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When It’s Time to Act

prodigalFor parents, there is no worse feeling than watching your child spin out of control while nothing you do seems to make any difference.  If your teenager’s behavior is giving you feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear, I would like to offer you some suggestions.

First, stop what you are doing and start a new way of thinking in regard to how you are handling the situation.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If your home is feeling a little insane these days, perhaps you need to change how it operates.

Start in a new direction by first talking to others, like your friends, pastor, youth minister, your parents, your child’s teachers, and the rest of the family.  You need to gain wisdom and a sense of reality regarding the situation.  Are you blowing it out of proportion, or perhaps not even noticing how bad it has become?  Is your teenager just acting out at home, or are they behaving even worse when away from home?  People around you will know, and they can help you gain perspective.

Accepting the reality of the problem is difficult for some parents.  They won’t acknowledge it because to them it would be accepting responsibility for failure.  Others tend to see just the good and believe no wrong in their children.  They are blinded to what everyone around them can already see; that is, until it becomes a full blown crisis or tragedy.  So when you come to a right “realization,” don’t hesitate to begin your search for a resolution by validating your suspicions with those around you.  They know what’s going on and will be glad that you finally see the light.

WHAT IS AN “OUT OF CONTROL TEEN”? An out of control teenager is one who doesn’t appear to have the internal ability to function within established boundaries and rules of the home or society. Their behaviors, if allowed to continue, could have dangerous or grave consequences for them physically, for their future, or for your family.

When Is It Time to Act?

I’m sure you wish this situation wasn’t at your doorstep.  But it is, so you have to act on your child’s behalf.  And no matter how lonely it might be, or how difficult it might appear; no matter what your child’s response, you must act quickly.

STEP ONE:  INVESTIGATE

It is critical to ask questions to get to the root of what is causing your child’s change in behavior.  Is he depressed?  Is he being bullied, abused, or using drugs or alcohol?  Has a major loss happened in your family recently?  Most of the time, parents find out way too late about underlying causes of a child’s behavior.  Communication is key at this time.  If the lines of communication are down, then re-establish them—forcing communication if need be.  Require time from your child to discuss how they’re doing before you pay their next car insurance bill, give them gas money, or hand over the keys to the car.  Determine to establish the lines of communication and make sure you ask lots of questions.

Find out how your child is acting outside of the home.  Talk to your child’s teachers and coaches, kids at church, your own parents, your siblings, their siblings, your friends, their friends, their youth minister and just about anyone who has had contact with your child.  See if they have any insights into why your child’s behavior has changed.  In fact, if your teen’s friends show up at your home, don’t be afraid to ask them what’s going on.  Some will be honest, as they might be just as concerned as well.  Just make sure you ask questions, and ask everyone to be honest with you.

STEP TWO:  SET BOUNDARIES

Establish and communicate clear boundaries for behavior by all members of your family (not just your wayward teen).  Determine what you hold to be true and the principles upon which you will base your rules for living.  Communicate and live by these boundaries, rather than “shooting from the hip” every time something comes up.  Make a policy and procedure manual for your home, so everyone knows what to expect.  Spend some time determining how you want to live and put some feet to it to ensure that all understand those boundaries.

STEP THREE:  ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE CONSEQUENCES

Once boundaries are in place, there must be reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, and they must be enforced, or your credibility goes right out the window.  And keep in mind that they must be enforced for all members of the family, not just your teen, so they don’t feel singled out.

Parents today tend to be so relational that they find it hard to send a strong message to “not go this way” for fear of losing their relationship.  But what most parents don’t understand is that kids do want direction, correction and help in moving through the transition to adulthood.  Tom Landry once said, “A coach makes people do things they don’t want to do so they can get to a place where they do want to be.”  Parents must do the same for their children.

STEP FOUR:  GET OUTSIDE HELP

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  — Chinese Proverb 

Perhaps your child’s issues are deeper and they’ll need professional counseling or medication to get through it.  And maybe you’ll need counseling to get through it as well.  Find a good Christian counselor that specializes in teen behavior, and trust what they recommend.  If you’re going to pick and choose the counsel you receive, then you’ll more than likely just continue to do what you want, and your child will continue to spin out of control.  Don’t let old beliefs about medicine control your new decisions that have to be made for your child.  If your child is depressed or anxious, has ADD, or OCD, can’t sleep at night, is bi-polar, or has a true mental condition that demands medication, don’t let your outdated boundaries prevent your child from getting help from something that is essential to their well being.

Hospitalization may even be needed if you feel that your child is a danger to himself or herself.  Extreme cutting, eating disorders, bizarre behavior, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, or excessive drug or alcohol abuse are just a few of the symptoms that might warrant hospitalization.  Don’t hesitate to hospitalize your child just because you don’t know what it is.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

When Nothing is Working

In the event that your teen is running away or otherwise hitting bottom, and counseling is going nowhere, you may need to place your teen in a therapeutic program outside of your home for a time.  This is not the time to spend mulling over where your parenting has gone wrong.  It’s time for action, when your child could damage his life and possibly make choices with grave consequences.  After you’ve had time to get good counsel (hopefully from quite a few people) and you’ve had some time to think it through, start to put an intervention plan into action.

A therapeutic program or facility away from home will get them away from their peers, drugs and other influences.  It will give the whole family a time of rest and regrouping.  It will offer the teen a fresh perspective and a concentrated, focused way of dealing with their issues.  Yes, it’s a “last ditch” effort, to be initiated when all other options and attempts to help your child have been exhausted, but for some kids, it can be a lifesaver.  Over the past 20 years, some 3,000 kids have come to live with us a Heartlight (http://www.heartlightministries.org) for 9 to 12 months at a time.  We daily work with them in a relational way to change their thinking and ambitions to more positive pursuits.

All therapeutic programs are not the same, and there is very little regulation or standards in therapeutic care for youth.  So do your homework.  Check out each program’s professional references.  Call the local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.  Get a list and call the parents who have had their child in the program recently.  If the program won’t allow you to call parents, then that may be a sign to look elsewhere.  And make sure the list they supply is made up of real parents, not just people trained to convince you to enroll in that program.

A therapeutic program isn’t an easy or inexpensive option for parents.  It can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  No doubt, it will be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make.  But one statement I hear from kids and from their parents over and over is this:  “If I (they) didn’t come to Heartlight, I think I (they) would have been dead or in prison by now.” 

It’s a harsh reality to send a child off to be cared for elsewhere.  But that reality pales when you consider the possibilities or outcomes of your child’s current behavior and how such behavior could ruin his or her life.  What you are giving him or her is something that can’t be found in the current home setting.  You are loving them in a way that perhaps you haven’t loved them before.  It’s tough to think that they’ll have to miss some of their time in the local high school, and may never graduate there.  But it’s a good decision if it will save your child.

Don’t ignore what is happening in your family.  Though you undoubtedly hope it will just go away, it won’t likely do so without a major change in the way your home operates, or placement of the teen in a therapeutic program away from home, especially if the behavior has already been going on for many months.  And if you think the problem will disappear when your child turns 18, think again.  It won’t disappear; it will likely get worse and linger well into adulthood if it is not dealt with earlier.  Just envision the chaos in your home from having your teenager still living with you at age 35, either because they continue to be addicted to drugs or they can’t find a job because they were arrested and have a record.  That’s a reality in more homes today than you might imagine.

Consider this … if God’s timing is perfect, and I believe it is, these issues are happening at this time in your life for a reason.  So take advantage of it, and do what you need to do.  And know that this time of trouble will one day be over.  II Corinthian 4:17 states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  I would put an emphasis on “momentary.”

This struggle may last awhile, but it won’t last long – not if you take the necessary steps to correct it now.

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.

 


Balanced Parenting

The “Baby Boom” generation was so anxious to have good relationships with their children that they tended to set aside their primary role as parents.  Their desire to be their child’s best friend nurtured the advent of a self-centered, demanding, “Me Generation” who believes the world revolves around them.  But there’s hope!

Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid

As I’ve grown older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose.  And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad’s parenting style.  I’ve learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.

My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family.  Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family.  He demanded respect.  He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.

My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on.  He also saw to it that our family was protected.  Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.

Parenting in Today’s Generation — Too Relational

Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along.  Some called it a revolution.  Millions of “Baby Boomers” fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind.  Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love.  We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and “smile on your brother; everybody get together; try to love one another right now.”  There was a “whole lotta’ love” going around.  And we “showered the people we love with love … showing them the way that we feel.”  Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.

Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs.  We determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme.  Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more.  Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility.  Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald’s in-between.  We indulged, spoiled and provided too much “stuff” as misguided expressions of our love.

But Good Relationships Are Good, Aren’t They?

What’s wrong with too much love?  Nothing!  But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus.  To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement.  Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them.  Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements.  They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills.  When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry.  We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance.  After all, they wouldn’t admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home.  Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home right now?

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes.  So, I’ve seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.

The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children.  This becomes especially difficult in step-families and some adoptive families.  The crucial role of correcting and holding children accountable is impossible when our overriding concern is to avoid any form of damage to our friendship.  But what we need to realize is that our children need parents first, not more friends.

So, the big question is this:  How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen?  In other words, how do we find a proper balance without swinging the pendulum too far the other way?

Parenting the Right Way – Balanced

A simple answer is to say things like “No” and “Maybe” more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line.  Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time.  It is not just one or the other, it is both.  The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.

Kids learn quickly when they come to live with us at Heartlight that I am an authority in their life.  But that is always coupled with acceptance and love.  That’s why we continue to have great relationships with them over the years.  I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to come to their college graduations or weddings, or who have connected with me on the Internet or by phone.  And most of them have turned out great, so I know there is hope, even with the most difficult and selfish teenagers.  There is a way to resolve this dilemma, but it takes a balanced approach.

Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up.  But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily.  Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released.  Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers, and they’ll realize that you did it out of love, not to be mean or rigid.  In fact, they’ll ask for advice when they have children — and the beat goes on.

Scripture describes God as a mighty warrior and a fierce lion.  Scripture also reveals His softer side, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa 66:13).  One purpose of parenting is to give a child a taste of the character of God, and that means giving them both sides of His character.

It’s never too late to start being a balanced parent; have a loving relationship, while also holding them responsible.  Your children need your correction, wisdom, and willingness to help them travel the path God has for them.  They need you to be gentle and loving, but also firm – a clear reflection of both sides of God’s character.

A wise man once told me, “When you’re called to be a servant, don’t stoop to be a king.”  Parents are never a more like a servant than when they willingly love a child through anything.  But don’t grow weary in doing what is right, since your first job is to be an authority in your child’s life.  Your teen needs a parent and a friend, but when push comes to shove, they need a parent more.

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.


Teen Intervention and Recovery

We received an email recently from a desperate mother who wrote: “My son has been deeply depressed and is refusing to go to counseling.  The school suspended him because the counselor there deemed him to be suicidal.  He’s very precious to me, but I’m at a loss what to do.”  This is a classic case where intervention is needed—when if something isn’t done quickly, the child may not be around long.

It’s important to understand up front what intervention is…and what it is not.  Intervention is not about getting justice for your teen’s misbehavior (for terrorizing the whole family); intervention is about saving them from themselves.  It gives kids an opportunity to step back from the brink and begin dealing with the underlying issues that are causing the symptoms that have brought things to a crisis point. Continue reading “Teen Intervention and Recovery”