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The Contrary Culture

by Mark Gregston

Do you know any parent that was excited to find that the relationship with their teen was becoming conflictive, contradictory, oppositional, or irreconcilable? Nope. No parent that I’ve ever met, but it happens all the time. Many parents who want a great connection with their child find that their relationship is becomes strained during the teen years. They begin to wonder what happened to the dreams and hopes and longings for the good things desired for their young daughter or son. As they handed coffee mugs and t-shirts that scream world’s greatest dad and world’s greatest mom who would have ever believed something that has been so good for so long could become so distant and detached. Especially after all those years of coaching soccer and baseball and ice hockey. 

After years of pouring your life into your child as a mom or dad, it’s hard to believe and it’s even harder to imagine how something that was once so good could have the possibility of going so bad… but it can. If you find yourself in that situation, chances are that the feelings of hope and connection with your teen left your expectations a long time. 

What parent would have ever thought this to be possible? I believe many parents overestimate the effectiveness of their parenting skills and grossly underestimate how the effect of today’s culture is changing the nature of their relationship with their adolescent children. They wonder how something that had been going so well, turned so bad so quickly.  

The answer is easy. It’s caused by the contrary culture that our teens are living in. Romans 16:17 says this, “I urge you brothers and sisters to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching that you have learned.” What happens is children hit middle school years and the slow, but ever moving wave of change begins to come ashore in the lives of families. It’s the beginnings of adolescents that thrust your innocent preteen into a world of exposure. New communication, social upheaval, negative influence, and the false immaturity that convinces teens that they can handle much more than they are capable. 

Parents begin to ask questions they’ve never asked before struggling to find answers, to counter the effects of a contrary culture. A world of opposing viewpoints and opinions that are completely on the other side of how they’ve been raised tend to gently suede young teens. They find themselves asking, what are we supposed to do? How do I counter the effects in the presence of this culture on my teen? How do we recognize potential problems? Why does my child do what he or she does? How can my child violate all that? Why do I feel like my parenting skills are no longer effective? All I try to do is connect with my teen, but nothing’s working.  

If these questions ever bounced around in your head, as you’ve watched your sweet little girl mature into a young lady or your little boy transform into a questioning smart aleck who challenges everything all the time. Then here’s some things that you got to understand… the culture has changed. This is just the tip, the iceberg. Marijuana is legalized in States, gender issues dominate the media, teens communicate more with their fingers than they do with their voices, 4.3 million porn sites demand supervision on the internet. More pictures are taken every two seconds than there were taken in all of the eighteen hundreds. Teens spend an average amount of 10 hours a day, looking at some type of screen. Entitlement prevails. There’s little respect for authority. Adolescents spend most of their time in the shallow end of the relationship pool. Masses of kids are leaving the church upon graduation from high school. Everyone’s encouraged to speak his or her thoughts with platforms to do so. And the American Medical Association has increased the age of adolescence to 27. 

Our teens live in a performance and appearance world. Bullying dominates the news and teens spend more time recording conflicts rather than engaging in resolution. It’s amazing. Isn’t it? It’s a little different than what you and I grew up in, and parents are frustrated that the parenting tools they’ve used so effectively in their child’s earlier years are no longer working with the same results. Our teens live in a world of high anxiety and deep frustration with hints of anger and depression. It’s a world that you and I have said that we’re glad that we don’t have to grow up in. It’s a contrary culture, not always working with us, but seemingly operating against us most of the time now. I’m not one of those guys who hates the world, but I sure understand the influence and the impact this culture is having on parents who desire to raise a godly family. I would tell you not to give up, hope is not lost.  

The role parents and grandparents play are big roles in today’s culture. The task of maintaining a household of love, preserving the rules and boundaries that help keep a child on the right path, while encouraging independence and responsibility. This is when you feel the pinch of your values being challenged in a permissive culture. I can guarantee you that your child feels the same if not worse. Since they are the ones that have to live in it, the responsibility lies on you, the parent to provide a haven of rest. A place of respite from a culture that is attacking the heart of your teen. 

When Jesus says, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. He’s giving an example of one who can keep their cool while challenged the world of influence. Many times, we just get too busy, and we forget that their world is more confusing and conflicting to them than it is to any parent. I find that many times in my busy-ness, I forget what is most valuable in my pursuit of what I think is important. Here’s an example: 

Jan and I go to Cabo San Lucas to take a break from things and have done so for 25 years. It’s our place of rest. We were headed out to the airport here in Longview, Texas, which is a small one gate airport. We were able to pull up to the front of the airport and unload all of the baggage and luggage that we were going to take with us. I pulled my truck up, Jan and I got out. We take all the luggage and baggage in to check it in. We have a conversation with all the people that are ticketing us about the amount of luggage that Jan has. We joke about it a little bit and play around, but we’re just sitting there talking and not thinking of it. We go through security, we’re sitting down, we get on the airplane. We fly from Longview to Dallas. We get to Dallas at five o’clock in the afternoon. And I find out that our flight to Cabo San Lucas isn’t going to leave until midnight. So we eat dinner, make some phone calls, watch some TV, just kind of relax a little bit. Then we go to leave and right when I stepped onto the plane, seven hours after I got to the airport in Longview, Texas, I realized something. I left my truck running in front of the airport in pursuit of something that I thought was important. I forgot what just might be more valuable.  

You ever feel that way when your teen is struggling a little bit? Like maybe you forget to pay attention to the child who desperately needs you while you’re pursuing what you think is important. It’s easy to do. I do it all the time. It’s when we see our kids stumble that we look at our priorities, but I can tell you this, they need you now. Don’t pursue the seemingly important and neglect the valuable.  

Here’s are a couple of things that I would say to every parent

First, if you have preteens get prepared for the upcoming adolescent years, don’t lean on your own understanding, believing that what you’ve done in the past that worked when they were preteens will continue to work in the future. What I mean is that the parenting skills that were rewarded with special coffee mugs and t-shirts won’t work during the teen years, don’t fool yourself because you can’t fool your child. If you rely on what worked in the past, you won’t enjoy the days ahead in the future.  

The second thing I would tell you is this… If you’re going through a struggle with your teen, look at it as a way to lighten up a bit and learn to do some things differently. Simply put, what was once effective won’t be soon. And what worked in the past won’t work in the future, but you might just need to add some more tools to your parenting toolbox to have the right ones for your teen years. I typically do not read many other people’s books, but I got this book in the mail the other day. It’s by a guy named David Eaton and Jeremiah Callahan. These guys are with a group called Axis. I know nothing about this group. I have no idea who these people are, but I can’t wait to meet them. They wrote a book called Engaging your Teens World: Understanding what today’s youth are thinking, doing, and watching by David Eaton and Jeremiah Callahan. 

On the back of the book, it says rise above your fear to create true connection. I picked it up and just opened it. The title of chapter three was “Your Wisdom, Their wonder”, which I think is kind of cool. They went on to say: Sometimes as adults, we need to be shaken from our slumber and revived from our skepticism by the dreams of the young. Wisdom can make us play it safe, stop dreaming, and look past the sparks of new things God is doing. The wonder of teens can shape us and reawaken us to possibilities. Pulling our feet off the ground when our souls are stuck in the mud. We need their wonder, and they need our wisdom. Their naivety allows a misplaced passion to bleed into short-sighted decisions. We can help them zoom out, prepare for the long haul and make better decisions in light of the future. 

We can help them learn to live wisely. We believe God fashioned the wonder of teens to compliment the wisdom of adults. This was His design. There’s a gap. Sometimes a chasm between the generations. These lines have been broken in most families and wisdom and wonder are two islands with no life rafts between them. Parents and caring adults can bridge the gap when the awkward and natural barriers of puberty and adolescence begin creating this chasm. Parents can connect with the heart of their child. The chasm only gets bigger if not connected early in the teen years. Now is the time your teen needs your wisdom, but they won’t receive it if they don’t trust you. You must connect with their heart. They must believe that you are interested in their wonder too. Not simply making a deposit of wisdom that fixes them. You desperately need doses of their wonder too.  

Your teens need you now more than ever.  You are God’s answer to this crazy culture, which isn’t helping the parenting process very much. I’m convinced that the way you handle your kids during the teen years, regardless of how things went during their younger years, will determine the type of relationship that you’ll have with your child in the coming decades. Make the connection, even though that culture is sometimes fearful. Remember Romans 16:17, “I urge you brothers and sisters to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching that you have learned.” 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.