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Teens Ridin’ the Fences

One of the most unlikely musical hits of 1973 was a song that countered the whole idea of the “hippie” movement which had begun a decade before. Between 1960 and 1970, the hippie counterculture eliminated boundaries and norms and encouraged sexual liberalization.  The song Desperado, written and performed by the Eagles, spoke of a modern day Prodigal who was living that “free” lifestyle, not realizing what sorrow and emptiness lay ahead.

Here’s are some of the lyrics…

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? 

You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now. 

Oh, you’re a hard one. 

I know that you got your reasons. 

These things that are pleasin’ you 

can hurt you somehow. 

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? 

Come down from your fences, open the gate. 

It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you.

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late. 

Sound like your teen?

A new generation of teenage desperados are ridin’ the fences today, but most have learned to make daily forays into both worlds—the world at home and church, and the world at school, work and other places outside the home. It’s not uncommon for them to be very different people depending on which place they are, yet they seem to have developed an ambivalence to the dichotomy between the opposite values of these two worlds.

Ambivalence is defined as an “indecisiveness or uncertainty as to which course to follow.” Parents spend years pouring advice and good patterns for living into their child’s heart and mind. However everyday when their kids walk out the door, they are confronted with a completely opposite value system. The world tells them that those things which you taught your kids to avoid are actually okay, and those things you taught them to participate in are hopelessly old-fashioned and irrelevant. Which course will they follow?

Kids from Christian homes try to have it both ways. They take a little from each side and try to do a balancing act so they can fit in within both worlds. Most of the teens I’ve worked with are not intentionally setting out to be hypocrites—showing one face at home and a very different one to the rest of the world. In fact, more often than not, they point to other hypocrites with disgust.  Instead, their hypocrisy is more a result of a peer-pleasing schizophrenia. But like any other desperado, this double lifestyle exhausts them; so more often than not the appeal of freedom and no rules wins out.

What’s a parent to do to help their teen find some needed freedoms at this time in their life,while maintaining proper boundaries? Let me share with you some practical steps to prevent your child from landing on the wrong side of the fence.

Realize that it can happen to your teen. More than once I’ve heard a parent say, “That’s not going to happen with our child. We’ve done a good job raising them. He’s ready.” Most parents simultaneously overestimate their child’s ability to stand against the wave of influence and underestimate how strong the influence of our culture is. The world system will make every effort to sway your teen and change their behavior to conform to their values, not yours. So, remain engaged during the teen years. Identify signs of ambivalence on their part about which path to follow, and find ways to encourage them to stay on the right course.

Balance it out. Counteract negative peer pressure with good peer pressure. Find good kids who are living a genuine life and match them up with your teen. Find opportunities for your teen to help others and learn good moral values and character at the same time. Bribe them to read biographies of people who battled with the same cultural pull in their own life and came down on the right side.

Relax the boundaries in less critical areas. Of course I’m not talking about allowing your children to do things that are wrong or letting down all your standards. But some well-meaning parents go so far in setting up boundaries and restrictions in an effort to protect their children that they actually encourage a “pendulum effect” where they teens go very far in the other direction as soon as they leave home. As your teens get older, allow them to do more things where they make their decisions. Giving them increasing freedom both prepares them for adulthood and protects them feeling so restricted that they have to break all the rules in order to breathe.

Communicate and demonstrate understanding. If your teen is trapped in a swirling whirlpool of conflicting worldviews, it really isn’t all that helpful to stand in the boat and yell at them about what they can do better. Jump in and talk with them. Don’t push them away, draw them toward you, because it’s pretty easy for a teen to follow the path of least resistance right out the door of your home. They can find acceptance and understanding in the very things you are trying to protect them from, so be sure they receive more than shame and correction from you.

Engage the culture that is engaging them. So many parents are not aware of the influences that their teens are dealing with. Knowing what voices are speaking to them requires a lot of effort. You may not appreciate their favorite music or television shows, but you need to be aware of them. If possible I encourage you to watch and listen to things together and discuss what messages are being conveyed, not in a “preachy” way but in conversation with your teen. Here’s why it matters—I’m glad I was sitting down recently when a friend told me that as of 2011, the leading distributor of pornography is cell phones. I knew it was a growing problem, but I hadn’t realized how bad it had become….every kid seems to have a cell phone today.

While it is tempting to look for a monastery or a deserted island somewhere to raise our kids, we can’t isolate them completely from the influences of the world. That means as parents we need to be working to prepare them for this difficult transition time. More than anything else, your child needs your support as he or she works to take the truths you have taught them and engage those with the world and the teen culture in which they live. It’s not an easy process, but with proper parental involvement, it can be done!

We talked about this issue in depth on our radio program last week entitled, “Ambivalence and Teenagers.” To listen online look for the program dated August 6, 2011 at

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit, or to read other articles by Mark, visit

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.