporarily taking over your role of teacher, coach, and friend.

Is this the kind of stand-in you want for yourself?

Parents are the decision makers. The federal government

won't help our kids avoid the worst influences. The city

council won't. Our neighbors won't.

The responsibility is yours and mine.

So who cares?

You do.

I do.

How much are we showing it?


Excerpted from What Kids Wish Parents Knew by Joe White Copyright © 2003 by Joe White. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joe White is president of Kanakuk Kamps. He is also the author of more than 20 books and speaks across the country for Men at the Cross, After Dark, Pure Excitement, N.F.L. chapels and Focus on the Family radio. Dr. James Dobson says, "Joe White knows more about teenagers than anyone in North America." Joe and his wife, Debbie-Jo, are the parents of four grown children and the grandparents of eleven. The Whites reside in Branson, Missouri.

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