by Mark Gregston
We’ve all done things in our youth that were dangerous. But with today’s culture pushing our kids to perform and garner “likes” and gain “followers,” the stakes are higher than ever. I grew up in Louisiana, so you know we were doing stupid things when we were younger, but there wasn’t a world-wide social aspect encouraging my small group of friends to use alcohol or participate in dares and games, which sometimes cause irreparable physical harm. Today, kids are being encouraged to use drugs and even become adrenaline junkies, all in the name of outperforming their peers.
With depression, anxiety, and performance-based issues on the rise, is there really a way to satisfy curiosity and fill the void our kids so often feel, in a way that’s healthy and less dangerous?
Setting boundaries needs to start when your teen is younger and they need to be communicated to the whole family. Know what you value as a person and as a family and lay out clearly what you would like to see in and outside of your home.
Build the boundaries into the rules of your home and allow your teens to help manage and determine the consequences for stepping outside of those boundaries. Typically, questionable behavior will continue until the pain is greater than the pleasure. So, one of the best ways to make sure everyone is onboard is to have your teen help you lay out the consequence for the behavior in question and have everyone agree ahead of time.
Maintaining a loving and communicative relationship with your kids and helping them move into a place where healthy behaviors are the go-to is the goal of every parent out there. So, spend as much time as you can with your teen, show them you love them and then teach or train them to know which boundaries they can push and which ones they should avoid at all costs.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know until it’s too late that your child has been engaging in dangerous behaviors. But if your child is in immediate danger, get help fast! Types of dangerous behaviors that require swift attention include cutting, excessive drug usage, and drinking, if it’s excessive. The reality is that almost all teens will experiment with alcohol or pot at some point before they finish high school. But if your child’s consumption or usage is pushing past the bounds of an occasional beer or hit with their friends, you’ll want to pay attention to those signs and you’ll want to figure out quickly why they are engaging this way.
That means, asking questions to learn the motivating factors behind why your teen is doing what they’re doing. Is their behavior coming from a particular group of kids that they’re trying to fit into, or is it something they are doing with one friend alone? This isn’t the time to single out their friends and lay down ultimatums, but it is the time to understand the motivating factors driving their behavior.
Find out what you can do differently. A lot of kids who participate in dangerous behaviors are good kids—they’re just looking for ways to fit in or to relate to people in their peer groups. As parents, it’s our job to help them discover different ways of communicating, relating to, and engaging with their surroundings and peers.
There are plenty of healthy ways to work out anxiety and depression. Some kids run long distances, others create crafts or painting. And still others, work out several times per week. Your teen doesn’t have to fill the void with illegal substances or become adrenaline junkies in order to satisfy their curiosity. So, help motivate them into seeing the healthy options available that will allow them to experience the same feeling they get from participating in these dangerous behaviors.
Stick to your guns while you keep the lines of communication open. Make sure you’re enforcing the consequences you and your teen agreed to ahead of time while you’re connecting with your teen to get to the heart of the matter. If your teen has been drinking and they drove home, well, this is probably a good time to take away the car keys for a little while. But, if this is the third time they’ve engaged in this behavior, then perhaps it’s time to sell the car. Whatever consequences you and your family come up with, make sure you’re adhering to them—even when it’s difficult, and make sure the punishment is appropriate for “the crime.”
And then, above all else, let this be an opportunity to keep the lines of communication between you and your child open. Get to the heart of the matter as you understand your teens’ heart motivation behind their troubling behavior.
Mom, Dad … a part of parenting demands that we protect our kids from their foolish thinking and damaging decisions. All the while, it’s our job to train them to become independent and learn about choices and consequences. It’s a delicate balance, but one that’s necessary if we’re going to raise healthy teens who know how to make wise decisions in a dangerous culture. How do you do that? You ask. You ask God for wisdom. You ask your teens what they think. And you ask your friends for counsel and insight. God does work all things together for good. And remember this, He uses pain to create passion and purpose. He makes your mess into a message, and He takes tests and turns them into testimonies.