#467 – Maintaining Your Relationship in a Not-So-Relational World

by Mark Gregston

With the advent of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and all the other social media platforms that have popped up in the past ten years, you might be tempted to think that we are more connected to each other than ever before—but, sadly, the research shows that’s not the case.  The internet has changed the face of how we interact and how our teens find affirmation. 

On average, teens spend about ten hours online and while many of them would confidently proclaim that their posts, comments, and likes are the product of creating relationships, we know that all this social media networking is really akin to wading in the shallow end of the relationship pool—and that’s just not how relationships are cultivated or maintained.  So, what are the keys to creating and modeling thriving and long-lasting relationships?  Well, read on to find out! 

Be Authentic and Imperfect 

The most important relationship in your teen’s life is you—mom and dad.  It’s not their friends, it’s not their grandparents—though grandparents are invaluable, it’s you.  Around the age of thirteen, your parenting model should change from the teaching model to the training model because teens from age 13-19 have a new set of challenges.  That doesn’t mean you should re-live your teenage days in order to relate to them, but it does mean you need to connect to them on their terms.  Authentically learn as your child learns—what they like, what they dislike, and most importantly, who influences them.  You may not always like their choices, but it’s important to understand where they are coming from. 

Another way to be authentic with your teen is to be vulnerable and let your imperfections show.  When you’re imperfect, it drives home the point that God is the only one who is perfect and that in turn, drives our kids to Him.  Being imperfect also releases some of the pressures they face on a daily basis because being imperfect lets them know that they don’t always have to have things put together.  And when you create an imperfect and vulnerable space for them, it lets them know that your home is a safe place to land when the things they face spiral out of control. 

Exercise Authority to Draw Your Kids to You 

But does being vulnerable with your teen and showing your imperfections mean that you have to negate your authority?  The answer is a resounding NO!  Authority is God-given.  Jesus displayed the perfect example of vulnerability and meekness.  When you’re transparent with your kids, they will follow because it enables them to see that you’re relatable—not a superhuman who can do no wrong. 

It also doesn’t mean that your standards have to change, but our approach to them should.  As parents, it’s our job to pass on wisdom to our kids without judgement.  And if you’re wondering the best way to do that—evaluate what you’re doing.  Ask your teens what they think.  Ask them if they think your approach is judgmental and if it is, reconsider ways to address the situation.  For me, I’m concerned with how a person interprets me and what I say because I want to make the most of our relationship.  And in order to do that, I need to be understood correctly and I need to correctly understand the situation. 

Feedback and the Next Steps 

It’s important that as parents we learn the value of having a good relationship with others, so we can pass those values on to our teens.  And to do that, we need to make sure we’re intentionally spending time with our kids—daily.  Talk. Listen.  Be there for them—because when you do, you’re communicating to them that you value them enough to show up.  Make your child a priority and in doing so, you’ll be building trust and affection. 

As Hunter, one of our Heartlight residents says, don’t just ignore the problem or think it’s just a phase.  And with wisdom seemingly beyond his seventeen years, he also reminds us that sometimes, negative friend groups provide a felt need for your teen, but constantly reinventing themselves or changing to please others, comes with a price.  Hunter adds, “You can’t please others without hurting yourself.” 

Relationships are life, and it’s important to have them—so remember that teen distancing is the start of a problem.  If that’s happened in your home, or is happening now, remember that your teen wants a relationship with you.  So, sit down and have a conversation about what the problem is.  It’s okay to talk, but mostly listen!  And when you do talk—provide your teen with tips on how to fix the problem.  Your tips don’t have to be perfect—they just have to be a step in the right direction. 


Moms and Dads … sadly, your teens aren’t experiencing the level of relationships that you and I did.  They don’t connect, and social engagement in their world has changed with the introduction of texting and social networking sites.  And as a result, it’s our purpose to give them a taste of what true relationships are while balancing their need for us to remain as the parent of the family.  Your role is to give them a taste of the character of God through the relationship that you have with your teens.  Their loss is our opportunity to engage in ways that our parents never did with us.  You must be intentional in your pursuit of a relationship with your teens—just as much as God pursued a relationship with us! 

#466 – Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Rules

by Mark Gregston

Rules—now there is a word that everyone loves to hate.  And yet, we all know that rules are put in place for our own good and for the good of those around us.  Rules, I think, are a lot like stop signs—I hate ‘em all, but they serve a purpose and we can’t live without them.  So, how should families determine house rules?  Is there a list to draw from, or should every household be governed by the same rules and regulations?  Well, those are just a few of the questions we’ll answer in this article titled, “Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Rules.” Continue reading “#466 – Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Rules”

#458 – The Greatest Challenges for Teens Today

by Mark Gregston

Think back to your adolescent years.  For me, growing up during the 60’s and 70’s was pretty cool.  Long hair.  Great music. Sideburns.  Rock and roll.  It was a season of innocence and freedom.    

But, not so much with today’s generation!   

Today our teens are faced with complicated issues like gender neutrality, legalized marijuana, persistent negativity, blatant disrespect, unbridled narcissism, and a relentless fixation on social media.   

Like most parents, you’re probably thinking, “Mark, I’m so glad I don’t have to grow up in today’s culture.”   

But guess what?  Our kids do.  They can’t escape it.  And when our teens are dealing with heavy issues, parents will discover that using outdated methods will produce terrible results.   

So, how do we help our teens successfully navigate dangerous times?   

Well, it starts with identifying their real-life issues.  In this article, I’ll identify five major challenges our teens are facing today.    

#1 Overexposure to Everything 

Our kids are exposed to everything.  I mean, everything.  Because of the web, they have access to graphic images.  Their friends are choosing alternative lifestyles.  Sexual temptation is pervasive.  

Just walk through the local mall and you’ll find Victoria Secret luring customers into the store.  When I was a teen, this was unthinkable.  To see women’s underwear, I had to sneak peeks at the Sears catalog.  Furthermore, the Internet offers 4.3-million porn sites.  Make no mistake … if your child has access to a mobile device, he’s likely been exposed to porn.    

Here’s the point.  Try to understand your teen’s world and help them walk through it.  Acknowledge their overexposure to things that they cannot interpret through their young eyes.  Shift your parenting styles to reflect the pervasive nature of sex and find ways to discuss the temptations with your teen.   

#2 Anxiety  

Today’s teen is not mildly concerned.  Many are consumed by full-blown anxiety.   

Why?  Their whole world is about performing.  They are working overtime to meet expectations.  They feel relentless pressure to excel.  And our culture’s fixation on appearance makes them chase relationships that are based, not on connecting, but on measuring up.   

It’s no wonder why our teens turn to marijuana or alcohol as a means for anesthetizing their pain and disappointment.  If your teens are making these poor choices, it’s important that you understand that it’s coming from a place of disappointment and failure.  So try to help your teen recognize what they’re feeling and ask them questions to find out why it’s there.  Be available to talk.  If your expectations are adding to the anxiety, dial it down a little!  And if needed, break the cycle of behavior by taking your teen out of their world for a vacation.   

#3 Lack of Connection with Others 

God has blessed every human being with the innate desire to connect with people.  We are wired for relationships.   

This is why kids are spending so much time on their cell phones.  They text, they post, they chat, and it’s all about relating with others.  As parents and grandparents, when we understand this natural inclination, we shouldn’t over-react when they take this desire down the wrong path.  Even drugs and alcohol are often cheap substitutes for connecting with peers.   

One of our students at Heartlight told me recently that she started using drugs, and even overdosed, because of a disconnection with her dad.  He was never available.  Dad was in and out of the home, and in and out of his marriage, and it left her feeling unworthy.  When I asked her what she longs for, Analeisa said, “I want to be accepted and respected by my parents.  I want my parents to demonstrate that they love me, not just say it.  Show me.”   

#4 Overwhelming Negativity of Culture 

It’s fashionable to cut others down to size.  Everyone rips each other apart.  And teens feel under constant scrutiny.  Each day feels like a parade in which they’re rated by their peers.  If it doesn’t happen at school, it surely happens on social media.  Furthermore, the Internet lets everyone have a loud voice.  It’s like a megaphone for crazy people!  And you no longer need to earn the right to be heard.  You can broadcast yourself any time you wish.   

As parents, we need to create an atmosphere that’s positive and safe at home.  If your conversations have been seasoned with cynicism, your kids will pick it up, too.  So, when you’re offering commentary on your day, and on your teen’s life, keep things positive and upbeat.  Let your home become a safe harbor of rest, not another place where the dark cloud of negativity looms overhead.   

#5 Disrespect for Authority 

In today’s culture, parents have turned away from an authoritarian style of leadership, and lean toward a buddy-buddy friendship with their kids.  This gives our teens a twisted view of a parent’s appropriate role.  Teachers in public schools tell us that the biggest shift in the last thirty years is an abject disregard for authority.  In many schools, the teen is a customer, not a student under authority.   

Teaching respect doesn’t come from striking fear into your teen.  Nor does it come from becoming pals with your child.  Parents need to focus on building a strong relationship and winning the right to be heard.  We need to combine strong leadership with reasonable boundaries, age-appropriate rules, and natural consequences.  Finally, it’s helpful to admit to our teens that we’re not perfect.  Humility, not weakness, earns a child’s respect.   


Mom, dad, did you ever think that the issues and situations facing our teens and preteens would be as potentially damaging as they are?  I’m sure every generation has their challenges, but today’s generation is experiencing a shift in the way people relate, and in the way they seek help from one another.  That’s where you come in.  Your teen needs you.  They need your wisdom, your counsel, your time and your influence.  And they need it now more than ever.   

Even when you think they don’t, they do.  And when they don’t appear to be listening, they are.  So do whatever it takes to create a better arena for relationship … so that you can be that light in the darkness … a ray of hope in their confusion.  And a place where they are loved like none other.