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Parenting Teens in a New Teen Culture

Teen CultureAlbert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.  Ever feel like this is an accurate description of parenting?  With a certain relentless zeal, we try to raise our teens by repeating the same methods we used when they were small.  Perhaps you’re even using the “tried and true” parenting methods that your parents used on you when you were a teenager, but for some reason the results are not the same anymore.  It simply doesn’t work, yet we keep at it!

Instead of adapting our parental styles to match the changing needs of our kids, we try to force them into a mold that no longer fits.  If you fail to adjust your method of parenting to meet the specific needs of this generation’s teens, you’ll spend your child’s teenage years as a hostage negotiator, bargaining back and forth, pushing and pulling, fighting for your own personal sanity, while you try to prevent World War III from exploding in your own home.

Moms and Dads, let’s face facts.  The generation our teens are living in right now is different than the generation we grew up in.  The same parenting styles that might, or might not, have worked with us will not work with our teens.  It’s time to review, revise, and correct some of those ingrained habits, and start addressing our kids in a whole new way.  We cannot change the culture we live in simply by maintaining strict rules that are no longer relevant.  Society will inevitably shift and swing, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

Instead of making arbitrary rules that cause our teens to fight against the stream of culture, let’s focus instead on how we relate to our teens.  The best way to encourage your son or daughter to be a man or woman of God in today’s culture is to build a positive and encouraging relationship with them, where they know they are safe and loved whether they succeed or fail.

Below are three methods of parenting we may have inherited from our parents, that will fall short today:


Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

You’ll do it because I TOLD you to do it!”

“As long as you live in this house, you’ll obey my rules!”

“I’m your father, and you HAVE to respect me!”

“I don’t care if you like this or not.  You’ll do it anyway!”

These were common expressions I heard growing up.  It was drilled into my head that my dad was the ruler of the house.  Though I know he loved us, my dad had the final say on every topic of discussion in the family, and dissenting views were not tolerated.

Now, maybe this type of authoritative parenting style worked for you.  Maybe it didn’t.  But I can tell you one thing; it doesn’t work now.  The blatant and seemingly incessant failings of Presidents, politicians, pastors, coaches, teachers and even parents, has demonstrated to this generation that the more authority a person has, the more opportunities there are to blow it big time.  The news is full of stories about people in leadership positions crashing down from their high pedestals.  In this climate, your son or daughter will not blindly follow those who demand respect.  The more authority you claim as a dad or mom, the more your teens will be hesitant to listen to what you have to say.

In this culture, parents must win the right to be heard and respected.  Now, I’m not saying that you don’t deserve consideration from your kids strictly because you’re their parent.  But don’t rest on that hope alone.  If you want your son to respect you, you must parent in a way that draws respect.  If you want your daughter to honor you, you must live an honorable life.  Of course, we all make mistakes.  But admit those failings to your kids.  It will only make them respect you more.  Stop demanding respect and start looking to earn it.


As parents, we want to protect our kids.  It’s part of the job description.  But our desire to protect can morph into an unconscious habit of control.  Instead of helping our teens recognize their own best interests, we jump in and start running their lives for them.

Do you want to control your son when he’s twenty?  Of course not!  How about eighteen?  Probably less so.  So what about when he’s fifteen?  You can see where I’m going. When do you start to let go of those reins?  If you don’t want to be controlling your children when they’re adults, the teenage years are the best training grounds for slowly and carefully making that hand-off.

When teens feel like mom and dad control all aspects of their life, that’s when they start to act out.  Rebellion is an effort to take back decision-making power, even if the resulting decisions are very poor ones.  There was a sweet girl who was staying with us at our Heartlight campus and she was fond of piercings, but her parents were not.  For this teen, piercing her body was a way to take control back from her parents who (with good intentions) maintained tight regulations over her life.  Once the parent’s started to let their daughter make more decisions on her own, guess what?  Somehow, those piercings started disappearing.

If you’re still trying to raise your teens by controlling their lives, now is the time to make the transition and start adopting a new parenting style.


On one side of the parenting spectrum are the authoritative and controlling styles.  But if we travel to the other end, we’ll find an equally damaging parental habit, and that’s the permissive style.  It’s when mom and dad want to be their child’s friend instead of their parent.

If you’ve read my books, heard me speak, or visited me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say that building a relationship with your teen is the most important thing you can do as a parent.  But please don’t misunderstand me.  Your teen doesn’t need more friends; he needs a mom.  She needs a strong and caring dad.

To counteract a permissive style of parenting, start by setting clear boundaries in your home, with established consequences.  For instance, before the issue even comes up, let your child know that curfew is at 10 o’clock.  If they come in after that time then the consequence is a loss of driving privileges for the week.  And stick to that boundary.

Your teen may kick a bit against some of the rules.  But kids thrive when fair and clear fences are put in their lives.  Teens need to know there are boundaries.  Within those boundaries, there is freedom and a chance to make choices.  Yet, you love them enough to enforce the consequences when they step out of line.

The Loving Solution

Authoritative, controlling, and permissive are just three of the most prevalent parenting styles that simply do not work any longer in our culture.  Perhaps you’ve noticed signs of all three in your own habits.  Or maybe you’ve gained some good tips on avoiding them altogether. Remember that no matter what culture we live in, kids need to be parented with unconditional love.  Your love is not a reward for their good grades, staying out of trouble, helping around the house, or making the all-star team.  With your words and actions, express to your kids that there is nothing they could do to make you love them more, and nothing they could do to make you love them less.  If you parent with liberal amounts of love and grace, you won’t have to worry about this new teen culture turning your kids astray.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

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.