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Which Parent Are You?

We all portray certain images of parenting, many of which usually hinder rather than help our attempt to raise our kids and encourage them to develop Godly character traits in an oftentimes-godless appearing culture. While you may be overflowing with good intentions in your approach, your poorly handled presentation may not be appealing to your teen’s longing for direction and guidance from you. Basically, your “style” may be messing up your message.

I’ve put together a list of some of those parenting styles for you to scroll through and see if you carry some of these well-intended parental approaches that might be backfiring on your goals and objectives. Most of us reflect a combination of these styles. So read through and see if you might just be undermining what you really want for your teen.

And I won’t leave you hanging with the feeling that you’re a lousy parent, but give you some quick thoughts on how to change what your kids see into what you want them to embrace. So put a smile on your face, laugh at yourself a bit, and figure out which of the following “parents” best represents you (not your spouse), and try a new approach to touch your child’s heart. And if you don’t’ know what category you might fall in, ask your kids. It will give you some great discussion around the table tonight. What types of parent styles have you embraced?

Motor Mouth Maria

Oh, you know Maria. She never shuts up. If the average woman will speak 75,000 words in a day, she can double that before lunch. She spends so much time talking that her kid’s chief complaint is that she never listens. Her words might be good “stuff” but she Maria is so intent in communication her message instead of listening to her teen’s heart, that her kids are tuning her out. She’s like “Siri on steroids”, spewing a wealth of information when what others around her really want is a listening ear. Her kids walk away from her and all her wisdom because they need some rest or a break from the constant chatter that clouds compassionate communication. They want more, and really desire to have discussions rather than lecture, listening rather than another opinion, and understanding more than verbal constancy. Maria has never embraced the scripture; “Even a fool appears wise when they keep their mouth shut.”

Maria, here are some directives that might answer the question as to why your kids don’t want to hear your voice.

Ask your kids the question, “Do I talk too much?” and encourage them to be honest; brutally if necessary. Text them right now and ask that question. Sometimes kids will say things in a text that they wouldn’t say face-to-face.

Try this. Try the “24 Hour Shut Up Challenge”. Please don’t take it offensively; it’s meant to drive home a point that kids sometimes get to a point where they just want someone (and they think it) to shut up. So do so for 24 hours and see what happens. I believe you’ll find that some silence invites them to enter into discussion. It also encourages them to take responsibility to make conversation happen instead of you always having to verbally initiate communication.

Overbearing Betty

Betty is always. She is always there. She is always injecting opinions. She is always helping. Always present in activities, nearby to lend a not so needed hand, in attendance at everything, everywhere, all the time. You just cannot get away from Betty and her involvement. Her kids spend time other places just to feel a sense of freedom. They disengage more than engage because they want control of their life without the constancy of an overseer. People around here ask the question “Who invited you?” into the conversation, the activity, or the organization. It’s not that she’s not welcome, it’s her intense domineering and bossy (and almost pompous and arrogant) demeanor that pushes people away, and pushes her out of otherwise hospitable settings. Her involvement “worked” when her kids were in elementary school, but is working against her as they enter their teens. Her teens feel that her involvement is more about her, and not about her participation in their life.

Betty, give some thought to some of these thoughts.

Ever have too much garlic on a meal? Garlic is my favorite spice. Even when I cook, I load up the meal with fresh ground garlic. But you and I know this. Too much of a good thing can ruin a meal. And hear me. Too much of a “good thing”.   What you have become accustomed to is “too much”. You’ve got to back off. It doesn’t mean to quite putting spice into the relationships you have. It just means cut back a bit if you feel like your strength is overwhelming and a little over bearing. Don’t know if you’re palatable? Then ask some close friends the easy question – “Am I overbearing?” and tell them that if they don’t tell you the truth, you’ll crush them. (ha!) Seriously, Betty, you’ve got to back it up a notch or your aggressiveness will push others away, and that’s not what you want to do to your teens. It’s the time that they need you the most.

Authoritative Art

Ol’ Art. Bless the heart of my good friend, Art. He not only wants to be an authority, he needs to be the authority. He’s not quite like Never Wrong William because it’s not about right or wrong; it’s about position. Art will let everyone know that “As for me and my house, we will…..” with a repeated right handed karate chop to his left hand that shows he’s in power, he’s in control, and others better toe the line to live up to his expectations. Matter of fact, Art’s position is more important than his relationship with his adolescent kids. And when you boil it down, it’s more about him than about them. Because he doesn’t know how to lead with relationship, he has to demand with authority. And it’s not because he doesn’t have the God-given authority. He does. But he uses it to fill a void in his life rather be the relationship seeking dad who longs to engage, listen, and adapt rules and ways to the ever-changing teen environment his kids live within. Art will have quite a bit of conflict with his maturing sons, as testosterone elevates in their pursuit of independence. And he’ll push away his older daughters who want more of a warm relationship than a demanding existence. Art will be the Dad who one day stands at his daughter’s wedding with a sense of regret of how he could have been more to the one he is giving away. He’ll be the one who sits and watches his son take a bride and wonder why he wasn’t closer to the fellow that will carry on his family name.

Art, not to take away from your authority, but if your approach isn’t working and really pushing your kids away, consider this.

Your strength is not in your authoritarian approach. Your strength is in the display of the authority that you’ve been given. Jesus described himself as “gentle and humble in heart”. What a wonderful approach to displaying the greatest strength! The authoritarian approach works well when your kids are young, but as they become teens, respect has to be earned. It’s not given as easy as it used to be given (I wish it was). Back up a bit on the expression of authority and ratchet it up a bit in the relationship arena. Kids change because of relationship and the respect you have earned… they don’t change because of the display of authority.

Hovering Helen

The difference between Hovering Helen and Overbearing Betty is that Betty is pushing her agenda on others, and Helen is taking everyone’s agenda from them. Helen does everything for her kids. She washes their laundry, does their homework, writes their papers, rescues them from consequences, makes excuses for any type of inappropriate behavior, never finds fault in her child, and always blames others for her child’s failures. My good friend, Helen wants to do everything perhaps because her parents never “did” for her. She is motivated out of a sense of trying to find her own value than concerned about the developed maturity needed in her teen’s life. She’ll baby her child, excuse behavior, justify actions, and never really acknowledge that she’s hampering more than helping her child get ready for the world they will one day live in. She chooses to raise her kids in the zoo rather than prepare them to survive in the jungle. Another trait of Helen is that she feels like she’s better than anyone else, which fuels her over-involvement in her child’s life. She’s better than any trained teacher, knows more than anyone else who tries to coach her child. The problem with hovering is that it is a hard position to hold for a long period of time. Eventually, this “helicopter” will crash, and the collateral damage will probably include her teens.

Helen, if you can pull yourself away for just a few moments to listen to how you’re actually causing more damage than you are helping, your kids will appreciate your new approach.

What are you afraid of that would cause you to continue to do everything for your kids as they enter the teen years? You’ve got to back up or they will push you away. And do this. Learn to trust that the seeds that you have sewn into their lives will come to fruition one day. God promises to finish what he has started. He’ll do that… you don’t have to. And trust that God is involved in the life of your child. Remember, everything you do for your child is one less thing that they’ll learn to do on their own. Training up a child isn’t doing everything for them. It’s teaching, showing, and then allowing them to do some of those things you’ve trained them in. Now, give them some room.   Which means you’ve got to back away a bit and trust.

Free & Easy Ernie

Ernie’s motto is “No Problemo!” He’s one of those “sugar daddy” Dads that wants to keep the peace, never enforce consequences to rules that have been violated, and runs from conflict like the plague. His easy-going style works well during the pre-adolescent years, but can’t be depended on by his teens during the tougher years. His “hakuna-matata” perception of the world avoids responsibility, and almost encourages immaturity and irresponsibility from his kids who will soon leave his fairy tale understanding of life. Here’s the problem. He can’t because he hasn’t. He’s never been taught himself, the great need for the development of responsibility, decision-making skills, and how to handle conflict. So, as a result, he’s fun to be with, but not one that can be counted on when he’s needed the most.

Ernie, Ernie, Ernie….it’s time to make a change. Here’s some advice that comes from my heart in hope that you’ll touch your child’s heart as well.

Listen! Your kids don’t need another friend. They need a parent. They need a parent who will stand up to them, so that when they need someone to stand next to them, they’ll come to you. They need someone who will be strong, so when they need a strong person in their arena, they can count on you. Responsibility is caught, not taught. If they don’t catch it from you, I fear you’ll have an immature mess that you’ll have take care of in your later years. Hardly a “hakuna-matata” for any parent. Be who your kids need you to be… not what you feel you want to be. Time to grow up.

Rescuer Robert

Robert will not allow consequences to have their full affect on his teen.   Good ol’ Bob, will bail his teen out of anything. Pay for him to get out of jail, talk the principal out of detention, give an excuse for absenteeism from work or school, lie for their child, manipulate for teen, and sometimes ignore that which shouldn’t be ignored. Mark my words. One day, Robert will be woken up by the needle of reality that will burst his rescue mentality bubble when he won’t be able to “cover” for his child and get him out of the inevitable.   Proverbs 18:18 is clear. Rescue an angry man once, and you’ll only have to rescue him again.   Robert’s desire to be a knight in shining armor will eventually tarnish as his son realizes that Dad didn’t help prepare him for a world that isn’t so quick to overlook poor choices and accept excuses.

Robert, here’s some advice I got from a good friend long ago… it changed the way that I parented and work with teens today.

You’re postponing the inevitable. And you’re missing the greatest teaching and training opportunity that is before your kids – consequences. If you don’t let them learn now, they’ll only have to learn later in life with the consequences of inappropriate behavior are greater and affect more people.   Let them learn now. If you need to rescue something to be that knight in shining armor, go adopt a dog. But don’t rescue your teens to make yourself feel better. Let their pain, be their pain. It will make them mature, accept responsibility for their actions, and teach them to make good decisions in life. Every time you rescue them from their pain, you are preventing, not encouraging, the development of skills and character traits they’ll need to be successful in the future. I’ve never met a dad that has said, “I’d like to help my kids be failures in life”. But your actions are shouting that message to your kids, and they’ll one day hate you for it if you don’t stop.

Vicarious Victor

Victor couldn’t live the perfect life that he wanted to live, so he’s decided to live that life vicariously through his child. Many times, Victor will demand that a son or daughter become what he thinks he was meant to be, not what his children were created to be. This dad looks like he’s participating with his teen, but actually is living his life through his teen. And the problem is that kids will eventually know the difference. It’s all about motivation. He wants his child to win… for himself… not for his child. The anger that Victor displays when disappointed in his son or daughter is his response to not getting what he wants. This mindset builds an expectation of performance where acceptance and value is based on one’s showing, which will eventually crumble. Victor’s true intent can be disguised in comments like “I only want the best for you”. But, if truth be told, dad’s comment would be more accurately communicated with “I need you to do well to make me look good.”

Victor, here’s some thoughts that will help you help your kids.

Let your life be your life, and their life be theirs. If you want your daughter to make good grades because it’s a reflection of you, then she’ll prove to you that she’s her own person by flunking her grades. And if you’re living your life through your son’s sports, he’ll quit one day because he’ll quickly want to take control of his life and not live it for another. Check your motives, Vic. Make sure your participation in your teen’s life brings value to their life… not taking value away from them.

Which one are you? Exaggerated a bit to lighten the message, but real parenting styles nonetheless. There’s some good lessons here.


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.