Wisdom in the Information Age

by Mark Gregston

May 14, 2020

The parents of today’s teens are the last of a dying breed—the low-tech generation.  Never before in the history of mankind has so vast an amount of information been so readily accessible to a group of teens.  To put it in perspective, when you and I were teens, the amount of organized information available to the public doubled every thirteen years.  Today, the amount of written information available for public consumption is doubling at an ever-increasing rate.  Available information is not the problem—a lack of wisdom is the problem. 

Our teens don’t need more information, and information is not what their hearts are longing for.  Today’s teen is longing to find sources of wisdom and guidance so they can take all that they have learned, and all that they know they should believe in and make it a reality.  And, as parents, our questions should be how do we stop sharing information with them and start sharing wisdom? 

The Information Highway 

The amount of information available at our fingertips is overwhelming … and it’s constant.  And a teen’s social interaction needs to remain constant too, so they don’t miss anything.  As much as I hate to say it, we are living in a FOMO—the fear of missing out, world, and it’s affecting our kids in ways that no society has ever experienced before.  And since adults are part of that dying breed I spoke about earlier in the article, we can take breaks from social platforms without feeling the effects of missing out, but our high-tech teens feel as if they cannot. 

They’re overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of images, issues, and incessant gossip online.  So, they shut down.  As humans, we weren’t created to handle all the information that’s being thrown at us, and it’s causing teen depression rates to spike because they are constantly being tethered to the information highway and everything that goes along with it. 

What a Teen Needs and Doesn’t Need 

Teens need to slow down—to stop and smell the roses, and they need to know how to take the principles and values they’ve been given and apply them to the culture they are currently living in.  They need a daily dose of wisdom and they only way they can get that is to have a connection and relationship with you because unfortunately, the internet and social media has done a great job at trashing most everyone else in authority.  And that’s a shame because it’s from those people in places of authority who have observed life and who can reflect on life’s happenings, that provide the next generation with wisdom. 

Your teens don’t need another set of rules, or lists to follow.  They need more wisdom-based models of parenting, and they need to have someone help them apply what they’ve learned.  It’s better that you help them navigate the world, because if you don’t, someone else will. 

And here are a few pointers for going about it: don’t battle the counter-culture ideas and philosophies with more information.  Engage and arm your teen with wisdom and good counsel.  Listen to them.  Reflect on your experiences as a teen, share your mistakes, struggles, and hardships with them as a way of helping them go the way they want to go.  Pray with them and pray for them.  Read the Bible with your teen.  And finally, if you or your family needs it, get counseling. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … your teen is screaming for opportunities to get your attention and to gather wisdom.  And their world of influence is coming up short.  So, it’s your role to move into a place where you’re not just giving them information, but you’re sharing wisdom.  They will gather wisdom from you the same way that you’ve gotten yours—from what you see around you, what you think about, and what you experience.  So, what wisdom do they collect as they observe you?  Have you stopped sharing information and started giving insights through questions that are deeper than surface level ones?  And what experiences are you providing for them that display wisdom and action, in helping them turn from foolishness?  You will be the most reliable and important source of wisdom in your teen’s life, so be wise!  Your teens are watching and learning from your every move. 


A Dozen Moves that Parents of Teens Need to Make

by Mark Gregston

May 11, 2020

Have you ever watched the movie “Failure to Launch” with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker?  The movie centers around a 35-year-old man who has no desire to leave the comfortable nest of dependence that his parents have created for him.  But unlike McConaughey’s main character, most teenagers want to grow up and move out.  They want to take responsibility for their actions, make decisions, and they desire to be mature and in control. 

As parents, it can be tough for us to let go, but kids and teens will typically side with those who are helping them move towards independence and progress.  It’s your job to help them grow up, so you’ll want to make sure that it’s you they are turning to for help and not someone else.  We’re here to help “launch” them into the world they are going to live in, not the world in which we hope they live.  And to better help them flourish, so they don’t fail, and you don’t flop, we’ve prepared a list of twelves things you can do right now to help them survive in the “jungle.” 

Twelve Ways to Transition 

  • Encourage maturity.  From ages 1-12, you were the teacher, but after age thirteen, it’s important that you become the trainer, helping them grow in maturity. 
  • Encourage your teen to develop independence.  Don’t create a sense of dependence on you.  The goal is independence, so parents who want their child to rely on them for everything are not doing anyone any favors. 
  • Encourage them to make their own decisions.  Mistakes will be made, but so will learning opportunities. Look for the balance.  Neither failure nor success is the point.  Learning how to be a healthy member of society is the point. 
  • Let them do for themselves.  Instead of doing things for them, let them complete tasks on their own.  I’ve seen far too many parents who think it’s their job to entertain their children and keep them occupied.  Teens need to learn how to entertain and fend for themselves. 
  • Let them have some control.  Quit talking for them.  Let them have a voice.  You have to let go and let them be in control over aspects of their lives.  It’s the only way that they will mature into healthy people. 
  • Let them ask questions.  Move away from giving them the answer all the time, and allow them to ask questions.  Even if they are wrong, they need to think.  Learning to reason and think about things logically and rationally should be a goal that every parent desires for their son or daughter. 
  • Help them understand the value of discipline.  When the need for discipline arises, remind them that you’re on their side and move away from punishing them for misunderstanding to helping them be a part of the process.  They’ll learn the value of it and it gives them ownership.  Every book out there will tell you that you need to have rules, good boundaries, and good consequences, but what they often fail to pick up on is that you also need to a relationship. 
  • Encourage responsibility.  Instead of being responsible for their every need, let them take some control over areas as they grow.  Give them more and more responsibility for their actions.  It’s okay to remind them that there are good and bad consequences for their actions, but let them be the ones to decide which path they’re going to follow. 
  • Discuss things with them.  Gone are the days of lecturing.  No one learns from being lectured to—especially teenagers. Use the Socratic method of thinking.  Ask questions, let them answer the questions, and apply real life principles to their world.  They grew up in your world, now it’s time to let them grow older in theirs. 
  • Share your world with them.  Get real with your kids.  Dive beneath the surface, they’re yearning to be heard, so let them share their lives with you. 
  • Listen!  Mom and dad, do more listening, and less talking.  The Bible tells us that even a fool appears wise when he keeps his mouth shut. 
  • Remind them that it’s “who they are,” not “what they do” that matters. 

Kennady’s Story 

After years of miscommunicating with her parents, and feeling they didn’t understand what she was going through, Kennady, one of our Heartlight students, tried to end her life.  According to Kennady, she and family appeared to have it all together, but underneath their well-cultured façade, they were struggling relationally.  Her parents didn’t understand that she was depressed, and the more they miscommunicated, the further she pushed them away. 

Thankfully for Kennady, the police intervened, and after a brief stay at the hospital, she came to Heartlight where she and her family are now on the road to recovery. 

Kennady shared with me that she wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else, and, if you think there’s a problem in your family, it’s important to seek help.  She added, Heartlight isn’t just this magical place in Texas, it’s a place where hard work happens, and for my family, I wish Heartlight would have happened sooner. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … changing your parenting style to accommodate the needs of your teens will determine whether you are a success or a total failure in training up your teen to face the world as they know it.  God has placed you in the life of your child for a reason—to teach them the values and principles that you hold dear in your heart, and to train them how to hold the same near and dear to theirs.  Shifting your style from a teaching to training emphasis helps you change your approach as your teen matures and changes into a godly man or woman.  The key to that transformation is to engage in such a way that brings hope and health to a generation that longs for wisdom and craves direction to apply those values that you have built into their lives. 


The Three Most Important Things in the Teen Years

by Mark Gregston

I’ve been working with families and teens since I was nineteen years old.  What I’ve learned over these forty plus years is that what you do in your child’s adolescent years will make all the difference in the world concerning what your family will look like when your teen leaves home, gets married, and has a family of their own. 

I often say, undesirable behaviors are simply the visible expression of an invisible issue that comes out in your home.  So, when you look at the heart of your child, can you see where the behavior is coming from?  Do you see any areas of improvement?  And more importantly, do you know about the three areas of emphasis that create a healthy, loving, and stable atmosphere that will allow your teen to thrive? 

If you’re longing to make a deeper connection with your child, keep reading to learn about the three most important things you can do and learn in the teen years. 

#1: Cultivate a Relationship 

It’s important that you give teens a taste of something good that they will long for during the rest of their lives.  That good thing is a healthy relationship.  God created us to be in relationships, and they allow us to feel valued, understand who we are, and help to give us a positive self-image.  In order to maintain a relationship with your teen—no matter their choices, you’re going to need to love them the way that God loves us—unconditionally. You’ll also need to affirm their existence at the worst of times, and let them know they are loved, even when they seem unlovable. 

At Heartlight, we teach parents to look for ways they can change up their relationship, and we teach them how to love their child, in spite of their behaviors.  One way to change things up is to look at the flaws in your own behaviors before trying to point out the flaws in your child’s.  Open up the dialogue between you and your teen, and allow your teen to speak into the relationship.  Ask your teen how they’d like to see things evolve and flourish, and listen to what they have to say! 

#2: Maintain a Proper Home Environment 

Have you thought about the type of environment you want to create for your family?  Have you defined what your home will be about—not just what it won’t be?  Teenagers aren’t going to obey your rules just because you’ve told them they have to.  The teen years can be a time of trial and testing so, you’ll need to map out your expectations, determine the boundaries, and set rules that encourage positive behavior and provide rewards. Be prepared to be flexible knowing that one child is not the same as another.  It’s also the time to keep focused on what really matters. 

If your home isn’t running the way you would like it to run, or if your child is depressed or self-medicating, step back and consider your role.  Are your expectations too high?  Are you an absentee parent? 

It’s never too late to turn the ship around.  But whatever course of action you take, examine your part first.  After that, make sure your child understands that the rules and consequences are in place because you love them and you want to help them get to where they want to go. 

Encourage positive behaviors and don’t reinforce negative ones.  Keep your list of expectations to a manageable few.  Often times it seems as if moms have about 150 rules to comply with, while dads usually hover around one or two.  There’s no right or wrong number for house rules.  But, remember, when you’re enforcing rules, you’re not thinking about cultivating relationships—you’re focused solely on the behavior.  So, find a balance that works for your family and stick to it.  In my experience, teens can only handle or remember about ten rules at a time. 

#3: Deal with Any and All Trust Issues 

As Gabby, one of our Heartlight residents explained, parents need to realize that whatever stressful situation is happening in the family—it’s happening to everyone—not just the parent. 

That’s a good reminder for all of us. If you want to develop and maintain a great relationship with your teen, you really have to keep the lines of communication open while you deal with the more complex crud.  And ignoring the issues is not fair to anyone—especially your child’s future spouse and children. 

Whatever is happening in your home, you need to address it now.  And that doesn’t mean trying to correct the behavior with more rules, nor does it mean just being your teen’s friend.  You have to face the deeper issues head-on, and get to the heart of the matter.  If that’s something you’re not prepared to do on your own, don’t be afraid to call in the reinforcements.  There are some arenas in which your child may need help—and that help may need to come from someone besides you.  There’s nothing wrong with seeking counseling or professional help if you think there’s a chance you’re swimming in water that’s over your head.  You never know how many lives you might be saving. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … Your involvement in the life of your teen is paramount to the healthiness of your family.  And I’m convinced that how you are involved will determine the depth of the relationship you have with your child in their adult years.  So, make sure that you’re working hard to maintain the relationship you have with your teen today.  And the crucial piece of that challenge is to create a relational atmosphere that is structured by the rules and boundaries that guarantee a path that will lead your teen to success.  And don’t be afraid to deal with the tough issues in the life of your child.  Resolve what needs to be solved, so that problems aren’t carried into adulthood and into the lives of the next generation.