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The Teen Spin Cycle

There is nothing worse than living with a teen spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Your teen is caught in what I call, “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene. The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end. When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, even if they do everything they can to keep you out of it. In fact, you must! You cannot ignore or overlook inappropriate behavior, or simply do nothing.

If you’re caught in that cycle with your teen, then my advice is to act now.  Don’t wait and don’t ignore the evidence that your teen is spinning out of control.  Act today based on what you know is true – your faith, your own beliefs, and what you know is best for your child. And, by the way, I’d like to help you as well!

So, Where Do You Begin?

You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” Or, ” I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself, we’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.” Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home, and if it doesn’t stop, you will not be able to live here.”

The point is not to kick them out so you don’t have to worry about them anymore (neither can you if they are underage), but you can use the threat of losing the comfort of your home as a tool to get them thinking about the consequences of continued inappropriate behavior.  There are many programs and schools designed to deal with struggling teens and keep them safe, like our Heartlight residential program in Texas. If you need help with finding such a program, simply give me a call and I’ll help you find the right program. Fact is, just having a boarding school, boot camp, military school or wilderness therapy program materials on the counter for your teen to see may be enough to get them to sit up and take notice that you are serious about making a change.

Don’t expect your teen to like the fact that you are calling a halt to their inappropriate behavior. They probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior. Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment. But the time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar. Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.

Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can stay at home and work things out with their parents, but not always and not always right away.

Then What?

Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting. Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue. Give them permission to struggle with things knowing that your love for them will never change. But set the limits and boundaries you know he or she needs, and above all be firm.


Don’t – Act out of anger – remember Ephesians 4:26 – “be angry, but do not sin.”

Don’t – Get physical – if tempers flare and voices are raised, take a break, keep it cool.

Don’t – Ignore what is happening in hopes it will just go away, it won’t.

Don’t – Build monuments to your grief, or park yourself in the valley.

Don’t – Give in when you know you should stand your ground.


Do – Put your hope in your faith and act on the truth.

Do – Understand that God is teaching both you and your teen during this time.

Do – Seek help from qualified professionals and connect with support outside your family.

Do – Handle yourself in a manner that keeps your relationship with your teen alive, as it may determine the kind of relationship you’ll have 10 years from now.

Do – Change your own bad habits when it’s obviously your fault.

There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle. It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager.  Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.  The struggle may seem endless, and you may feel hopeless at times, but the time to act is now, and it may very well save your teen’s life.  Doing nothing is not an option for a caring parent.




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. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s 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.