The Prodigal’s Dad – Lesson Two: Allowance

Dad watching kids








Of all the lessons we can learn from the Father of the Prodigal, this one may be the hardest: He is willing to allow his son the freedom to make his own choices and mistakes, thereby learning the most powerful lessons for himself.  This certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.  Far from it.  He isn’t simply turning away to ignore his foolish son.  He very deliberately makes the choice to allow his son breathing room when he can so clearly see he is about to fall – and fall hard.  He loves him enough to let him go.  He understands that forced compliance is not something that will help his son truly grow to become the man he was born to be.

How hard is this process for you as a parent?  It’s painful, isn’t it?  It certainly doesn’t come naturally or easily for many of us.  And yet, it is such a critical dynamic for us to practice as our children grow through adolescence into adulthood.  They will face touch decisions in life.  Have we given them opportunities to face some of these for themselves before we send them off into the wild blue yonder of adulthood?  Remember, loving our teens doesn’t mean keeping them from the pain of mistakes and disappointment.  We must prepare them to face such times with strength and wisdom.  And allowing them the freedom to choose and fall now (while not far from our watchful eyes) is one of the greatest, if most difficult, opportunities we can bestow upon them.

The Prodigal’s Dad – Lesson One: Example

father reading BibleSeveral weeks ago, I posted an article on five lessons we can learn from the Father of the Prodigal.  At that time, I promised you five follow-up posts to explore each lesson.  Sorry it has taken me a while.  Life has been challenging for my family lately.  Sometimes, we just have those seasons, don’t we?

As I mentioned before, when I read between the lines of the story of this family, it seems clear to me that the father has spent a lifetime setting an example of right living before his sons.  If his foolish and headstrong youngest son has enough clarity in the midst of a stinking pigpen to believe his father will accept him home again, it really says a lot about the powerful example of a father’s life well lived.  This man had impressed his heart and character upon his son by consistently making right choices and treating people with compassion and dignity.  His son had seen this way of life reflected over and over throughout the years, and he never forgot.

The simple, yet profound, challenge for us is this: We need to aim our own daily lives at the target we want our teens and children to hit one day.  If we want them to make healthy choices in their diet and lifestyle, our most powerful tool for motivating and guiding them is our own pattern of diet and lifestyle choices.  If we don’t want to see them glued to a screen all the time, we must show them what it looks like to keep our own screens in their proper priority and place.  If we hope they will one day have a great marriage, we need to show them now what that looks and feels like.  If we don’t want them being dishonest, we must walk with integrity in our own tough choices.  Simple and straightforward, isn’t it?  And yet, so challenging.

When I catch myself fussing at my son for not being diligent with his schoolwork, I must look at how much time I have spent playing around on my phone since we both got home.  Ouch!  Before I give him a hard time about needing to get outside and move more, I need to check how many times I’ve gone out for my “daily” run in the last week.  Once?  Twice?  Yikes!  If I want my son to build his life on a foundation of reading God’s Word and having a daily relationship with Christ, I better be doing the same in my own life.  Why would I expect him to aim any higher than his own father?

May God bless you richly with courage, strength, and diligence as you examine your own life to see what your daily habits and choices are teaching your own teens and children.  Let me know if I can help.

Five Keys to Training Teens to be Responsible

teen-mowing-lawnMany of the adolescents who come to see me for counseling have something in common: their parents or other adult authorities are concerned they are not showing strong personal responsibility in their lives.  Some are dabbling in drug use (yes, that DOES include weed).  Some are not doing well in school, and don’t really seem to care.  Others are hurting themselves or someone else by their foolish choices.  Whether the problems involve friends, money, sex, cars, curfews, language, drugs, alcohol, or any of a host of other issues, so many of my teenage clients really need to grow in personal responsibility that will lead them to making wiser choices in their lives.

As loving parents, we want our teens to grow up to be personally responsible, morally sound, basically self-sufficient adults who make a positive contribution to society. While there are no guarantees we can make this happen, we do have a great deal of power to lead our teens on this path. If you are frequently frustrated by your teen’s attitudes and actions of disrespect, laziness, sloppiness, disobedience, etc., TAKE HEART! Here are the five basic keys to steering them onto the right path – the path of personal responsibility:

1. EXPECT responsibility in your teens. This is NOT the same as wishing, pleading, or even hoping they will be responsible. Expecting them to be responsible means walking away when it is their time to work, rather than hovering over them to ensure they get it done and get it done right. Expecting responsibility in your teens sends a powerful message of how much you believe in them and their abilities – something they need like air and water. Whether your kids are three, ten, fourteen, or eighteen, this principle will go so far to empower them in personal responsibility!

2. Clearly communicate your expectations to your teens. It is so important to explain your expectations to your teens with authority and specificity. Speaking with authority is tied directly to the previous point. It means expecting them to follow your instruction and leading, because you believe in them. It also means KNOWING you are the primary authority in your teen’s lives. How many times have you engaged your teens in verbal/emotional battles of will, hoping you will emerge victorious, with your kids coming to a greater respect for your authority? How often does it work out the way you were hoping? How drained are you when you finally get there with them? When you speak to your teens from a solid position of authority, not waiting for the results to tell you if you really are the authority, they are far more likely to respect you and follow your leadership.

3. Stop taking responsibility for your teens. OK, I know this one may throw you for a loop at first, but think it through with me. You know your kids are responsible when they take responsibility for their actions – right? And taking responsibility for their actions means taking responsibility for a series of specific tasks – right? So, if your teen has a task to complete, and you are watching over them and immediately intervening to ensure it is done correctly, who does it sound like is taking responsibility for the task? And if you are really the one bearing responsibility for the work, how can they really assume true responsibility for it? So, whether your teen is dealing with caring for a pet, completing household chores, tackling homework, or maintaining that first car – consider the possibility that his/her irresponsibility may be a reflection of your over-responsibility.

4. Allow your teens to suffer the consequences of poor choices. Loving parents don’t like to see their children suffer. It hurts us. But suffering the consequences of poor choices is one of life’s greatest teachers. We must learn to love our kids enough to look at the bigger picture beyond this moment of temporary suffering. Painful lessons typically lead to real learning and changed behavior, sometimes even changed attitudes. “Getting off easy” teaches teens it is ok to keep doing things just the way they are, setting their feet more firmly on the path of irresponsibility and disrespect.  How often do you find yourself giving in on a stated consequence, then feeling frustrated and angry at your teens for not respecting you and your rules or for being irresponsible? Some lovingly imposed suffering will go a long way to cure this ill!

5. Be available to help your teens process and learn from their choices and results. When you see or hear your teen expressing their frustration at the suffering that resulted from a poor choice, be ready to genuinely show your compassion for them. This doesn’t mean apologizing for enforcing their suffering, which is a natural result of poor choices, disobedience, and misbehavior. It does mean recognizing their frustration, and letting them know you truly hope they get better results – for their sake. If you communicate this message with sarcasm or judgmental preaching, you will effectively shut down your connection and lose influence and leadership of your teens. If you are able to genuinely connect with them, then lovingly process with them how the situation could have gone better for them, they will be better equipped to take responsibility for themselves and make a better choice next time.

In addition, it is amazing to see how adolescents respond to parents’ stories of the lessons they learned “the hard way” in their own lives. (Notice how many of your best lessons were learned “the hard way,” which simply reflects suffering the consequences of poor choices and taking personal responsibility to face those consequences!) They love to hear about your mistakes, because it communicates: a realistic humility that you aren’t perfect, enough personal strength and courage to expose your mistakes and weaknesses without shame, and a reason to hear and respect your wisdom and leadership besides the simple “I told you so.”

Weathering the Storms of Parenting and Family Life

family in hurricane

Perhaps you took the time to look at this post because you and your family are going through a storm.  Your son seems to have lost all moral direction.  Your daughter never listens to anything you say anymore.  Your teens seem to genuinely hate you.  Sometimes you find yourself genuinely hating your teens.  Maybe things are actually fine in your family relationships, but one of you has just been given a scary diagnosis.  Whatever the details, a ferocious storm seems to be raging through your home and the lives of your beloved teen or kids.  And you really don’t understand why.  And you have no idea how long it will last.  Or what will be the outcome.  Or what to do at all.  I may not have the answers to your specific questions about your situation.  But God has taught me some key lessons I believe are important to remember when facing any life storm in your family.  As another storm is rolling through the emotions of my household, I am reminded of what He has taught me about facing storms.  In fact, some of the most important lessons came in the midst of one of the worst storms my family and I have yet faced together.

Several years ago, my wife and I were just beginning to process some awful news we had received and the mind-blowing implications of this situation.  We decided to book a long weekend at a nearby spiritual retreat and counseling center to find some peace, guidance, encouragement, and strength. Our time there was all that we hoped it would be. God’s Spirit breathed into us just what we needed at this time in our lives. And it all started with a storm.

As we stopped for an early lunch of burgers at Riverside Patty on the way out to St. Amant, we knew the dark, foreboding cloud-cover meant a big storm was on the way. We had barely made it through the doors to place our order when the bottom fell out and we got a downpour like nothing I’ve experienced in years. We both agreed it was fitting for our mood – somber, heavy-hearted, weary, and burdened. The storm really seemed the perfect way for us to begin our retreat. We made it safely to the Hermitage, dashed into our guesthouse, and sat out on the patio, taking in the fury and the beauty of the storm. As we sat together, considering and discussing what God might be preparing to teach us, I realized He was already speaking to me through the storm. I heard several important life lessons about storms as I sat there with my wife and God:

1. When the storms of life rage intensely, it is good to have shelter with someone you love and trust.

2. Storms don’t just bring danger. They also bring new life.

3. Storms have a way of cleaning away trash and debris from our lives.

4. Storms are very good at interrupting our plans and making us stop and just be.

5. Storms never last forever.

6. Storms make us aware of our own weakness and God’s power.

7. Heavy storms never leave the landscape like they found it. Some things break and fall, while other things are uncovered and rise up.

8. There is a time for seeking shelter, and a time for stepping out to face the landscape.

As you encounter the storms of your life, I sincerely hope you will reach out to God and receiving His loving shelter and guidance. Sometimes that reaching out includes reaching out to another person God has provided for you. If you need someone to be there in your storm, feel free to call on me.

With Hope – Dr. Butner

ps – Click here to read my previous post, “Surviving the Storms in Life.”

To Snoop or Not To Snoop

So, you’re already very aware of how important it is to oversee and guide your teen’s digital world – especially regarding his or her smart phone. What you want to know is: how far should you go with monitoring activity? Do you stick with simply asking questions and discussing? Do you periodically look through your teen’s phone for yourself? Do you look several times a week? Do you inform your teen their smart phone is “open” to your inspection, or do you do it without their awareness? In this video post, Dr. Butner offers guidance to help you make these decisions well.

5 Lessons from the Prodigal’s Dad

running prodigal fatherOne of my very favorite stories in all of Scripture is the story Jesus told about a wayward young man we frequently call “The Prodigal Son” and his family.  I love this story so much because it is my story.  And it reminds me of important parts of my story I can sometimes forget – particularly the response of my Father.  If you listen carefully, you may find it is your story, too.  God is a profoundly amazing and wonderful Father, and his lessons in this story are particularly instructive for parents who are doing your best to raise adolescents well.  You can read the Biblical narrative from Jesus here, but this is my interpretation:

Growing up in a loving family, he has been feeling an increasing desire to get out of the shadow of his obedient older brother’s “righteousness.”  He wants to be his own man and live his own life.  He has grown tired of feeling the expectation to always do the right thing.  It’s time to find out what the world is really all about, beyond the confines and watchful eyes of home.  So he hits his Dad up for his inheritance, gets the full amount with surprisingly little resistance, and heads out for the fun and adventure that he knows is waiting Out There for a young vibrant man such as himself. 

He quickly finds the excitement and friends he wanted.  And the thrill is great!  For a little while.  But somehow the funds, freedom, fun, and friends all vanish before he even knows what happened.  The party is over.  He is alone, desperate, and hungry.  The only job he can find is about the filthiest, most lowly position a Jewish man could possibly take.  He is tending pigs.  He is now unclean in every sense of the word – from his permanently soiled solitary set of ragged clothes to the stench that radiates from him at all times to his spiritual position of perpetual outcast because he works with the ultimate unclean animal every day. 


His utter despair brings him to true brokenness, which leads him to a glimmer of hope and his first experience of real humility.  “Maybe Dad will have pity on me.  He is a good man.  Better than I’ll ever be.  If I can just convince him to give me a place to live, I’ll take whatever lowly position he will offer me.  He is my only hope.”

All along the homeward road, he practices his speech,  with humility and hope growing each time he adjusts a word.  Just as he begins rehearsing his final draft, his speech is cut short.  Dad?!?  His father comes bounding in from nowhere to sweep him into a crushing embrace that seems to last as long as his entire journey back from Out There.  He tries to share his painfully crafted words of brokenness and humility with his Dad, but his plea for the life of a hired hand is swiftly and completely dismissed.

With compassion.  And grace.  And love.  And irrational forgiveness.

Thus begins his new life as a Real Man in the household of The Father.

In the next few weeks, I will be offering follow-up posts to further unpack and explain the profound lessons I gather from this story.  But for now, let me simply list for you the qualities of this Dad that offered the hope of real transformation in the life of his wayward son:

1. He modeled healthy Godly living to his son over the years.

2. He respected his son’s need to make his own choices.

3. He never gave up hope, even when his son willfully set off down the wrong path.

4. He did not run after his son.  He ran to meet him.

5. He didn’t beat up his son for being foolish.  He allowed him to pay the heavy price for his foolishness, and eagerly showed him how to recover and change his life once he was broken and humbled by his consequences.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about these lessons with you in the next few days!

Five Ways to Guide Your Teen’s Social Media Life


A study released by the British Psychological Society last week shows the consuming drive of many teens to stay on social media for all hours of the day and night contributes directly to sleep problems, depression, and anxiety.  Two factors that are particularly problematic are excessive late night social media use and a compulsive drive to access and respond to social media posts immediately.  As parents, we must remain vigilant that the fun and connection opportunities of social media can have a very real dark side.  And our teens are still maturing.  They still need our guidance to help them make better choices and live well in the midst of their world of digital bombardment.  Here are some important ways parents can help our teens:

1.  Stay connected with them digitally.  Insist on the rule that they must allow you, as their parent, to friend or follow them on their various social media outlets.  If they put up a fight at this, help them see this is a better alternative to you constantly checking their digital devices with or without their knowledge.  That bit of perspective might help them find a more cooperative spirit.  But you must also remember that the way you interact with them in the social media realm makes a HUGE impact in their attitude toward you.  Don’t be an online pest, constantly making public comments just because you can.  Unless you want your teen to despise you.  Be proactive and respectful as you remain connected and vigilant of their social media presence and actions.

2. Impose a digital curfew.  Even for teens who have shown responsibility and maturity with their social media use, it will benefit them to turn off and turn in their screens at a designated time each evening.  (You will have to decide whether or not you will personally look through their phones and computers while in your possession.  I will offer a post soon with pros and cons of this issue, helping guide you to the best decision for your teen and family.)  They may want to stay up late interacting with their friends and sharing their brilliance with the world, but they will be far more effective in friendships, schoolwork, and everything they do if they are getting the sleep they need.  Help them get it – even if they “hate” you for it.

3. Have regular screen-free family windows.  Pick one night a week and one time frame during the weekend to have a family time of interaction or quiet recharging with no digital interference.  On the designated weeknight, you might allow for thirty minutes of screen time right after school or right before bedtime, but put away the screens for the bulk of the evening.  During your “digital blackout,” you might play a family game such as Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, or whatever’s your thing.  Another great option is to have a time of family devotional, reading, prayer, or discussion that centers around character qualities you want to develop in every member of your family.  You might just enjoy some quiet personal reading time, or maybe you tackle a household chore or improvement project together.  However you use this time, the aim is to remind your kids and yourself that there are so many more important elements in life than the latest trend on Twitter or Snapchat.

4. Have times of fun social media sharing with one another.  We don’t want to present an attitude and message to our teens that social media is simply a negative force that must be limited or criticized by us as much as possible.  That is neither helpful nor healthy.  Let’s take the lead in showing our teens how digital connection can be a very positive force in their lives, if they choose to use it this way.  One fun way to do this is to have an occasional “Digital Diner” night as a family.  Everyone must bring their smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the table.  Have two rules: All conversation with each other must be digital via the devices you have at hand and everyone must do their best to share things with one another that you really think the other family members will enjoy and appreciate.  Keep it positive and uplifting.  Don’t be critical.  Show your teens you can have plenty of fun while exercising respect and restraint.

5. Make God’s Word your primary guide to navigating social media waters.  Have a monthly family devotional where you actively seek and reflect on God’s guidance for how you conduct yourselves as you interact with people and digital devices.  Here is one passage of Scripture that I highly recommend for these critical conversations:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

– Ephesians 4:20-32

Remembering That Day

This one still brings me back and gives me chills.

The vlogging journey has begun..

 My website is now officially a blog and a vlog (weirdest word ever!)  Here is a brief introduction to myself and my parenting philosophy called “Morpheus Parenting.”  I’m looking forward to sharing more with you and hearing more from you through this new format, and feel free to check out my YouTube channel at DrButner.


Seven Tips for Discussing Weed with Your Teen

teens smoking weed

So, how did your teens spend their Labor Day – the first vacation day from school for this new school year?  For many of them, smoking or vaping some weed was a part of their day.  How sure are you about whether or not your teen lit up some marijuana today?  Why is that?  If you don’t want your kids smoking weed, you need to take charge of leading them in a better direction.  Here are some of the most important points to include in your discussions with your kids about smoking/vaping:

1.  Discuss issues related to marijuana use on an ongoing basis, not just in one big catch-all drug conversation.  Do your best to make it natural and comfortable to discuss potentially awkward or uncomfortable topics by staying calm and proactive, rather than allowing yourself to get agitated, loud, or reactive.  When you see or hear stories about weed in the news, share and discuss them as a family.  Do the same when it shows up in movies and TV shows.  And be careful not to present yourself as so judgmental or upset by the topic that you actually send your kids the message, “You’d be crazy to ever honestly discuss any issues of pot, drugs, drinking, sex, or other sensitive matters in your life with me, because I clearly can’t handle it, and I’ll make you suffer for even bringing it up.”

2. Tell them why this matters so much to you.  Make it clear how much you love your child/teen, and how much you want to help him/her achieve a fulfilling life of freedom, joy, purpose, and service.  Focus on your desires for the best for your teen, rather than on your intentions to police and punish.  Feel free to use examples of others with all the potential in the world who cut themselves terribly short by using weed.

3.  Be realistic in your concerns and reasoning.  Don’t go so overboard in trying to make your point or scare your teens into compliance that you lose your credibility.  If your kids want to challenge you with research or articles of their own, don’t dismiss them.  Look at them together, and be sure to look at several more that you find that clearly present the whole picture.  For example, sharing an article such as this one from the University of Washington is more likely to actually get their attention than one from WebMD.

4.  Specifically outline potential and likely health and legal problems.  Do your homework before you start the conversation.  Learn the accurate statistics, facts, and legal consequences in your state and region.  Yes, this kind of homework will take some time on your part.  But isn’t it worth it if it helps your teen actually consider the risks of puffing the pipe, rather than simply accepting the popular notion of today that it just isn’t really a big deal?  Be very specific.  List the health risks in clear straightforward language that is neither sensationalized not sugar coated. Tell them exactly what happens to teens charged with the various crimes related to possession, etc.

5.  Don’t forget to address “synthetic marijuana” and other harder drugs.  Be sure to follow all these guidelines in making it clear that not only is “synthetic marijuana” not a safe substitute for weed, but it is also much scarier and deadlier.  Even as you discuss the dangers and concerns of harder drugs such as meth, molly, GHB, etc., using all the guidelines above, be sure you make it clear that marijuana is not a safe, natural, herbal alternative to “dangerous drug” use.

6.  Ask direct questions – and listen.  Don’t avoid the hard questions because either you or your teen may be afraid of the answers or outcomes.  GO THERE!  Ask if your teen has ever tried marijuana, and how many of her/his friends have done so (with an assurance that you aren’t trying to “nail” anyone).  Ask why not/why.  How often?  Ask what they liked or didn’t like about the experience.  Ask what your teen believes will happen if ever busted by you or the cops.  Clarify the accuracy of this together.  And on and on.

7.  Assure your teen you are far more interested in celebrating the successes of his/her life than in scrutinizing the failures.  Yes, we already touched on this, but it is just so important it bears repeating and emphasizing.  Make this a regular reminder.  I dare you to ask your kids periodically if their actual experience with you proves or disproves this assurance!