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Teen Privacy

by Mark Gregston

Our world has changed since we were kids.  But our fear of protecting our kids from all that’s bad in the world, is not a good enough reason for us as parents to invade our teens’ privacy. 

You can’t treat an eighteen-year-old as you do your twelve-year-old, but the reverse is true, too.  When your child is twelve, parents should be looking and monitoring everything that goes in or out from your child’s phone and social media platforms.  But as your child matures and grows, everyone needs to adopt and develop what I call the “privilege of privacy,” which I remind parents comes from this Scripture: To him who much is given, much is required

Continue reading “Teen Privacy”

Devo #6 – What Motivates your Child’s Behavior (Part 1)

what motivates your child's behavior

by Mark Gregston

Jan, my wife and I, have been married a number of years. We started dating in the ninth grade. I tell people all the time that it was after we went to a Christian concert, following our ninth-grade year where we got together. The concert was Led Zeppelin. 

That was our first date. After we got married years later, probably 10, 15 years after we got married, I was stunned by her announcement one day when she just said, there’s something I need to talk to you about. I thought I knew everything about my wife, but she surprised me when she said that she wanted to go see a counselor. I knew Jan and our history, but I did not know the depth of the pain that she had felt and like a typical male I had no idea what she was talking about. Tearfully, she began to explain the sense of loss she’s felt from sexual abuse that she experienced as a child. She realized that she needed to deal with that loss and, she was worn out from her constant attempts to manage the feelings and hurts from years earlier. 

These events stick with a woman and I had a front row seat at watching the effects of sexual abuse. From an early age a lady who has her life together, loves the Lord, loves people, loves kids was fighting depression. She had relational issues in her family that no one had dealt with and everyone quietly avoided it like many families do. She felt unsettled in her head and in her heart. We started to go to counseling, you know, I thought it was just for her. I really found out that after a while it was for both of us. Then I found out that it was really for me. We made the decision for her sake, but it became an opportunity for the both of us.  

I watched her counselor peel back these layers of emotion in Jan’s life. I began to see how her loss played such an integral role in her existence and in our relationship. The counseling process lasted almost 18 months. I thought we were going to go and get it fixed within a month. Little did I know that it would take that long… We drove two hours each way. We’d leave Longview, Texas, go to Dallas and spend two hours with a counselor and go out to eat. There were times that I absolutely loved it and there were times that I absolutely hated it.  

Jan would look at me and we’d be arguing in the car after a counseling session. She would say, I’m getting out of the car right now. And I would look at her and go, not yet, honey, let me speed up. I mean it, counseling just had an amazing way of bringing things out good and bad. They all rise to the surface and you have to deal with them. When we were in counseling, I loved learning how we were wired differently and how various things in our lives molded our thinking, our behaviors and our interactions with each other. 

I hated the pain that came out of it for Jan and for me individually and as a couple. I learned so many things, including the way that we handle loss by filling the emptiness with things that don’t last. Jan’s recognition, the futility of her efforts to fill those voids, moved her to a desperate point of pain, causing her to question her current state and longing for something different. 

In my years of working with struggling teens, which is now up around 45 years, I’ve seen the same thing over and over in young ladies who were sexually abused. I know that the question that people ask all the time is why does my child do what they do? What I’ve really found is that so much of the behavior that we see, appropriate and inappropriate, is founded in the losses in somebody’s life and the attempt to fill those losses and voids. Eventually people get to the point where they just shut down and say, I can’t do this anymore.  

There was a young lady named Anna. She was sexually abused by her grandfather for years, it started at age two and lasted until she was 12 or 13 years old. All of a sudden, one of her friends heard her innocently share what her grandfather was doing to her. This sweet little friend told Anna that she should tell their mother and she did. And that was it. At least for a while. As Anna matured, she began to understand more fully the violation of her body during those earlier years. The older, she got the more furious she became, and she exerted more and more effort to counteract the damage that her grandfather had caused in her. She wore herself out trying to prove to herself that he had no more control over her. And that she was more than what her grandfather’s abuse told her she was.  

Every time he committed an act of abuse, he was sending a message to Anna. It was a message that became clear as the years passed. It was a message of disregard and disrespect, of deceit and brainwashing. It was basically saying youre trash, and I can use you. This horrific luring of an innocent girl into his perversion, essentially set-in motion a way of thinking that almost destroyed this young lady. The response to this kind of abuse is not what most people think. I learned years ago from a fellow named Dan Olander, who wrote the book called Hope for the Wounded Heart, that girls respond to sexual abuse by becoming party girls, bad girls or good girls. Anna chose to take the good girl route. She felt compelled to prove the message her grandfather communicated countless times through the years was wrong and she was going to make herself perfect. She set out to be valued, adored and honored but Anna couldn’t do it by herself.  

All her efforts could not quite fill the emptiness caused by a selfish uncontrolled man. As a result, she lived in a world of frustration and quiet rage trying to erase the message she received for years. She just couldn’t quite do it. I’ve come to believe that loss of any kind is one of the greatest motivators for behavior. It is why so many teens do what they do. The cause-and-effect style of living is a response to damage done to us rather than a fulfillment of God’s purpose in us. If we allow him, God can use it all for our benefit, He takes what was meant for evil and uses it for good. We’re promised that throughout Scripture.  

Loss impacts how we live, and teens are truly no exception. Nobody cares more about their teen than moms, but even moms can get discouraged and distracted when watching their teen goes through those difficult adolescent years. You can feel alone and helpless, unable to know how to encourage your teen. It can get hard to trust God’s goodness in the midst of such hard times. 

When I talk about loss, I’m talking about voids in someone’s life that come from not getting what you need, what you want, or what you hope for. It’s a chasm in the heart caused by deprivation, a failure to achieve something or a possible defeat that you experienced. It’s the hollowness you’re unable to overcome. It’s the pit of loneliness that remains when something is taken away. In times of loss, the gospel message is greatly needed. One of the greatest acts that I believe that God performs for a person who experiences loss is to fill the voids and the chasms created by that loss and give true freedom that only comes in a relationship with Christ.  

The hole in Anna’s life caused by sexual abuse could not be filled by anything she did or did not do. It could only be filled by God. And how does He do it? I have no idea. But I just know that He does. When Anna allowed him to do His work in her, she no longer had to waste her time trying to fill voids. Instead, she was able to fulfill her purpose in life, acknowledge His thumbprint on her life and accept the role he called her to fill.  

After one of our seminars a 41-year-old man came up to me and said, Hey, all my life, I’ve had to overcome one comment that was made to me. When I was in the sixth grade, a teacher barked out a harsh remark that belittled and humiliated this man, it happened while he was standing in front of his class. She had said “If you had as much brains as you do fat, you might make something of yourself. I’m convinced that that teacher probably had no idea how much her one hurtful statement would negatively affect a little boy’s life. So much so that he was still trying to get its echo out of his head almost 30 years later. 

This man experienced one of those profound losses, a loss of value, respect, dignity, and honor. His thinking and behavior changed. He committed to prove that teacher wrong and to show everyone that he was not fat, and he was smart. He lived from that day on with the I’ll show you mentality. He was controlled by the lie of a careless cruel teacher, rather than the one who created Him and called Him son. You know, as I say that you may have something that pops into your head from your early years. Perhaps it was a dad that told you that you were stupid, or your mom that said you were an embarrassment to the family, or maybe something that remains very deep in your soul. 

Most people have experienced some kind of loss, especially today’s young people. You may have learned to live with the lie, maybe you have stuffed it down, worked hard to overcome it or healed from it. Today’s teen often doesn’t know how to combat the lies that are planted in their spirits. Their wounds are open and bleeding and their behavior shows the pain that is in their life. A father of one of the young men living with us here at Heartlight, shared how he spent most of his life, trying to live down a comment his dad made during his teen years. His dad never told him how proud he was and stated many times he didn’t think his son would amount to much. This man went on to share that he is now 50 years old and spent his whole adult life trying to please his dad. Now he realized he should have been trying to please God.  

When Scripture tells us of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five, the last quality on this list is self-control. I’d submit to you that that concept of self-control is not about anger management or squelching lust. I believe God calls us to exercise self-control so we’re not controlled or distracted by anything that could derail us from God’s intent or purpose for us. Self-control means responding to what God has done for you. Not reacting to perhaps what others have done to you. This is an important concept to grasp, as you attempt to understand your teen’s behavior. You’ve probably had losses in your life and your child has had losses in their life. At some point you’re trying to fill your voids and they’re trying to fill their voids and we find that we’re being controlled by different things. God wants us to have self-control, but we’re allowing these other things to control us.  

A lot of conflict begins to happen when a child’s not meeting the needs that I have and they’re not finding fulfillment in the needs that they have. All of those have been created by losses. It’s an important concept to grasp as you try to figure out, why does my child do that

The things that they do, their behavior, is driven by needs. The question that you need to ask now is How has a loss in my child’s life caused a need that his behavior or her behavior is trying to fill? Scripture tells us that God is a spring of living water and you can drink all the water you want, but until you drink from Him, you will always thirst. 

My efforts to satisfy my needs will only temporarily satisfy my thirst. His provision fully meets my need, ending my thirst and eliminating the need for me to find it in other things. Jeremiah 2:13 says “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” When we listen to the negative comments in the criticisms of others, we allow the lies to take root in our spirits like broken cisterns. We continue to thirst and poor in addictive behaviors and sexual promiscuity, inappropriate relationships, anything we can to try to keep up with the leaking cistern. 

Only when we hear the voice of truth and allow His living water to remove the lies will our cisterns hold. I hope you’re following me here. I hope you’re picking this up and going, okay, I get it. There are losses in people’s lives, but here’s another thing, Jan and I were living at a Christian sports camp in Branson, Missouri called Kanakuk camp. We lived there during the eighties and had an incredibly wonderful time when we rubbed shoulders with people from all around the country and all walks of life. One of the greatest joys that we had was to get to know a fellow named Spike and his wife. Both have since passed away but the impact that they had on Jan and I will never be forgotten. Spike was an 80 something year old man, that kind of took me under his wing. He made everyone feel valuable, especially me. I had a bunch of opportunities to dive into deep discussions with him on why kids do what they do and what gets them off track and how to work with kids who were struggling. 

I’ll never forget a statement that he made that appeared in a lot of camp literature. He said this, “the moods of a lifetime are often set in the all but forgotten events of childhood”. Spike wanted people to have great opportunities during their early years, that would help mold their character, their destiny and purpose in life. His statement remains a timely truth. Childhood events have the power to positively or negatively affect a person’s whole life. 


Devo #5 – How to Handle Anger with Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

James 1:19 says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” You know, I don’t think there’s anybody that hasn’t been angry at their kids or had a time where their kids weren’t angry at them. Anger is an emotional response to not getting what you want. When you see your teen get angry, it’s because they are not getting what they want, whether they need it or not. 

You and I both know that what they think they want is not always what they really want, but what they think they want. Either way, if they perceive that their wants are not being met or that someone is blocking them from getting what they feel that they need, then anger comes out. And anger can be kind of explosive at times.

You want them to talk it out because if they don’t talk it out, then they’re going to act it out in some way. If they act it out, that’s where they’re going to become disrespectful and dishonest and disobedient and yell and scream and throw things. You’d rather have communication with them. Sometimes they have to figure this one out by themselves with some encouragement and participation from mom and dad. There is a game that’s going on here. Your child wants certain things, and you want certain things. When you both don’t get what you want, then you both become angry.

What happens in that anger when that emotional part of you starts to flare up? You don’t get anywhere. What happens is you damage relationships. Example: if your son is angry that his curfew isn’t later, you have to ask yourself the question, what’s the real reason for his anger? Or if your daughter doesn’t like that you’re not letting her wear certain things when she goes off to school, what’s the real reason for her anger? Because if all you do is say, no, this is what your time is going to be for curfew, and this is what you will wear and what you won’t wear, then what you’re doing is just dealing with behavior. You’re not dealing with the heart of the issue. Your child needs to learn how to handle anger and how to learn to respond when they don’t get what they want.

Scripture says be angry, but do not sin. It’s okay for kids to be angry, but not sin. Don’t hurt relationships in the process. There are common, underlying reasons for a teen’s anger. One of those is that they have no control over their own life. Parents want to protect their children but keeping control in order to protect their teens will have a bad outcome. When a child gets mad that they do not have control, they fight more for control. They want to live their own life and make their own decisions. 

When there is a struggle between a parent and teen for control, anger will surface somewhere. It is what’s going to happen. A child will get angry and a parent will get angry because the parent’s not getting what they want, because what they really want is a peaceful home where a child just listens to what they say and says, okay, that’s what I’ll do. But a child is getting angry because they’re not getting what they want at the same time. As stated previously, when you have those two anger storms starting to collide, it’s going to create almost the perfect storm that could damage relationships and keep a relationship from deepening the way you would like for it to. 

We are training our children how to control their anger, use their anger, and maybe get their anger to subside because it will affect them later in life in different relationships. One of the first things I would tell you is to stop controlling all the time and start trusting. Every kid wants to take control of their life. They may feel shamed or judged whenever there is constant correction, and it can communicate to your teen that they are not living up to your expectations. It may make them feel somewhat judged or that you are dismissing their opinions or shaming them for thoughts, which may cause them to shut down or lash out in anger.

A child thinks out loud and the reason they think out loud is so they can throw things out there. I do it. I write something, then I go through, and I read it out loud to see what it sounds like. When I read it out loud, I begin to process it differently. That is what a child does a lot around his parents. The difference between me reading something that I write and reading it to somebody else is this: if I start reading it and my wife comes in and says, “Well, that’s a bad idea. That’s a bad thought. I wouldn’t think that way. These are the words that I would use. I would say something different.” You know what I do? Not read it out loud in front of her again. I’d find somebody else to help me process my thoughts. Are you following me? 

There is something about the way that we correct our kids and why we do. We feel that if we do it enough, they will come to a place where they’ll get it right. What our teens are trying to do is to embrace what we believe in, what we’ve taught them, bring it into their world and process it through the culture that they live in. If they speak out loud, then let them talk and maybe come back and just ask them questions. Is that what you think? I always ask kids. Are you asking for an answer or do you want my opinion? Sometimes they just say no. And I go, okay, then we’ll leave it at that. There has to be an understanding of what’s going on in their life. You have to allow your teen to have their own opinions and try to engage them in discussion in some way. 

Another reason for anger is that teens are angry when they’re just not getting what they want. And as I said earlier, anger, is an outward sign that someone’s not getting what they want. Your teen may put up a fight simply because their desires are frustrated in some way. This could be about big things or small things. It could be about not having food in the pantry, that somebody put jelly in the peanut butter, that they want something clean or they forgot to do something. You know, anger is an amazing motivator, but I’ve got to tell you this: Anger most of the time, when it is jumped to immediately, does more damage to relationships than it does help them.

Nobody cares more about their teen than a mom. But even moms can get discouraged and distracted when watching their teen go through those difficult adolescent years. You can feel alone and helpless, unable to know how to encourage your team. It can get hard to trust God’s goodness in the midst of such hard times.

Here’s what I would encourage you to do: look behind your teen’s anger and find out what’s really driving them. The way you do that is this: observe. Pay attention to when your teen gets angry and the surrounding circumstances. Try to figure out what’s really going on in their life. The whole issue about wanting a later curfew may be because they want to hang out with friends. They want to be with a girlfriend. They want to be with a boyfriend, because everybody’s socialized and everybody’s getting together and it’s because they want to be a part. The reason they want to be a part is because God created them to be relational.

I know that kids aren’t as relational as they used to be because they spend so much time on a phone. And even when they do get together like dating, what happens is they sit around, talk about what they posted on Snapchat or Facebook or TikTok. So, a child that wants a later curfew may be because they want to relate more with the people they’re hanging out with. And that’s a God-given desire to want to relate with other people. You have to come to some conclusion when you begin to understand there’s a motive behind that and hopefully it changes the way you approach your child in dealing with it.

I would encourage you to become a student of your teen. Before you get sucked into this angry conflict, step back and observe when your daughter’s wearing something that you think is inappropriate. It doesn’t mean that she’s trying to be sexual. It may mean that she wants some attention because she doesn’t feel like she’s getting any attention from anybody or it may mean she just wants to fit in because kids are having a tough time fitting in, in this appearance and performance world.

There is a motive behind the behavior. All behavior is goal-oriented, but there is something driving it and that’s what I want to touch on. That’s what I want to get to in the life of a child. I just don’t want to deal with the surface issues. I want to deal with the heart issues that take me a little bit deeper in the relationship.

The second thing I’m going to do is ask: Why are you so angry? What is it you’re not getting that you want? Why are you kind of bent out of shape? Why are you destroying relationships around you? Why are you so frustrated? How can I help you? How can I help you get what you want? Is that what you really want? When they answer, I don’t question them. I don’t tell them they’re wrong. I don’t tell them something is a stupid idea, a stupid thought. No, you don’t really need that. I just go, Here, let me help. I’m happy to help think it through. I just engage with them. 

The next thing I do is listen to a child’s heart. You listen to your child’s heart without trying to defend yourself. We get this idea that if our kid says something wrong, then we need to correct it. And if we can’t correct it, then we’re mad that they’re not thinking the way they ought to be thinking. So now we’re getting mad. Now we’re angry on top of their anger because they feel like you’re more concerned about the thinking process they’re going through rather than, the fact that they’re trying to figure it out. Most kids I deal with are always trying to figure it out. They say, How do I do this? How do I make things happen? How do I get on the other side of this anger? I do not know one child really that wants to be angry. 

Once you start to observe and ask and listen, and you’re finding out what’s behind your child’s anger then there are different ways to approach them to deal with that. One of those is with a calm spirit. You don’t try to escalate the situation with your own anger. If your child is making you angry, take a break. If you’re in the middle of a discussion and it gets heated. Stop and just say, Hey, why don’t we take a break for 30 minutes and cool down? You do not want to accidentally say somethings that you don’t want to say. If you break, what you’ll find is that a child comes back, and they’ve cooled down as well. You can have a good productive discussion as opposed to a screaming match that sometimes ensues.

Another tip is to always approach kids with reminders of love. I’m pretty strong with kids. I’m pretty strong with the ways that I approach the 60 high school kids that I live with. You have to be strict on some things, but that’s not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for how I love kids and every kid that lives with us says, you know, Mark loves us. He loves us. But what they also would tell you is that Mark tolerated nothing. So, this loving side, I want that to be the primary characteristic that kids see. I want the fact that I don’t tolerate anything from kids to be a secondary issue only because love is standing out so much more.

I communicate to kids that I only want the best for them. They know that I only want the best for them. I’m only thinking of them. You have to approach them with a listening ear. When you approach a child that is angry, you have got to move toward them in a way that says, you know what? This is about you. It’s not about me. And I’m going to help you get to a better place. I’m going to help you get to a better place. Not me get to a better place. 

Moms and dads, helping your teen deal with anger is one of the greatest resources you can build into their life. You can be the greatest example of temper management or the worst model of explosive anger. Either of those two will be mimicked by your teen. So be careful how you respond to things, don’t go your way because you’re being watched. You’re setting an example. Their anger is a light on the dashboard that flashes a warning that they’re not getting what they want or desire from life or in relationships. That is your opportunity as a parent to determine what is fueling the anger and get to the heart of the issue by asking questions that go beneath behavior, which is the visible expression of the invisible issues. It’s okay to have anger. As long as it doesn’t control your teen, disappoint them about life or cause them to act inappropriately towards relationships.

You hold the key here, mom and dad. You hold the key to help dispelling the very thing that can sidetrack your child and you have the opportunity to engage with them in such a way that you offer them something more than anybody else will around them. So, remember this, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.