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Sharing Your Past with Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

When they’re little, most kids have a tendency to think that the world and all that’s in it … is perfect—including their parents.  They look up to us for guidance and direction, believing that we the answers to all that ails them.  But as they mature and grow, the cracks in the façade begin to show, and our first instinct sometimes is to act like we have it all together.  But that’s the wrong approach, because the honest truth is this—kids don’t need perfect parents, they need authentic and genuine ones. 

Authenticity is something we don’t see much of in today’s appearance and performance-driven culture, but it’s something that our kids desperately desire, and something that they drastically need.  They also need to know that nobody’s perfect—including you.  But most importantly, they need to know that they aren’t alone.  That whatever it is they are going through isn’t exclusive to them.  So, how do we talk to our teens and share our past experiences in a way that helps them understand we’re trying to guide them into maturity?  Well, we need to create the right atmosphere for having open discussions, and then we need to get to work doing the difficult things—being vulnerable, genuine, and authentic.  And if you’re wondering how that’s supposed to look, keep reading. 

#1 Creating an Atmosphere of Talking Freely 

During the transition from childhood to adolescence, innocence begins to slip away, and it’s important to understand what’s going on in your child’s life.  Beginning in about middle school, physical, social, education, emotional, and experiential changes start to take place, and sometimes all those “messy” changes can overwhelm the system.  So, first off, remind your teen that it’s okay to struggle while you encourage them to get to the next place. 

Getting them to the next place means they need to be able to speak free.  And so, we need to create that atmosphere while saying the hard things that need to be said—even if the timing isn’t the best.  We can’t hide anything because they’ll pick up on it.  So, we should just address the elephant in the room, giving our kids guidance and direction.  And talk to them about your own “messy elephants,” because when you do, it invites them to open up and share their problems with you. 

Genuine communication should be the goal of every parent because with the rise of social media, it’s difficult for kids to see the complex, and sometimes unpleasant parts that make up life.  Everything online is so polish and perfected before it’s uploaded, and so kids are scrambling to fit in.  As Johnny, a Heartlight resident recently told me, “I got into trouble mostly because I just wanted to fit in—and feel like I belonged—to anything.” 

So, when you cultivate a deep relationship with your teen and encourage them to cultivate these types of relationships with others, you’re showing them that imperfection is okay.  And you’re showing them what true love looks like—through the good, the bad, and even the ugly! 

#2 Being Vulnerable, Genuine, and Authentic 

Do you remember the last time you were around someone who seemed perfect?  If I were a betting man, I would say that the experience was probably pretty unbearable.  Nobody enjoys being around people who seemingly have no problems.  So, in order to connect with your teen, you’re going to have to expose some of the chinks in your armor, because that’s what being vulnerable, genuine, and authentic is.  Think about it … who are the people you connect with?  Statistically, people connect with those around them who can understand where they are and where they’ve been, not those who have it all dialed in. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that we give our teens license or permission to use our stories against us, but authenticity allows your teen to feel comfortable in their own skin, and it also helps explain to them why we say and do the things we do as we parent. 

#3 Something to Consider 

You don’t have to share all the details of your situation, and make sure what you do share is age appropriate.  Remember, what you communicate to your twelve-year-old should be wildly different from what you share with your high school grad. 

And also remember that when you do decide to sit down and talk to your son or daughter about your past, don’t make this the time to lecture them, shame them, or brag.  The point of sharing your past, is not to try to impress them or criticize them, it’s about connecting with them.  In doing so, you’re sharing your experience so that they can learn something from your missteps without having to experience the heartache for themselves. 


Mom, Dad … and all you grandparents, too!  When you die and are gone, I hope that no one has the opportunity to share the untold secrets and hidden parts of your life that will only taint your legacy and the image that your teens have of you after you are gone.  When you admit your mistakes, your faults, and your blunders, not only are you showing those around you that you’re human, but you’re giving them a chance to admit their wrongdoings and mistakes without shame.  Hey!  No one is perfect!  And when you create an atmosphere that allows for imperfection, you are giving permission to your teen to talk about the reality of life and you usher in genuineness and authenticity—two things that your teen is desperately searching for! 

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.