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Sorry, No Guarantees in Parenting

Thinking that anything a parent can say, do, or offer to their children as they grow up will guarantee a smooth and trouble-free adolescence is just plain wrong. I’ve learned that there are no such guarantees in parenting.

Stuff happens in the teen years that is out of a parent’s control, even if you do everything right. Raising one “angelic” teenager can lead one to think you have found the right formula, right up until you see your next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — a world where God gives each child a free will.

One parent wrote me saying, “We’ve done everything right. We took our son to church, raised him in a Christian home, sent him to a great Christian school, home-schooled for a few years, have taken him on mission trips and poured our life into him. What has gone wrong? How can he reject all that we’ve taught, and all that we’ve been striving for?”

These parents raised their teen in the church and taught him good and strong values. Then one day he decided that those things no longer worked for him, so he started “trying on” other values – values of his peer group. He was not interested in how his behavior made his parents feel. He was “in control.” He acted as he chose to act.  Every trick in their parenting bag failed. Their arsenal was empty. Did they do everything right? Possibly.

Pain and stress comes when a child has chosen poorly and is clearly heading down the wrong path in life. This is not just when their choices are self-destructive — drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, etc. — but also when they abandon their faith or decide after years of hard work, that college no longer matters.

When your teen is struggling to discover his or her identity in a quest to become independent, it can be an extremely frustrating and painful process for all involved. But it helps us better understand how God must feel when He see His children fail.  No parent is perfect, nor is perfection the answer, for even though God is perfect He still had a couple of rebellious kids.

So, it’s not always about the parents, and it’s not always about how a teen is raised. It’s all about your child and his God-given gift of individuality and free will, which will be fully exercised during adolescence.

I’m sure you laid a firm foundation for your teen. You did a great job! You did such a great job that your teen feels capable of creating his own immature views. It may not seem like it now, but that is a very good thing. It’s how a teen matures into a well-grounded adult, who contributes positively to this world. It’s how they stretch their wings and prepare to fly.

Sometimes these “first flights” are hard for parents to experience, especially when they typically involve several failed attempts. The important thing is to be there when your wounded teen wobbles back to the nest; to offer encouragement for a stronger and more skilled flight the next time around.

Being a parent of a teenager can be hard work. There is emotional pain and even feelings of betrayal when your child gets off track in the adolescent years. But I know this — it makes us parents spend a lot more time on our knees! Therefore, the process is worthwhile. For in our journey, no matter how bumpy the turbulence, we may learn what God is trying to teach us as well.

My recommendation for most Christian homes is to loosen your grip, and let go of the rope, just a little. Allow your teen some healthy freedoms, and open the doors of your heart and mind to trusting God a little more, and a self-made, isolated existence a little less. It is tough to trust God this way, and even tougher to watch your teen navigate the rough waters of today’s evils. But by the grace of God and the wisdom of parents willing to take their parenting to a level that is more effective – it can be done.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.


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.