Ever catch yourself using the same phrases your parents did? In the heat of the moment, when your son or daughter is giving you fits, you find yourself mimicking the same stuff your parents used with you? It sounds like this …
“It’s my way or the highway!” … or …
“Read my lips! Are you listening to me?” … or …
“As long as you’re livin’ under my roof, you’ll obey my rules!”
Oh, man, you can hardly believe it when these clichés spill out of your mouth!
There’s a reason why these parental edicts have become clichés. Parents have used them for decades. But in today’s culture, forced authority doesn’t get the results we want. When we pull these tricks, our teens sometimes roll their eyes, sigh heavily and shrug us off. Wielding our position of authority rarely impresses this generation.
And what’s true in the home is also true at church. Tragically, statistics reveal that 85% of our kids are leaving church upon graduating high school. They’re not engaging in structured relationships as we once did. Something’s not working. They’re not buying into our ideals and it hurts deeply when our sons and daughters walk away from the things we hold dear.
So, what’s the answer? What are we to do? Well, let me suggest that some of the traditional tools for parenting need to be retired. We need to recalibrate our perspective and engage with our teens in a language, a tone, and a manner they can receive.
Perfection is Impossible
For starters, let’s resign some of our preconceived convictions and consider a new way. For instance, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we employ certain tactics, our kids will emerge as responsible adults. We can’t rely on that notion anymore.
The first thing that needs to be debunked is the fairytale that families can attain perfection. Where did that come from? No family is perfect. So quit trying. It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family. Relax. Deal with failures as opportunities to learn. But don’t freak out every time your teenager makes a mistake.
When we set expectations in our home too high, it’s not long before our children figure out they can’t reach our standard. Our good intentions for sinless perfection will surely backfire. When things get tough or seem outside of their ability to attain, teens will eventually withdraw, rebel, or even run away. They tap out.
Our pristine standards and our spirit of excellence may be genuine, but teens may see these ideals as an impossible goal.
If your child concludes they cannot possibly live up to your expectations, they have the option to turn to you as a resource and a source of relationship, or to turn away from you as a cause of their frustration. This is the proverbial fork in the road. They can turn toward you. Or away from you. The home can be a place of refuge or a place where impossible judgments are held against them. If the latter is the case, they will turn to an arena that is less judgmental. They usually take the road of least resistance. Typically, this arena is the prevailing culture. This could be their sympathetic friends, classmates, or even the input they get from the cynical media. When our teens turn to these communities for relief, we lose the opportunity to speak into their lives.
In children’s early years, we create a perfect world for them. Our kids respond to what we have to say. We insulate them from consequences. This would be okay, but then reality hits in middle school and high school when they realize that the world isn’t perfect. Mom, dad, you won’t always be able to insulate your kids from pain, or even from the natural consequences of their actions. Nor should you. The role of a parent is to help your child grow up. If their world is easy, they won’t need to grow up, and if they are perfect, then they don’t need a Savior.
Ultimately, it’s not what you do as a parent that counts. It’s who you are that will help guide your teen. At this critical juncture in a teen’s life, your relationship will be tested as never before. Maybe you’re right at this crossroad today. You feel like your teen is teetering on the brink of turning away or turning toward you.
Authority Can’t Be Forced
Today our teens have immediate access to information through television, social media sources and the Internet. These avenues have unquestionably tainted their perspective on authority. This is the game-changer in our culture, and parents need to accept the fact that we cannot control the barrage of influence coming from these sources into the hearts and minds of our teens.
Our teens have more information and faster ways of keeping up with what’s going on in the world than ever before, so they feel like there’s less for parents to teach them. Their reality is entirely skewed and they react to this lopsided reality through their relationship with you. Yes, you’re bearing the brunt of information overload from all these sources! As a result, children think less of the authority figures in their lives, because they believe that they know better and that their understanding of the world through the media is truer than what their parent is saying.
Again, this is why it’s imperative to persist on developing an authentic relationship with our teens built on trust. It requires time. Patience. Forbearance.
If you’re looking for creative ways to shift your parenting style toward a more productive outcome, or would just like to learn more about the changing culture and how it affects your teen, be sure to listen to a conversation we had with family coach, Tim Smith. He’s one of our guests on the next edition of Parenting Today’s Teens. The broadcast is a half-hour long, and you can find a station near you or simply download the podcast. You can also find help by getting the Parent Survival Kit from Heartlight. It’s a box that’s filled with time-tested resources for moms and dads, and it’s available at our web site: www.parentingtodaysteens.org.
If you are in the Hershey, Pa come see us at Milton Hershey School. I will be speaking the evening of Feb 16th. The event is free. Go to www.paretningtodaysteens.org for more information or call 1-866-700-3264
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight Ministries, located in Hallsville, Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark at www.markgregston.com.