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What Your Teen Wants From You

Years ago, I listened to a man on the radio that I’ve been a fan of all my life, Chuck Swindoll.  He stated in so many words, “What I want written on my epitaph is that ‘Dad was fun!'”  Does that surprise you?  It did me.  I thought what every good Christian parent was supposed to want written on their epitaph was something to the affect of how godly or spiritual a person they were, or some thought about how they provided for the family.  And here was one of the most godly men that I ever listened to sharing about how he wanted to be known forever as a “Dad of fun.”

So, what kind of parent do you want to be?  Here are some good suggestions…

 An Imperfect Parent and an Imperfect Person 

When a parent admits their imperfection, it makes a teen feel a little more human, and not so messed up. There are times when parents share their imperfections a couple of things happen. First, teens are glad that you finally admit where you fall short, because they’ve seen it, and are just waiting for it to be acknowledged. Secondly, your admission gives them permission to not always have it together.

A young lady once told me that she sinfully felt pretty good when she heard of the divorce of two parents that we knew. Everyone thought this was a perfect family, with perfect kids, in a perfect home. She told me that when she heard that this particular mom and dad had gotten a divorce, that she felt a little better about her parent’s divorce, and didn’t feel as much as an outcast. I believe it is a message that scripture has been telling us for quite some time. “For all have sinned and fallen short…” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

As your child nears their teen years, begin to share with them some of your downfalls, hurts, losses, and mistakes. When they do the same, they will feel a sense that it is normal and they’re not weird, more sinful than others, or more of a mess than other people say they are.

A Loving Parent Who Doesn’t Have to Be Liked 

Parenting adolescents is tough. It’s a time when you are challenged, confronted with your own inadequacies, and get worn out defending what and why you desire good things for your teens. And part of the toughness of parenting is knowing that some things you say, some opinions you share, rules you enforce, and consequences you enact, won’t be taken by your teen with a smile on their face and a warm “thank you”. But your teen, whether they admit it or not, like the fact that you’re thinking of their best interest when they would just as soon wish you wouldn’t.

Drill sergeants aren’t the most loved people in the world, but they’re the people you want next to you when your life is on the line. A coach is not always a friendly person, but teens are sure appreciative when they help capture a win. A counselor who shares some hard things with your teen isn’t very appreciated, until the teen realizes down the road that there was some wisdom in what that idiot said. A judge isn’t very appreciated until the “judged” gets on the other side of their sentence. A true friend goes through much hurt when they have to say some pretty truthful things to your teen, but faithful are those wounds. If you mix all these people together, you’ll get a parent of an adolescent who has pushed, pulled, counseled, administered justice, and told the truth. And chances are, they aren’t too liked during this time. But when teens realize the bigger picture, they’ll appreciate the role that these parents have played.

A Parent Who is Willing to Say “No” 

Our generation of parents want so hard to say yes to everything a teen requests, that the foolishness of teens is determining the roles of mom and dad. On the heals of not having to be liked, I would tell you that it’s okay to say “No” a little more often than you do. When you say “No,” a teen learns that it’s okay to say the word “No.” They learn that it’s okay to stand up for what they believe. You’ll be thanked numerous times.

A Parent First, Then a Friend 

Be a parent that is willing to exert some authority, and not be afraid to “put your foot down” when needed. Your teen needs a parent. And if you’re not going to be that parent, and just remain a friend, they’ll look for that role model elsewhere. And greater chances are that they’ll outgrow your friendship and move on to other friends. Anybody can have many friends, but everyone can only have one set of parents.

There seems to be a shift by many parents to a parenting style that accommodates a teen’s immaturity, and even enabling its furtherance at times. Many times, parents who are struggling with their teens look for ways to be their teen’s savior, rescuer, or lifeline, that come alongside their teen in hopes of showing them how much they love them, when in reality, it’s not love at all. Love would want the best for the teen, and many parent’s actions are far from the “best.” These parents usually accommodate a teen’s inappropriate behavior and thinking. While they may enjoy a facade of a relationship, most times it is only temporary because teens really want one who will do what’s best, not what just fills the time with accommodating recklessness.

A Parent Who Won’t Bend the Rules of Integrity and Deep in Character

This is the parent that won’t lie, won’t cheat, and will keep his word. It’s called integrity. And it’s this type of parent that most teens will cling to in their time of need. It is a parent of integrity that can be trusted because they have watching your actions and interactions with others.

The honor your teens give you is directly proportional to the integrity that you display in everyday life. This is the type of parent who teens lean on during tough times. And it is this parent that beckons to their children a message of “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and you will not find judgment, condemnation, ridicule, shame; you will find “rest.” Rest because they know that you can be trusted, that you’ll do right, and that you’ll keep your promises.

A Parent Who is Fun 

Oh, and one more thing. Like Chuck Swindoll recommends, have some fun! Loosen up a little. Laugh a little more. Be a little more impetuous and impulsive. Tell a joke. You might just connect with your teen on a deeper level than you would have ever guessed.


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.