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When to Share Your Past with Your Teen

I’ve never heard parents ever state, “We want our kids to be perfect!” Yet, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard adolescents say, “My parents expect me to be perfect!” I’d be a rich man. For many parents, the intended message gets lost in interpretation because their teen is having a hard time embracing the authenticity of the messenger.

As a child moves into their teen years, it’s crucial for Mom and Dad to shift their parenting style from a teaching model to a training model; helping teens take what they know to be true and apply it to the life they live in the culture they belong. In a performance and appearance teen culture where “posers” and ‘wanna-be’s” are a dime a dozen, teens are crying out for connections in relationships that are authentic. Never before have parents had the opportunity as the one before them now to be that genuine and trustworthy connection when their kids transition into their adolescent years.

A parent’s first move from a teaching to a training model is to begin sharing about his or her own imperfections. This in an intentional action that might begin when a child is anywhere between the ages of 12 and 14; the age when they’re beginning to learn from their social circles that they and their parents aren’t as perfect as they have been led to or allowed to believe.   This shift in parenting models authenticates not only the teaching that has happened the first 12 years of their child’s life, but creates a genuine and “real” relationship of training for the years ahead.

This “new” relationship moves a parent into a bond with their teen that can now share what Paul shared with the Philippians when he said, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.” (Philippians 4:9 -The Message). Paul is saying, “Okay guys, you’ve learned a lot… now let’s put it all into practice.”

To allow pre-teens and teens to continue the belief that their parents are perfect and the expectation is for them to be perfect, will build conflict into the parent-teen relationship for obvious reasons. First of all, it’s hard to live with perfect people. And secondly, the lifelong teachings of the younger years will become invalidated in the minds of a teen, because they lack genuineness and realness as they shift their cognitive process from concrete to abstract thinking.

For parents who have never debunked or deflated their child’s perceived perfection of them, or allowed their teens to continue living out their belief of their necessity for perfection, the sharing of their “own story” becomes crucial and necessary to help a pre-teen make a healthy transition into adolescence. When parents share their past relational hurts, their shortcomings and struggles, and their “own issues”, they open the door for a deeper and more meaningful relationship.

Parents always ask me if they should share their “past” with their kids. My answer is a resounding, “Absolutely, YES!” I would add that parents should also be engaged in sharing their current struggles. This type of conversation authenticates not only the parent, but brings to life the necessity of a relationship with Christ as they see the message of the Gospel fleshed out in the life of Mom and Dad.

To those parents that say the sharing of their sinful and hurtful past might give license for their child to do the same, I would tell you that is not what I see in the current of today’s teen culture. Teens aren’t looking for justification of inappropriate behavior; they’re looking for authenticity in relationships around them that undergird the values and principles they have been taught and really know to be true.

Moms and Dads are those people that can offer what their teen is looking for in making a transition from childhood to adulthood. And it begins with authenticity.

Now, of course, all that’s shared should be timely, age appropriate, and for the benefit of the child’s development. The determined action to share imperfections, thus validating the need for embracing the biblical principles taught in a child’s early years, should be unleashed.   Details that border on TMI (Too Much Information) should be bridled. Make sure that what is shared is communicated for the benefit of your emerging teen. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians stated it well when he said, Do not let any unwholesome (distasteful, my addition) talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

As a point of action today, text your teen and ask them, “Do you think I want you to be perfect?” Text them, don’t call them. They may be more open in their thoughts writing to you than talking to you face-to-face. You might just be surprised at your teen’s response. But I guarantee you this, they will be even more surprised at your new style of engagement, a style that will open new pathways into the heart of your teen at a time in life that they need you the most. Whatever their response, use it as an opportunity to break the “perfectionist image” they have of you, or as a springboard to engage in a new type of conversation with your emerging teen.

And as you begin your intentional effort to “put feet to the lessons they have learned”, be just as committed in your goal to help them become more authentic. Talk less, listen more. Stop the lectures and have more discussions. Quit correcting all the time, and begin providing a place of rest for their hearts. Quit being perfect, and begin showing your imperfections. Share more of your failures and less of your successes.

Paul, the greatest teacher of how to communicate with your teens, tells Timothy, Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth……” (2 Timothy 2:22-26 The Message)

It’s a move toward authenticity.  And more importantly, it’s perhaps the first steps to helping your child understand what it’s like to be a real follower of Christ in a broken world.

Mark

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Getting Teens to Grow Up

Remember Alice in Wonderland?  There’s one part of the story that finds a diminutive Alice trapped in a room where everything is bigger and taller than she is.  But there, at her feet, she finds a piece of cake labeled “Eat Me.”  After one bite from that questionable dessert, Alice grows exponentially, transforming into a full-fledged adult in the space of a few seconds.

I know many parents who would love to feed a bit of that kind of “maturity cake” to their own kids!  It seems that more and more teenagers in this generation are becoming stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence.  Instead of growing into healthy adults, a rising number of young people are prolonging their childhood.  In fact, the American Medical Association has recently increased the age of adolescence to 27.  That means we have a bunch of twenty-somethings running around behaving like kids!

No parent wants his or her child stuck.  Our desire is to see our kids develop into mature, responsible, and independent adults.  So how can we get young people to grow up?

Causes

Before we work to fix the problem, we first have to identify the cause.  Now, we could blame society for this generation of childish teens.  But here’s the honest truth—parents, the fault lies with us.  Young people will remain kids as long as we allow them to be kids.  When we entertain their every desire, cater to their every need, protect them from every threat, and fund their every activity, why would they ever feel the need to be mature or responsible?

Another cause for stunted growth could be related to how we communicate with our teens.  When we constantly criticize their behavior, we stop their decision-making processes and send a clear message that they can’t function on their own.  As they move through the process of maturity, remember to transition from lectures to discussions.  Parents; stop the constant correction of your kids!  I realize that sometimes they need it, but communication made up entirely of criticism can stunt a child’s growth.  If you want your child to grow into an adult, begin to treat him like one.  If your son or daughter makes a mistake and doesn’t always listen to your advice, that’s okay.  The consequences of bad decisions are often better than any correction you could give.

Solutions

When your child shows no desire to hold a job, move out of the house, pursue goals, or further her life, it’s time to ask some tough questions.  Are you giving too much and expecting too little?  Are you nurturing a child’s inner adult or catering to an adult’s inner child?  Though on the outside it looks like a maturity problem with your child, a teen stuck as a kid is really a family problem.  And it needs to be corrected!

Zookeepers know that you can turn a ferocious grizzly bear into a non-threatening stuffed animal by providing for their every need and limiting their freedom.  But don’t make that mistake with your teens.  Allow them opportunities to reach, grow, and mature, even if that means they make mistakes along the way.  We want our teens to survive in the jungle, not a controlled habitat at home.

Start by making a detailed plan of moving your child through maturity.  It could look something like this:

  • Age 13: Start washing his or her own clothes
  • Age 14: Pick up more chores around the house
  • Age 15: Get involved in helping others at church or in the community
  • Age 16: Get a summer job
  • Age 17: Be responsible for his or her own school career, including homework, tests, and activities
  • Age 18: Manage personal money, including clothes budget or gas

These are simply examples, but you can see that the goal is to slowly nudge your children to deeper levels of maturity and growth, and lovingly train them to stand on their own two feet.  Mom and Dad, start taking the emotional training wheels off your child’s bike early and often.  This doesn’t mean we can’t help him steer or balance the bike from time to time.  But we don’t allow our eighteen year-old to keep riding around on a tricycle!

No teen is past the age where you can teach maturity.  Maybe you have a 19-year-old living in your basement, playing video games and contributing nothing.  Now’s the time to take action and give him a big push in the right direction.  Announce that you’ll be charging rent next month.  However, maybe the first month you’ll cover half the payment, the second month you’ll cover a quarter, and by the third month you’ll expect a full rent payment.  The ramp-up will give him time to get on his feet.  Or make the decision that gas money, insurance, and clothing allowances are contingent on going to college or holding down a job.  Set the rules, then don’t give in!  Stick to your guns.  If you don’t do anything now, two years down the road, instead of a 19-year-old living in your basement, you’ll have a 21-year-old living there!  Make a decision to help your teen move forward right now, and put it at the top of the priority list.

Though the American Medical Association says that 27 is the new 18, we don’t want that to be the case for our kids.  It starts with us as parents.  Let’s take the initiative and begin offering our teens opportunities to nibble the cake that will help them grow up.  Stop the constant correction, take off the training wheels, and make a yearly maturity plan for your teen.  Use these tools to get your teen moving forward into adulthood.

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.


Don’t Be Blindsided by the Teen Years

Parents with children in the “tween” years should pat themselves on the back for a job well done! After a decade of protecting and nurturing their growing child, parenting can become easier at this time. But they would be wise to consider this breather period as a time to prepare for the often turbulent teen years and make the appropriate adjustments in their parenting style.

When your child reaches the “tween” years, parenting can seem to smooth out and become easier, but those who have been through this stage might call it, “the calm before the storm.”  The parent of a “tween-ager” may be tempted to think, “Why change the way I relate to my child, since things are going so well right now?” Here’s why… in a year or two your teen will begin to earnestly seek independence. They will spend more time away from you and your home, and they’ll become influenced by their culture and friends.

When kids begin thinking and reasoning for themselves, their parents may realize too late that they haven’t properly shifted their own parenting style to accommodate for a more self-willed and self-sufficient child.  They can therefore be surprised and dismayed at the rift it creates in their relationship.

Lacking a strong relationship with parents, teenagers who are spending more time away from home begin thinking they are in control and that their parents are irrelevant and totally out of sync with them and the world.  A parent who hasn’t learned to shift their style of parenting will see their child pull away from them at this time.  To their dismay, they’ll see their teen making immature decisions that can lead them down the wrong path in life.

To prevent your child from pulling away from you, here are a few suggestions for changing your parenting style for the next decade of your child’s life. Implementing these suggestions will provide a more stable line of defense by keeping you and your teen in a closer relationship; minimizing the possibility you’ll be blindsided by the storms of adolescence.

Change 1:  Give Your Teen Room to Decide on Their Own, Within Boundaries

First, realize that your child no longer needs or wants you to control their every move. So major on the majors and avoid hovering over your teen. Demanding that they follow your lead is counterproductive to their maturing process. It gets in the way of the greater goal of teaching them how to think for themselves and it can spoil the opportunity for them to flex their options-seeking and decision-making muscles.

“Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.” — Max Lucado

So, allow them to learn how to solve their own problems through finding their own answers. Don’t force your opinions or directives on them about the less significant matters in their life. Establish and enforce age-appropriate and moral boundaries to corral their behavior, but within those boundaries, allow them to make most of their own decisions. They will probably not make the right decisions at first, but failing a few times will teach them the right answer or at least to seek other alternatives the next time. Your job in the teen years is not to hawk over them and rescue them, as you did when they were younger, but to guide and encourage them.

Change 2:  Focus on Building Character More than Demanding Obedience

Secondly, change the focus and intent of your rules from protection to character-building. The most important character-building qualities your child will develop include keeping commitments and living honestly and respectfully. So, set up boundaries and rules in regard to these qualities, and seek out situations where character can be developed. For example, help them find a job where they will be held accountable for arriving on time. Let them volunteer and help those less fortunate while at the same time taking on leadership and responsibility. Assign the strongest penalties and consequences for character misjudgments, such as displays of disrespect, lying and cheating.

Change 3:  Listen Twice as Much as You Speak

I see two extremes in the way many parents listen, and neither one is very helpful. A parent might listen carefully, but then react to every word that comes out of their teen’s mouth. Or, a parent assumes they already know what their child is thinking, and ignores what they say entirely.

As difficult as it can be to hear what your teen is really thinking, I believe it is better to know it than to not know it. However, knowing it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to react or respond immediately. Sometimes your teen is just “thinking out loud” in an attempt to process a difficulty they are experiencing.

If you are guilty of not really listening, you may see your teen baiting you and picking fights just to try to get you to understand what’s going on in their life — at a deeper level.  And if you miss what they are really trying to say, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of heartache.

But listening only works if you find ways to keep in touch.  That’s why I recommend connecting with your teen periodically when they are out of the house, and requiring a breakfast or lunch meeting once a week, just to hear them out.  Connect with them in all the ways that they connect with their friends — through texting, email, social media, and cell phone.  Make it comfortable and fun for your teen to bring friends home, so you can get to know them and they you.

Ask your teen questions and don’t give your opinion until you are invited to do so. Show them you value their opinion.  Zip your lip and open your ears, even if it makes for an uncomfortable silence. It is a simple concept with staggering ramifications for a child who has for the first decade of their life looked to you for leading the discussion and giving all the answers.

Change 4:  Teach Them How to Weigh the Options

Parents are sometimes so intent on passing along their values and beliefs that they send the wrong message to their teen – one that says, “I know better than you, so your opinion doesn’t matter.” One sure way to set up a power struggle with your teen and a rift in your relationship is to make them feel that their opinions are stupid, or that some things cannot discussed with you.

A more productive way to respond to a teen’s rash conclusions is by saying, “I understand what you’re saying, but might there be other options?” The more you ask thoughtful questions, the more your teen will learn to think through their other options, rather than acting on the first idea that comes to mind. Teaching a teen to weigh the options and foresee the results is a valuable tool they’ll use again and again throughout their life.

Comments From the International Email Box…

Dear Mark – We are missionaries in Asia.  I just cannot thank you enough that you are using your God-given gifts for the Kingdom. I am just sincerely thanking you both for openly sharing what God has taught you and making it accessible for everyone.  That is truly a gift and blessing to parents’ hearts and countless families, including ours.  Thank you.  –LW

Dear Mark — I am a Christian in Guangzhou, China. It is really a big challenge to raise a child in today’s world, especially in China where we do not have many people who believe in Jesus! I thank God for providing your abundant resources to share with us. I have also shared with many of my friends who also have struggling teens! They all say it is so good! May God continue to bless your ministry and let your work be the blessing to the people all over the world! –MM

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.