Heartlight: Help for Troubled Teens

Parents frantically look for solutions when their teenager displays anger, rebellion, runs away, gets involved in drugs or sex, or otherwise shows self-destructive behavior.  And if things have gotten beyond a parent’s ability to control the child, or if the child is flirting with the law and could face jail time, parents seemingly have nowhere to turn.  That’s why we created Heartlight, 29 years ago.

Since 1988, we’ve helped more than 3,000 troubled teens who have come to live with us at Heartlight, all of whom have struggled immensely.  We’ve shed many tears with their parents, who, at the time, didn’t see the path to make it through the struggle.  These parents were so tired of being called every name in the book, challenged on every thought they’ve ever had, and absolutely depleted because of all the hardship caused in their home by their troubled teen.  Many had lost hope and didn’t think they were going to make it.

But with our help, they did make it.  Heartlight offers a way to break the tension for a family.  We provide around the clock mentoring, counseling and guidance for each teenager in our program, and encouragement and training for the parents as well.  Parents get a needed break and the teenager will get a break from bad influences and gain a new, healthy perspective on life.   In a few months, there’s a renewed interest and respect by the teen for his or her family and rules, and a desire to make something of their life, not a penchant to throw it down the drain as they had been doing.

If your child exhibits some of the signs of needing intense counseling and temporary removal from the home, then I welcome you to check out Heartlight (www.heartlightministries.org).

The Heartlight formula is loving and relational, not forced or focused on breaking the teen’s spirit.  It is designed to bring light to a troubled teen’s heart and reveal and deal with their struggles, not crush their heart like many of the harsher boot camps and wilderness programs can do.

Heartlight is specifically designed to work with and solve troubled teen issues.  And among only a handful of Christian-focused programs, Heartlight is one of the most effective and least costly choices.

The stay at Heartlight usually lasts 9-12 months.  We have a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of staff to residents on campus.  Throughout the teen’s time at Heartlight, our master-level counseling staff work with them in individual and group counseling sessions and the house staff mentor the teens around the clock.  Our residential staff are younger men and women, all of whom are believers and have a passion for helping teenagers.  Parents are continually updated on the student’s progress and on-campus events and seminars help parents know how to deal with the teenager more effectively.  It is a well-rounded program that focuses on healing of family relationships and better thinking and actions on the part of the teen.

Many of our alumni parents say that Heartlight literally saved their troubled teen from sure self-destruction, or at the very least saved their family from pulling apart at the seams.  Visit our website and check out Heartlight… www.HeartlightMinistries.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 ParentingTodaysTeens.org 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.


Is My Teen Using Drugs?

In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically.  In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their   middle school age years.  Yes, times are changing.  The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.

Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash.  So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs?  And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?

In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions.  Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues.  We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.

Take the Initiative

If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out.  At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe.  We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places.  But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.

Signs of Drug Use

You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing.  Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game.  They may also be feeling shame over their drug use.  Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.

One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things.  For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs.  Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell.  Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes?  All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.

You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine.  Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed?  Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns.  Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation.  He’s become lazy.  Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.

Teens are created to be relational beings.  Most kids don’t do things because of their friends.  They do things with their friends.  So if friends are using, they may give it a shot.  It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house.  If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.

If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using.  Or it could just be a shift in attitude.  Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings.  If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.

Here’s the point.  Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you  follow your instincts.  If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen.  Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer.  Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable.  If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive.  Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs.  That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.

Not My Kids!

Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure.  Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up.  Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery.  Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize.  Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel.  It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.

If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem.  Or you discover their secret.  When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse.  Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different.  If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact.  If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess.  If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard.  This is when you reinforce the relationship.  You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you.  If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.

Obviously, every situation is different.  And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored.  But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.

As a parent, you want good things for your teen.  We all do.  Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs.  You still want the very best for him or her.  Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen.  No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.

I hope you’ll listen to the upcoming radio program on this subject.  The Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast will go deeper into the issues of drug use in teens.  Visit www.parentingtodaysteens.org to find a radio station near you, or to sign up for the podcast.

If you are in the Laredo, Texas area, we will be having a Turbulence Ahead Seminar on Saturday, January 28th in the United Middle School.

Tickets: $10/person and $15/couple. Call 956.726.3899 for more information or to purchase tickets.

If you have any questions about bringing a Turbulence Ahead Seminar to your city, please contact Sam Sheeley in our office at 866-700-3264, or e-mail him at Sam@TurbulenceAhead.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Healing the Wounds Surrounding Cutting

When the pain in life gets too hard, too overwhelming, teens may take it out on themselves with drastic measures.  While many kids will respond with symptoms of low self-esteem, depression, or withdrawing from the family, other teens will try to mask the pain by cutting, a form of self harm.

In my ministry at Heartlight, I have seen dozens of self-inflicted injuries.  Some have used a razors to make slices in their arms.  Others use small pieces of glass or even paper clips to “scratch” themselves.  I’ve seen some rub their skin with an pencil erasure till it bleeds and others use a curling iron to burn themselves.  Whatever method they choose to employ, it’s usually very painful.

Tragically, in our culture today this type of bizarre behavior is no longer a rare occurrence.  While it used to be considered a sign of mental illness, now kids openly talk about it with one another.  For any parent with a child who chooses to inflict this kind of self-pain, the question is obvious:  what can we do about it?  

Causes of Cutting

This world is difficult for our kids.  They are bombarded by so many conflicting messages and pressures that they have a hard time coping with daily life.  And when the anxiety, emotions, and tension go up, teens look for a way out.  When adequate coping skills are absent, Often, that way out is through self-harm.

I’ve always believed that all behavior is goal-oriented.  If they’re doing it, they’re getting something out of it.  What we need to focus on is finding out why the teen is cutting so that we can focus on the real issue.  Teens inflict harm on themselves for a couple of primary reasons.  One is that they are dealing with bigger issues.  The other is to get attention.

Some teens use cutting as a distraction from other problems in life.  They think:  If I cut, I can focus on that greater pain, and the pain I am feeling from another side of life won’t seem as painful.  

Another reason teens cut is to get rid of boredom or create excitement.  Today’s teens are more bored than ever before.  With every kind of technological entertainment at their disposal, they are lost in a state of monotony.  So, kids are really pushing the envelope to create some kind of thrill.  They love an adrenaline rush.  They look around and see what their peers expect of them, and they fall into conformity, even if it’s painful, because they want to be accepted.  They may also try it just to show off or shock somebody.  Cutting is one way they think that they can get the attention and acceptance they crave.

Some teens will cut just because they’re curious to find out how it feels and what the infliction will evoke with their parents and friends.  I’ve noticed that those that show off their markings or scars are usually ones that “show” as a badge or an expression of need for attention.  Those that hide their self harm usually “cut” or “burn” out of escalated emotion, then hide their deeds because they’re embarrassed that they couldn’t adequately “handle” the situation.

Other teens may be using cutting to punish themselves.  They do so to discipline themselves for stupid or foolish decisions, as a way to purge themselves of the feelings of self-contempt.  It can also be a symptomatic sign of mental illness.  This is one reason why it’s so important to understand why your teen is cutting – so that you can address it appropriately and get the help you need.

Intervening

If a teen is cutting for show, they can quit right now.  I’ve always said if you scratch yourself and it hurts, then don’t do it.  Pretty basic stuff.  For example, there have been times when I wanted to smash my fist through a wall out of anger.  And if I did it, I’d feel better.  For a moment.  My hand would be broken, but it felt good to release all that emotion for a minute.  But if a child is cutting because of a deeper issue in their life, you’ll need to address it because no brief exhilaration will ever be enough to disguise their emotional pain.

Parents, if your teen is cutting, don’t panic.  It’s hard to see your child inflicting these injuries on himself, but seek counsel before over- reacting (unless they need medical attention, then get it right away of course).

Take the time to get to the root of the issue.  Don’t pretend like the problem isn’t there, or make light of it.  Find a counselor who has dealt with cutters.  Make sure that you work through the issues with your teen, but be sure to spend time together that’s not focused on the issue, either.  Don’t forget that cutting is indicative of something behind the scenes that you cannot see.  You have to stop the cutting issue, but you also need to address the deeper issue.

Cutting tends to grow into greater problems, and can even become addictive.  This e-newsletter article only serves to introduce you to the basic issues behind cutting.  If you’re in a situation that needs to be addressed right away, I implore you to find professional help.

As an added resource to you, I hope you’ll listen to an upcoming radio program on this subject.  Licensed clinical social worker DeeDee Mayer has seen this damaging behavior in many of her clients and has a lot of good advice and counsel.  You can hear my conversation with DeeDee on the Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast.  We want to help you understand how to help your teen get treatment before the problem grows.

You can also find out more about Heartlight or request the booklet “The Phenomenon of Cutting” at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.