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Emotional Tools Your Son Can Build On for Life: David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
August 8, 2023 5:15 am

Emotional Tools Your Son Can Build On for Life: David Thomas

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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August 8, 2023 5:15 am

What emotional skills does your son need? Counselor David Thomas sheds light on common emotional struggles, including anger, anxiety, and depression. Find practical ways you can help your son be resourceful, aware, resilient, and empathetic—breaking patterns of dysfunction and embracing maturity for life.

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Connect with David Thomas at and read the The three Rs for Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys.

And grab David's book, Raising Emotionally Healthy Boysin our shop.

Intrigued by today's episode? Think deeper about shaping emotionally mature kids in Parenting: Passing On Healthy Habits for Kids.

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Somewhere around 9 to 10, boys begin to channel all primary emotions, fear, anger, sadness, disappointment into one emotion and that one emotion is anger. Welcome to Family Life Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So we discovered yesterday on the program that when you married me, you married an adolescent boy. How did you feel about learning that?

Of course, here's the thing. I think you already knew it. I just learned yesterday, wow, I was not just immature. I was like an adolescent in my early 20s. Hon, I thought you were amazing in every way. I never thought you were immature. It was later, like 10 years later. No, I'm just kidding. So I got immature as I grew up as immature.

No, I never thought that. It was an interesting conversation though. No, I'm just bringing it up because we have David Thomas back in the studio with us who's a therapist and a counselor in Nashville and he enlightened me to some things about men and boys. But David, welcome back.

Thank you for having me back. I was with a mom recently who I said, how many sons do you have? And she said, does my husband count?

I want to know exactly how many males she was raising that counted in that number. So I'm right there with you. We discovered that I too was an adolescent when I got married. So we share that in common. I mean, we're laughing about it because you wrote this amazing book and you know, we've got three sons and now grandkids. And so we thought we got to pass this on.

And so we've been handing this out to everybody. Raising emotionally strong boys, tools your son can build on for life. And we're laughing because, you know, you sort of talk about the maturity level of girls compared to boys.

But here's something I want your wisdom on because you sit every day with families and kids and, you know, walk through this whole and yesterday, if you missed it, go back and listen because you even defined what emotionally strong and healthy looks like. And that's where, you know, we realized, wow, I wasn't. But here's the thing. And I don't think I'm that unique in that I thought I was.

And most of us do think we are. And it's always the person that's got the problems are the last one to know they had the problems. And yet here and I get married and then I become a dad and I never had a dad. He walked out when I was seven. So I knew I was deficient in some ways, like, wow, I didn't have a dad.

I'm not sure what to do. But I thought I was pretty secure emotionally. And it's probably because I succeeded in different things in life and thought, oh, I'm a college quarterback and blah, blah, blah.

I was very deficient in the emotional area of my life. Now I'm thinking back on our conversations when we first got married and we were young. I was 19.

Dave's 22. But I can remember asking you, what are you feeling about all this? And Dave would often say, I have no idea. I have no idea.

And she would say, yes, you do. You just don't want to tell me. And so we get in fights. And I honestly didn't know.

I'd never even answered that question. You talked about that yesterday. So let's talk about emotionally unhealthy could be men or women. Yes. But we're adults now and we're we have responsibilities to maybe be a parent. How are we going to raise an emotionally strong son if we're not emotionally strong ourselves?

Yeah. I have a friend in Nashville who started a treatment center for professional men. So the entire population would be adult men who are doctors, attorneys, CEOs, pastors, men in leadership, men who have likely been highly successful vocationally and have found themselves in the throes of addiction of some kind. And on the first day and arriving, they do group together and he will put a feelings chart in the center of the space and ask every man that question.

What are you feeling about being here? And he said, David, you have no idea how many adult men. These are Harvard educated, Yale educated, Duke educated men, again, who've been highly successful vocationally, who cannot answer the question.

And the answers are even in the floor, but they just don't know that connection between the head and the heart is not something I believe men were trained to understand, particularly men of certain generations. And my grandfather is a perfect example. You know, my grandfather was wildly successful in the work he did as a builder. My grandfather fought in the war. I am a recipient of the freedom my grandfather fought to bring to me as an adult in this moment in time. And he came home from the war having seen friends who died in front of him, not just friends who were lost in front of him. He saw atrocities that most soldiers have seen that are beyond anything I will ever see in my lifetime likely.

And he came home and was to go right back to work at that point. There weren't resources in place. There wasn't support in place. There wasn't an invitation to say, you have witnessed trauma and there needs to be a space where you can talk about that and figure out what it looks like to live forward in light of that and not carry it. I think it is why there are so many men of that generation in particular who lived in pain and as a result caused pain. I think it's part of the wisdom of that age-old saying of hurt people hurt people. And I talk about in this book that males who are in pain often cause pain.

I talk about how internal pain has an external presentation of some kind, which is why I think adult men lead the stats for substance abuse. And so to the degree that we don't learn to name and navigate, it will show up in some way. I think about the wisdom of that passage that says, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

It will come out in some way. When you say name, name what? What are you referring to? So I think name the feeling, name the experience. For those men sitting in that circlet group to be able to name, I feel terrified that I'm in a treatment center right now, that I may have just wrecked my marriage, that I may have just lost my job, whatever it may be. That they could not articulate how they were feeling about where they were and what had happened that brought them there.

And so I think that's the naming part. That my grandfather wasn't invited to name the experience of losing friends and seeing them die in brutal ways. As I think about that and the importance of it in all the ways when we can't name that it presents, one of the things that you said that I wanted to go back to that I talk about in the book that's lesser known is that I think overachieving is a way of numbing. And I don't think we talk enough about that. We talk about the obvious of substance abuse and the obvious of addiction and the obvious of infidelity.

But we don't talk about overachieving. And I think that's not just true for us as men but also for women. I think about the different ways it presents. I was talking with a mom just this past week about how with anxiety with girls, often the more out of control they feel internally, they will work to try to control something externally. People, outcomes, situations, experiences. And as I was talking that through, this mom said to me, you know David, I'm thinking back to being in college myself and that the majority of girls in my sorority had an eating disorder.

And I think about it now, what we didn't know then, what we know now. And my guess would be a lot of them had anxiety that they were trying to manage through food. Internal pain always has an external presentation.

And to the degree that we can't name and navigate that, it's going to come out sideways in some ways. It could be overachieving. It could be an eating disorder. It could be addiction.

Yeah, mine was definitely the overachieving and I couldn't see it. And that's my question. How do you help a guy? And again, we could talk about women too, but I'm thinking of a guy, husband, a dad, who doesn't see it.

And then when his wife, I love to hear what Ann thinks, because she could see it in me and would point it out. And often the guy will say, I'm good. I don't need to go to a counselor. We don't need counseling. I don't need counseling. I'm good.

Just because I can't name a feeling right now doesn't mean I'm not in touch with my emotions. When actually it does. Or. But he can't see it. So she's stuck trying to encourage him. Like, let's go to a marriage conference together this weekend. No, we're good.

I don't need it. She's dying over there. And maybe his kids are. He doesn't see that he's not emotionally strong.

How do you help a guy like that get help? And Dave, I would add, it's not just that you can't name a feeling. Because most wives are like, if that was the only problem, I wouldn't be that upset. But when it comes out in other ways, in a pornography addiction, in anger. Anger is a big one. That's when as a wife, and especially with boys, we don't know how to navigate that.

Yes. And I think it does show up that way for a lot of adult men. And I will hear wives speak to that being the primary evidence of when he's just in the normal day-to-day parenting, the discipline has too much intensity. His words are fueled with so much anger.

And internal pain, external presentation of some kind. And I think it really starts with the foundational acknowledgement that we are made as emotional beings, every one of us. And I talk a lot in the beginning of the book. I have a chapter on foundation and identity and anchoring boys to an accurate definition of what it means to be a man in this world, which we should never be defining outside of the person of Christ, just who he was. You know, if we think about his human experience, you know, we're told throughout Scripture, there's all kinds of evidence of where he felt the different emotions that we feel throughout his life here on earth. And that Jesus, though he was a man who was mocked, abused, abandoned, crucified, the worst of human experience is that he didn't go off the rails. Like he was able to deal with the circumstances of his life on earth with humility, with civility, with strength, with emotional strength, all these things that I talk so much about. So I think it starts there of just acknowledging we're made as emotional beings.

And so therefore our job is to learn to name and navigate that. Would you say that then to like your little boys? Would you teach them that? I would.

And you probably do do that in your practice. Absolutely. I think it needs to start there with boys, and then this may feel a little surprising for parents listening to hear, but please stay with me. With adolescent boys, I want to go ahead and share those scary statistics we talked about on the front side of our conversation in the first episode. In fact, I have some stats on page 73 of this book that I encourage parents to read to adolescent boys.

Like I think boys need to go into adolescence understanding, hey, here's the vulnerabilities for males in this world. Will you read those to us? I would be glad to, absolutely.

And so we're going to go back to some of these realities that we briefly previewed in episode one that I think are my starting point. I have a whole section on anxiety and depression. And within that, I talk about how the American Journal of Men's Health says that depression and suicide are ranked as a leading cause of death among men. Six million men are impacted by depression in the United States every single year. And you all, this next stat was one of the hardest statistics that I put in the book, but listen to this. Globally, on average, so around the globe, one man dies by suicide every minute of every day.

Here's some more stats. Men are often reluctant to openly discuss their health or how they feel about the impact of significant life events. Men are more reluctant to take action when they don't feel physically or mentally well. And men engage in more risky activities that are harmful to their health. These behaviors are strongly linked to traditional masculinity.

Men often feel pressure to appear strong and stoic. They resist support and help, and they experience greater amounts of hopelessness and despair. Anxiety and depression are more common in girls, adolescent females, and adult women, yet women are more likely to acknowledge a struggle and seek support. And I think those are just important facts that we want to arm boys with, particularly in adolescence, to understand, okay, these are the realities. No different than we have this great dad on hand that we've now known for quite some time that it's important to talk with adolescents about a history of substance abuse if that exists in your family, to let those kids know you are more vulnerable to addiction.

So where a person over here might could drink a beer and that's all they want, based on our family history, the likelihood of you doing that is not very great. And we don't help kids by keeping that information away from them, but by arming them. And I think this is kind of a similar philosophy of let's just talk about these hard realities.

That's not a scare tactic, but it's just this reality of we need to be informed and know these are some vulnerabilities that exist. We're going to have to work harder. And again, it goes all the way back to the front side of development. We've got fewer words.

And if I were to lastly just build on that, I would say this. You spoke to it well a few minutes ago when you talked about the anger piece, somewhere around 9 to 10 boys begin to channel all primary emotions, fear, anger, sadness, disappointment into one emotion. And that one emotion is anger. So if I've got fewer words on the front side of development and then at some point a little farther down the road in development, I'm going to start channeling everything toward anger. And then a little farther down the road, my tendency to shove things down and not ask for help is greater than it is for the females around me. We've got more work to do in this emotional space with the boys we love, which is part of why I'm so thankful you all would let me come talk about it. I think as a listener, I'm thinking as a mom, that all feels overwhelming and scary to even read those stats.

I'm imagining you and your wife reading those stats to your twin sons. What did you say after that? You know, parents are like, okay, I'm going to read those. Now what?

So you're susceptible to these things. Where's the hope? First, I would say to any mom listening who's immediately going to a place of I feel overwhelmed, I end every chapter of this book. I committed to my editor, I'm ending every chapter with five practical ways you can put these ideas into practice. We're not waiting until the end of the book. Every chapter is going to end with five easy things that parents could be doing in the moment, on the ground, putting these principles into practice.

So I don't want them to feel overwhelmed. And then the bigger hope for me is I have a great story in this book that I absolutely love about a single mom who had struggled with anxiety over the course of her life. And she said to her son, who was starting to show signs of that, she said, you know, buddy, I want to tell you that if you were to struggle with worry and anxiety like I have over the course of my life, I'm so thankful that we live in a time where we know what to do with that. I know a lot of great skills and strategies to teach you so that you can, this was her language and I love it. I'm borrowing it from this wise single mom, so that you can carry it with God throughout your life. And I love that language because it communicated if this goes on and anxiety is not something that just magically goes away at your 18th or your 21st birthday. If you struggle with this in different seasons ongoing, there's good skills and strategies that we know that you can implement in the day to day and you will always be able to carry this with God.

You're not alone. You need God every day, all day, and we need community. Some of the healthiest parents I have worked with in my 25 years of doing this work are parents in recovery. And I think they're some of the healthiest because they live under the principles of the 12 steps, which means I start every day by acknowledging I struggle and I need God and I need community. And wouldn't we all be better if we live from that starting point every day? Those things are true for every one of us, whether addiction is part of our story or not.

We all need God, we all need community, we all need to wake up and start from a place of acknowledging I have a need. Dave, you talking about how you feel like you weren't very good at this, but as a mom, I've realized I parented often in fear. I called one of our sons who was away at school and I had asked him an opinion on something and he said, Mom, I'm processing some stuff and I just can't talk right now. You know, and as a mom, I'm like, what do you mean you're processing stuff?

What kind of things are you processing? And he said, it just feels like you were always trying to fix me. You were always afraid that I was going to fail or do something, not fail because he's very driven, but fail in terms morally or drinking or partying. And he said, I just need to process some of the pain that I went through growing up of trying to be perfect for you. I started crying because I realized even that moment I started defending myself.

Well, hon, it's because I love you so much, it's because I see how amazing you are, blah, blah, blah. He said, but mom, sometimes I just need to tell you that I'm struggling and you don't have to fix it. You don't have to fix me, mom. And as a mom, we love our kids so much and dads do too. We hate for them to be in pain. And so instead of letting him being his pain, I'm trying to throw the life jacket on him and say, you're fine for my own sake. And I wish that I would allowed him to be in his pain to admit and talk about my own pain and then not have to fix him. Is that normal for us to hate our kids to be in that pain? Absolutely it is.

I want to first say to you, what a gift that you could come to him and that kind of humility and listen and let him say all of what he needed to say. Well, I wasn't very nice at first. Of course. And it does bring about that instinct of I want you to know what all was going on behind the scenes. And what was primarily going on is exactly what you're asking is that there's not a parent alive who enjoys seeing their kids struggle in any way.

Like it pulls on the deepest parts of who we are and we want to take away the pain. And so I think everything about that makes sense to me. And I think even back to that story of that wise mom, like watching my kids in their own different ways learn to carry struggle with God is been one of the greatest challenges of my parenting, to step back and allow some of that to happen, to know that it is preparing them for their adult lives, to walk with God, to need God. You all, when we had lunch today, share this beautiful story with me about one of your sons and the way you allowed something to happen in his life that you now can see the fruit of how it deepened his faith and how it connected some dots for him. And I think for any parent listening, I would want to remind you of that as I'm reminding myself of that right now, that everything in me wants to fix and do and change and renovate and to put a whole list of words to that. And the ultimate goal is that I would equip my kids so that they can walk with God and carry their struggle and their children's struggle and their children, their grandchildren's struggle with God when I'm no longer here at some point, that it is all about the equipping. Our friend Dan Allender talks about this relationship being transformative. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and the best thing I have ever done too. Yeah, yeah. We sort of thought, I think a lot of us parents think when they are raised and we send them off, we're done.

And we're not. It's a different phase of parenting. We wrote in a parenting book the final, we talked about four seasons, and the last season is this adult to adult. And one of the things that I found fascinating about this season, which is also very hard, is they come to you now as adult men or adult women, if you had daughters, and they speak out things that you did that hurt them or let them down or failed them. And that's hard to hear, but it's necessary for them to do that.

I did the same with my parents. Now they're doing it with us, and we can do what Ann was saying and go, yeah, but I, instead we should just listen and realize in your words, David, what's happening is they're naming and navigating as an adult man or woman now. And that's exactly what our job is as parents is to equip them in such a way that they can do that rather than cut them off because we're trying to save our self-esteem and say we did a good job rather than going, yep, I'm sorry for that. And in some ways I'm watching you mature because of that.

Is that true? Absolutely. And I think it's even part of that desire that I think exists for every one of us as parents that our kids would outperform us. Not just vocationally, you know, but I want my kids to do a better job of parenting than I did. I want them to live out so many different parts of their lives differently that if we're really doing our job, that's always the great hope that we would get to see some evidence and fruit of that. And I, you know, have already seen some evidence of that.

I mean, my sons outperform me at 20 in some places. It's mind blowing to me, and it excites me. It excites me to think they're figuring some things out earlier than I did, and I'm grateful for that.

I want that. Yeah, we got on the plane flying back from spending a weekend with one of our sons and their kids, and Ann said to me, he is such a good husband and dad. And I know what she was really saying. He is a better man at that age than you were. No, I'm not saying- No, it wasn't a cut down at all, but that's what I saw. It's like he is better.

I mean, like times a hundred than I was at the same age, and that is not like I'm jealous. It's like, thank you, Jesus. That's what we're called to do. That is a beautiful thing to see. I remember as he dropped us off at the airport, we both laid our hands on him and prayed for him, and just thank God for the things that we have seen in him. And it hasn't been easy, and he struggled, but to see him surrendering his life and his family to Jesus, that's what we all long for as parents.

And you're right, Dave. I don't think it's ever too late to apologize to even, I remember saying to another son this past week, like, I'm really sorry that you were feeling so lonely in high school. That must've been really hard for you. And I said, like, I don't know what I would have done, but I wish I would have done a better job at that. And that must've felt so lonely. And for him just to say it was, it was really hard.

And for me just to let it sit there. Yes. It's so hard, isn't it?

Yes. But I think what's happening in those moments, which is even in keeping with the conversation we're sharing about our kids doing better than we did, is, you know, I think about those wise words of whatever we don't transform, we will inevitably transmit. And I think there is incredible truth to that. And so it's like, if I'm working to transform some things, if I'm working to try and do better than my grandfather could do, because I have more to work with. We know more at this point along the way. And then my hope is my boys can do better than I can too.

Then I'm not just transmitting things. You know, I'm working to try to name and navigate things differently than my grandfather knew to do. And my father was able to do better than him. And I hopefully have raised sons who'll know how to do it even better than I could. And so I love the legacy of that, even as you're talking. And it does take a lot of, I think, to your great story, sitting and listening and figuring out how not to speak at times. I'm so bad at that.

I know. Aren't we all? I think we are being trained against that in this world more than ever. I think it's one of the worst parts of technology and social media in particular is that we're just invited to comment in real time all the time. Like everything somehow needs my opinion or my input in some way.

And so I talk about how we're being trained against regulation. And I worry about that for kids of this generation who are growing up with that, believing that I somehow need to give input to that at all times. When the reality all of us know wisdom means sometimes I don't need to say a word.

I just need to sit in that and listen. And there's nothing needed to contribute to it except silence and humility. Dave Wilson is going to give a word of encouragement for parents here in just a second, so stick around for that. But first, I was just thinking as I was listening to this that Proverbs 18, 13 says, If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. And one translation of this that I heard recently was if one answers before he listens, he is both stupid and rude.

I love it when the Bible gets up in your face about that. You know, maybe we all need to be a little bit more quiet and not comment on every single thing that we see or hear with others, especially those who might be closest to us. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with David Thomas on Family Life Today. David Thomas has written a book called Raising Emotionally Strong Boys. It's an important book that talks about shedding light on common emotional struggles, including anger, anxiety and depression in boys.

You can pick up a copy at or you could give us a call at 800-358-6329. You know, one of my favorite things that I do with my family is family game night. We either bust out a deck of cards or we grab a board game and we play. Our family sits around the kitchen table and we laugh and we eat snacks and it's just tons of fun. But what would make that even better is if we were able to have fun and maybe learn a couple of things at the same time, develop one another.

Well, that's what the game Ferret Flush does. We want to send you a copy of that game along with Family Life's Art of Parenting course. This is a video based series for any parent who wants to help develop character, discipline and healthy identity in your kids. Both the Ferret Flush game and the Art of Parenting video course are going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You can go online to to make your donation or you can give us a call at 800-F as in family, L as in life and then the word today. Or you can feel free to drop your donation in the mail.

Our address is Family Life, 100 Lakehart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. All right. Here's Dave Wilson with a word of encouragement for parents. David, when you just said what isn't transformed is transmitted, I just want to say to the dad. And Anne can speak to the mom if you want.

Yeah, I was going to say Anne to the mom. It's either one. If you're walking in some struggle, and we all are, I often thought I got to get a grip on this for me. I never thought I got to win this battle for my legacy.

Here's what I know now. This isn't just about you. If you don't let God transform your pain or your struggle, it will be passed on. It's Exodus 20. The sins of the father will visit the third and fourth generation.

At the same time, the righteous man will see his legacy blessed for a thousand generations. So I just want to remind you, man, if you're listening, you're like, I'm going to deal with that tomorrow. Don't wait. You've got to get help. You've got to tell somebody. Get a counselor. Get a buddy. Get another woman. Get it out of the dark into the light. Get God working in this area, because this isn't just about you. This is about your son going to deal with the same thing or your daughter. I just want to encourage you as one man who's been there and still walking that road. Don't wait.

Start the healthy healing process right now. Now tomorrow, David and Wilson are going to be joined in the studio by me. Yeah, that's me, Shelby Abbott. I had a chance to interview a woman named Dani Trewick. She's talking about the oh-so-sensitive subject of singleness. I'll be unpacking my conversation with her as she talks about shifting the focus in singleness to Jesus, finding meaning amid cultural pressures, and embracing singleness for God's glory. It's a fantastic conversation that you won't want to miss. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-08 07:29:17 / 2023-08-08 07:41:58 / 13

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