There was a young man staying at the Heartlight campus a few years back. He was generally a sweet kid—funny, well spoken and kind. But he didn’t deal with emotions well at all, especially anger. One day after coming back from school, he got so mad that he took a baseball bat and started beating on my truck! Then, when one of my dogs, Copper, came out to see what all the commotion was about, this teenager turned around and kicked my dog. I was furious. But I took some time to calm down before I spoke or dealt with the situation. I realized what this young man needed wasn’t a heavy hand, but a generous dose of grace.
Of course, he had to pay for the repairs to my truck and the vet bills for my dog. Or so I told him at the time… but gave in later. I let him know that I forgave him. I made a conscious effort to move towards this angry, young man, not away from him. It was not easy. Matter of fact, when I think about it I still get a little perturbed. And everything in me, in all honesty wanted to place my boot where he wouldn’t want it, and make him pay for every bit of damage to my truck. But grace made all the difference in his life that day. And it made a difference in mine that day as well. What fueled his outburst was that he had just learned that a sign was put in the front yard at his home stating “A Sexual Perpetrator Lives Here” because of his dad’s stupid and foolish behavior. You know, that would have made me want to beat something and kick something. My truck and dog just happened to be the target of his frustration. I understood.
Grace has the power to change the direction of any teen who is struggling. Grace can bring healing and restoration to a home and redirect your teen’s path. A good definition of grace is undeserved, unmerited and unearned favor. In other words, grace is an act of kindness, love, and forgiveness in the face of bad behavior or poor choices. It’s not, “If you do this or that, then I will love you.” Grace is “I will love you, regardless of whatever you do.”
But showing grace can be one of the toughest assignments for parents as it was for me that day, especially as kids reach the teenager years. How can a mom or dad discipline and enforce the rules of the home, while at the same time doling out hearty portions of grace? Let me give you some helpful tips.
Ditch Legalistic Behaviors
If you have ever said anything like:
- “It’s my way or the highway!”
- “You’ll do it because I said so!”
- “As long as you live in this house, it will be done this way!”
- “You will respect me; I’m your father!”
You may be a “rule-enforcer” rather than a “grace-giver.” If these phrases sound familiar, then it’s time to re-evaluate your speech and actions to incorporate more grace into your home. Ditch the legalistic jargon that frustrates rather than trains or guides your children. To give grace means communicating with teens why a rule is in place, what the consequence of breaking that rule is beforehand, and then allowing freedom in the areas that aren’t worth the battle.
Here’s a good example: When your teen received the golden ticket that is a driver’s license, you probably enacted a few rules regarding curfews, who can ride with them, and who is responsible for gas and insurance. But did you take the time to explain why the 11:00 p.m. curfew is in place, or why everyone in the car has to wear seatbelts? Just saying, “Do it, because I said so!” only tells your teenager that it’s the rules you’re concerned with, not their health or well-being. Rigid adherence to authority doesn’t teach or change kids. Grace does. Grace demonstrates you care more about them than you do about the letter of the law. Grace speaks volumes to the heart of a struggling child.
Stick to the Consequences
If there is one guarantee in all of parenting it’s this — teenagers will break the rules during their adolescence. In fact, if your child hasn’t broken a rule yet, check their pulse! When lines have been crossed, teenagers need discipline. Giving grace in parenting doesn’t mean we allow bad behavior to continue unchecked. That’s not grace. That’s enabling or emboldening our children to keep up their bad behavior without fear of consequences. If we look at the example of Jesus, His offer of grace didn’t negate the law or the penalties of sin. Parental grace works the same way. Discipline and rules apply, but we don’t move away from our kids during that time. We must move closer to them.
Let’s say your teen does break one of the car rules you have put into place. They roll into the driveway around midnight and try to sneak in, only to get busted by a creaky door or a barking dog. So you take away the license for a week (or a similar consequence). Now, showing grace towards your child doesn’t mean giving back the car privileges after a couple of days. But it does mean you go to them during their time of restriction and say, “Let’s go grab some coffee. I’ll drive!” or, “Want to go watch a movie, just the two of us?” It’s an intentional and consistent move toward the relationship, while upholding the penalties for breaking the rules. One of my favorite authors, Josh McDowell, once wrote, “Rules without relationships leads to rebellion.” If I was to tweak this, I would say, “Rules without grace leads to frustration!”
Give Grace, Even When It Hurts
I know that for some parents with struggling kids, showing grace is a monumental task. You’ve been hurt and wounded by your child, and though you still love them, you have a difficult time showing them grace. I understand. Grace isn’t easy. It’s extremely tough to give certain people something they don’t deserve. It took a lot of willpower to extend grace about my smashed-in truck. But let’s face it — none of us deserve grace. If kindness was handed out on the basis of merit we’d all be in a heap of trouble! But Colossians 3:13 tells us to “be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.”
I know that grace is tough. But think back on all the grace you have received in your life, and pour that back into your child. In the midst of disappointment or even anger, let them know that your relationship is still important, and there’s nothing they could do that would you push you away from them. We are never more like Christ than when we give our teen grace in the face of a struggle. Yes, grace hurts to give sometimes. Yes, grace is costly. But in the end, it’s always worth it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.org. You 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 ParentingTodaysTeens.org 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. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.