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Waiting for Your Teen to Change

Most parents have a long list of changes they’d like to see implemented in their home and in their teen’s behavior. But few moms and dads know how to turn those dreams into reality. In this article, I’ll identify four questions parents need to answer in order to start making changes at home.


Clarity: What Do You Want Changed?
When something’s not working well, it can feel like everything’s gone haywire. But often what’s really needed is just a little change. If your teen is struggling, the first step is to identify the “real” issue. Some examples of areas of change are: respect, obedience, dishonesty, addictive behaviors, too many video games, too much phone time, academics, and lack of participation with the family. If you’re unsure what’s needed, pray and ask God to show you what needs to be adjusted. Then look down the road at what will happen to your teen and to your family if certain things don’t change. As you get clarity about what you want, be specific and be careful not to make your list long. You can easily overwhelm your teen with too many demands. Just focus on a handful of changes that will make a big difference.


Humility: Is There Something That Needs to Change in You, Too?
How do you react when your teen behaves badly? Does your reaction cause your teen to push away from you, act out in hurtful ways, or shut down? If you’re not sure whether or not you’re contributing to the problems at home, just ask your teen to tell you what he wants to change! The bottom line is: kids don’t struggle in a vacuum. Parents struggle too. Sometimes Mom and Dad contribute to their teen’s negative behavior and quite often they don’t know how to respond.

Don’t be too quick to blame all the problems in the family on your teen. Take time to think about your own actions. Admitting you have failed is hard, but it’s an important step towards helping your family make changes and draw closer. Plus, your honesty and willingness to try something new allows your teen to see that positive change really is possible.


Taking Action: What Are the Steps to Getting Real Change at Home?
Now that you have identified the specific things you want changed in yourself and in your teen, you can identify how things need to change. But before you lay down the law, take time to talk to your teen. Be up front about what needs to change and ask for your teen’s input. Listen to your teen and implement the change, when appropriate.
Creating a plan means establishing clear boundaries for you and your teen––such as screen time limits, guidelines for respectful behavior, and family time. These boundaries should not be crossed and the consequences for violating these boundaries should be clearly outlined and enforced. If you are the one who breaks the boundaries, be quick to ask your teen for forgiveness. And if your teen falls back into his old habits, simply start again. Be prepared to give grace when you or your teen messes up. And when you see positive changes, even small ones, be sure to encourage your teen.

The tendency most people have is to think that rules and boundaries will solve everything. While they are important, your relationship with your teen is key. As you implement changes at home, set aside time to talk to your teen. Let your teen know that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and nothing he can do to make you love him less.


For the Long Haul: How Can We Make the Changes Stick?
If you focus just on changing behaviors but don’t address what’s motivating those behaviors, your changes won’t last. So ask yourself and your teen why these inappropriate behaviors are happening and work to fix the underlying issues, or else the problems will keep happening. This is where your relationship with your teen becomes critical to finding out what’s going on in his heart. As you make changes and draw closer in relationship, try spending some time with your teen doing what he likes to do and make time to laugh together. Taking time to relax together as a family, and not taking everything so seriously, will help smooth over the pathway to positive change.


Hey moms and dads … do you get frustrated when you don’t see things changing within your family? Are you waiting for your teen to make a move? Or are you trying to figure out what you might have to accomplish so that the atmosphere of your home allows for change to happen? Your teen wants change––very few are comfortable doing the same things over and over, like Groundhog Day. They want change. They just don’t know how to get there. It’s your role as a parent to develop the environment that welcomes change, and to change along with them to meet their new needs. Consider how hard it is for you to change and you’ll understand what little chance you have trying to change someone else. Positive change begins in an atmosphere that welcomes transformation.

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.