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When Nothing is Working

What if nothing seems to be working to encourage your teenager to head in a better direction? Perhaps you’ve applied consequences to correct their inappropriate behavior, and have progressively taken away many or all of their privileges, but they still break your rules and they still defy you.

Having a child who is struggling will wear you out.  The parents who drop off their teenagers at our Heartlight residential counseling program are at their wit’s end, tired, and frazzled.  They’ve literally spent every ounce of emotional energy in a struggle that has taken place over many months. It’s not easy for any parent to leave their child in the hands of strangers, but at that point, they are desperate for solutions.

There is never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  Most parents describe the struggle as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg.”  It can either be a time of the whole family banding together, or it can tear them apart.  With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationship strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.  You’ll have those “valley” days.  Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes.

One question I am often asked is, “What if my teen simply won’t talk to me?”  My response is for the parent to look inward in this case to determine if there is anything they are doing to spark this behavior.  Keep in mind that you can only change one person in this world — you.  You cannot force your child to talk. So, ask your spouse or other family members if they see something in the way you are relating to your teen that may be turning them off. Or, maybe you haven’t spent enough time building a relationship, so you really shouldn’t expect your teenager to relate well to you. Remember, in their growing drive for independence, you’ll simply become a babysitter in their eyes if you have no relationship.  You’re the one who keeps them from doing what they want to do, instead of the one who is helping them get to where they want to go in life.

To get teens to open up, I recommend you spend more time with them, as difficult as that can be.  And spend more time asking questions than talking.  In fact, I never share an opinion or my advice with a teenager unless it is asked for.  I find that teens won’t listen to or heed my advice if they don’t ask for it. They may even feel like I am trying to control or put them down when I force my opinion on them.  So, they put up their defenses; like a Texas Armadillo, those defenses can be formidable.  They’ll roll up in a ball and not let anything break through their tough armor.

I also tell parents to pace themselves when things are out of control. Give it a break. Like any other activity, burnout can happen if there aren’t rest periods.  Remember the timeouts you likely gave them when they were little? Well, maybe it is time for you to give yourself some timeouts, away from the stress.  Even a night away can be enough refreshment to break the tension for a week or two. If not, in your fatigue, you will become more emotional, you’ll respond defensively or overreact, and you’ll come across in a worse way than you intended.  You need some periodic rest.

One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt.  It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.  Celebrate the good days.  They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay.  Let them prop you up.  Enjoy each victory.  Laugh with your teen.  Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

Be sure to give the reins to God, and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life.  And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you, and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, as God loves us.

Is having a teen who is spinning out of control a serious threat to them, to your marriage and to your entire family?  You bet.  So approach it with the intensity and wisdom needed to move them to resolution.  Stick to your guns and get help from many sources.  If you simply cannot control your teen and you fear for their safety and their future, you might want to give our Heartlight residential program a call or visit the website at  We’ve had over 25 years success in turning around thousands of teenagers. What you might save in the process is your child’s life and your family’s future.


            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  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 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.   Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, 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.