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Some Common Questions About Teens

I lead seminars throughout the country and without fail, I get a number of similar questions that are always asked. Here are few that seem to always come up. 

My son has been displaying a lot of anger toward us lately. Even the littlest thing seems to set him off. How can we find out what’s causing these outbursts and if it’s as serious as it seems?

Anger is an emotional response to not getting what one wants. And chances are your son feels frustrated about something that you are doing or saying. Young boys want to grow up and become young men, and that process is many times hampered by parents who don’t give freedom soon enough, allow choices to be made early, or treat their son like he “was” rather than who he wants “to be”. Giving more freedom and learning to nag less, gives a young man the opportunity to make choices thus assuming responsibility for his actions, thus develop maturity in the process.   That anger you speak of will then be self-directed, motivating him to make better decisions in the future.

Another reason teen boys express frustration and anger about their position in life is that they don’t feel prepared to face the world in which they are to live. This happens when parents spend more time teaching and less time training as a child walks through their adolescent years. They know “what” to do; they just don’t know “how” to do it. So, moms and dads, spend more time giving your son opportunities to make decisions and choices so he can flex his decision-making muscle and be prepared when to handle the “heavier” stuff the older he gets.

Adolescence is a time when teens search for their identity and begin to apply all of who they are to their world. They find that some of their stuff works, and some doesn’t. Frustration increases as they experiment and learn to apply their knowledge to their world. As Alison Gopnick reminds us, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer or brake.”

So as they traverse the new teen highway and hit curbs, brake too quick, and accelerate way to fast, a few bumps in the road might make this new road a bit more challenging than the path of their earlier years. But as they make this transition, Moms and Dads can help them learn to make the drive a little smoother by not always correcting, telling them how they can do it better, and what they should have done different. No one likes a back seat driver. So buckle up and sit next to them and help them, not discourage them. They’re having a tough enough time already to have people they admire become critical.

My daughter has gotten into a rut regarding her friends. We are trying to get her involved with activities at church or school, but she always responds with “I don’t want to do it unless my friends are doing it.” I know relationships are important to teens, but how can we help her see that she can’t plan her life around her friends?

Friends are important to any teen and the desire to “belong” or “fit in” are strong motivating factors, more so when they are younger than older. And if you have a daughter that is more of a follower than a leader, you’ll find that you’ll have more of a chance to get her involved in activities by encouraging and enticing her participation through rewards and enticements. It’s saying, “if you will do “this”, we will do “this” to make it worth your while. In time, their involvement in these activities you’ve “encouraged” them to participate in will teach them of their ability to develop new friends, thus eliminating the “friend factor” in planning their activities.

Here’s the transition we have to make about our teen’s desire to be more concerned about their friends than about most other things. While we don’t want them to plan her life around friends, teens do. It’s a fact. They’re trying to find their place and create some protection around them through their wall of relationships. Friends are important. And they’re more important to our teens today than ever before because of the vast “disconnect” happening among adolescents. Teens today spend more time in the shallow end of the “relationships pool” than the deep end. So in the shallow end of that pool, teens will have more people surrounding them, in hopes of finding like-minded peers who will venture into the deeper end of spectrum.

So help them in their adolescent journey. Help them socialize and develop more and more social collateral so that these friends can go deeper and sharpen your child, just as iron sharpens iron. They need relationships around them who will help them get to the “deep end of the pool”. So help them and don’t restrict them so much that they will never have the opportunity to put into practice the way you’ve taught them to swim.

My son seems reluctant to try new things. Sometimes, I wonder if he’s just being lazy and doesn’t want to bother himself with getting outside his comfortable “bubble.” But I also wonder if he’s suffering from low self-esteem and a fear of failure. How can I know what’s going on with him and help him gain the confidence to branch out?

It’s sometimes hard to motivate a teen once they’ve found their “comfort zone” and I’m sure that laziness, low self-esteem, and the fear of failure all come to play in trying to get them to move elsewhere. Have a heart-to-heart talk about how you desire to do something together with him. Find something you both like to do and make it a habit to do it together, even requiring it if needed, and encouraging his participation with reward. Discussions are best with young men side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. When you do something together, then have the discussions you desire to teach him about the need to always live life outside one’s comfort zone.

What kid wouldn’t want to “stay put” when faced with a culture that you and I have said, “We’re glad we don’t have to grow up in this culture!” Well they do. So when you see these signs of not being motivated to move into new arenas of social interaction, you might have to help make it happen… in a gentle way. It may mean that you have to eliminate some of those comforts at home to help push them out of the nest, but I would encourage you do so in a way that helps your child make the transition into their new world.

Be intentional about engaging about the deeper things in his life by learning to ask questions and giving him opportunity to respond. And when he does respond, don’t share your opinion unless he asks. Remember, he’s not wanting more information… he’s wanting wisdom. And he’s wanting it from you. Help him understand this world and be the one that he can come to when he finds frustration entering into it. Fear keeps most teens from venturing to places they want to go. So be that parent that helps them get there; not one that ridicules them for not trying.

If you have questions that you’d like for me to answer, please send them our way.

 

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.


The Amazing Power of Grace

There was a young man staying at the Heartlight campus a few years back. He was generally a sweet kid—funny, well spoken and kind. But he didn’t deal with emotions well at all, especially anger. One day after coming back from school, he got so mad that he took a baseball bat and started beating on my truck! Then, when one of my dogs, Copper, came out to see what all the commotion was about, this teenager turned around and kicked my dog. I was furious. But I took some time to calm down before I spoke or dealt with the situation. I realized what this young man needed wasn’t a heavy hand, but a generous dose of grace.

Of course, he had to pay for the repairs to my truck and the vet bills for my dog. Or so I told him at the time… but gave in later. I let him know that I forgave him. I made a conscious effort to move towards this angry, young man, not away from him. It was not easy. Matter of fact, when I think about it I still get a little perturbed. And everything in me, in all honesty wanted to place my boot where he wouldn’t want it, and make him pay for every bit of damage to my truck. But grace made all the difference in his life that day. And it made a difference in mine that day as well. What fueled his outburst was that he had just learned that a sign was put in the front yard at his home stating “A Sexual Perpetrator Lives Here” because of his dad’s stupid and foolish behavior.   You know, that would have made me want to beat something and kick something. My truck and dog just happened to be the target of his frustration. I understood.

Grace has the power to change the direction of any teen who is struggling. Grace can bring healing and restoration to a home and redirect your teen’s path. A good definition of grace is undeserved, unmerited and unearned favor. In other words, grace is an act of kindness, love, and forgiveness in the face of bad behavior or poor choices. It’s not, “If you do this or that, then I will love you.” Grace is “I will love you, regardless of whatever you do.

But showing grace can be one of the toughest assignments for parents as it was for me that day, especially as kids reach the teenager years. How can a mom or dad discipline and enforce the rules of the home, while at the same time doling out hearty portions of grace? Let me give you some helpful tips.

Ditch Legalistic Behaviors

If you have ever said anything like:

  • “It’s my way or the highway!”
  • “You’ll do it because I said so!”
  • “As long as you live in this house, it will be done this way!”
  • “You will respect me; I’m your father!”

You may be a “rule-enforcer” rather than a “grace-giver.” If these phrases sound familiar, then it’s time to re-evaluate your speech and actions to incorporate more grace into your home. Ditch the legalistic jargon that frustrates rather than trains or guides your children. To give grace means communicating with teens why a rule is in place, what the consequence of breaking that rule is beforehand, and then allowing freedom in the areas that aren’t worth the battle.

Here’s a good example: When your teen received the golden ticket that is a driver’s license, you probably enacted a few rules regarding curfews, who can ride with them, and who is responsible for gas and insurance.  But did you take the time to explain why the 11:00 p.m. curfew is in place, or why everyone in the car has to wear seatbelts?  Just saying, “Do it, because I said so!” only tells your teenager that it’s the rules you’re concerned with, not their health or well-being. Rigid adherence to authority doesn’t teach or change kids. Grace does. Grace demonstrates you care more about them than you do about the letter of the law. Grace speaks volumes to the heart of a struggling child.

Stick to the Consequences

If there is one guarantee in all of parenting it’s this — teenagers will break the rules during their adolescence. In fact, if your child hasn’t broken a rule yet, check their pulse!  When lines have been crossed, teenagers need discipline. Giving grace in parenting doesn’t mean we allow bad behavior to continue unchecked. That’s not grace. That’s enabling or emboldening our children to keep up their bad behavior without fear of consequences. If we look at the example of Jesus, His offer of grace didn’t negate the law or the penalties of sin. Parental grace works the same way. Discipline and rules apply, but we don’t move away from our kids during that time.  We must move closer to them.

Let’s say your teen does break one of the car rules you have put into place. They roll into the driveway around midnight and try to sneak in, only to get busted by a creaky door or a barking dog. So you take away the license for a week (or a similar consequence). Now, showing grace towards your child doesn’t mean giving back the car privileges after a couple of days. But it does mean you go to them during their time of restriction and say, “Let’s go grab some coffee. I’ll drive!” or, “Want to go watch a movie, just the two of us?” It’s an intentional and consistent move toward the relationship, while upholding the penalties for breaking the rules. One of my favorite authors, Josh McDowell, once wrote, “Rules without relationships leads to rebellion.”  If I was to tweak this, I would say, “Rules without grace leads to frustration!

Give Grace, Even When It Hurts

I know that for some parents with struggling kids, showing grace is a monumental task. You’ve been hurt and wounded by your child, and though you still love them, you have a difficult time showing them grace. I understand. Grace isn’t easy. It’s extremely tough to give certain people something they don’t deserve.  It took a lot of willpower to extend grace about my smashed-in truck. But let’s face it — none of us deserve grace. If kindness was handed out on the basis of merit we’d all be in a heap of trouble! But Colossians 3:13 tells us to “be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else.  You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.

I know that grace is tough. But think back on all the grace you have received in your life, and pour that back into your child. In the midst of disappointment or even anger, let them know that your relationship is still important, and there’s nothing they could do that would you push you away from them. We are never more like Christ than when we give our teen grace in the face of a struggle. Yes, grace hurts to give sometimes. Yes, grace is costly. But in the end, it’s always worth it.

 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.

 


Teen Anger Provoked by Parents

If you hadn’t noticed, teenagers are in an overactive state of emotion most of the time. It doesn’t take much to bring them to the point of exasperation. They can only take so much pressure before they shut down or act out of frustration or anger instead of clear or right thinking. Sometimes they’re provoked to the point of putting up walls of protection around themselves.

“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” – Proverbs 18:19

Does it seem that your child is like a fortified city, a citadel with barred gates? In other words, nothing you say or do is getting through to them? Or, perhaps they respond only with bitterness and resentment?

I can see how some kids fall into patterns of bad behavior. I’m not saying they are right in their chosen ways of rebellion, anger, or self-destruction. But in some ways I can understand it, especially when the atmosphere at home is tense or disrespectful because of a provoking parent.

For instance, sometimes a parent has a problem with anger, or vents frustration with work, finances, or other disappointments in life on their child. Or, in an effort to control the situation and their teen, clamp down on the rules so hard that no one in the relationship can move or breathe.

When a teenager is provoked to exasperation by a parent, it’s an invitation for them to become angry, and garner resentment. Teens are still too immature to handle it properly. Fact is, some never get over a mean or demeaning parent, even in later years of life. The seeming unfairness of their parent’s poor performance can wound deeply, and they can either react explosively or clam up and hide. In either case, walls go up, and the child becomes like a barred fortress.

I’m not talking about momentary parental lapses here. If you are going through a struggle with your teenager right now, I guarantee there will be moments when you will not handle matters well. Even the best parent may “lose it” every now and then.

Instead, I am referring to a parent who has an ongoing problem losing it… of punishing and demeaning a child with destructive or negative words, who may or may not recognize it, and the child ends up in a perpetual state of anger and bitterness as a result.

Scripture offers these tips to avoid provoking a child…

Be the Adult in the Heat of an Argument

“A gentle answer turn away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

Avoid Teasing or Inappropriate Joking

“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “’I was only joking’.”- Proverbs 26:18

Don’t Make Rash Comments

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12:18

Avoid Being Overly Critical

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…” – James 3:9

Don’t Give an Answer Before First Listening

“He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13

Don’t Withhold Wise Counsel

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend spring from his earnest counsel.” – Proverbs 27:9

Avoid Telling Untruths

“A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” – Proverbs 26:28

Don’t Make Insensitive Remarks

“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” – Proverbs 25:20

Don’t Jump to Wrong Conclusions

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions” – Proverbs 18:2

You may discover that it is at least partly your fault that things are headed in the wrong direction with your teenager. But, don’t despair. Identifying the problem is half the battle. Seeking forgiveness and asking for help is the other half. Your teen may be like a fortress with high walls and a locked gate — impenetrable, but it doesn’t need to stay that way.

So, ask yourself, are the answers given at your house gentle, truthful, humble, and delivered with kindness, understanding and wisdom? Are you considerate of the feelings of everyone you live with, including your sometimes frustrating teenager?

Are you teachable, sensitive, and a good listener?

I recently witnessed an entire family break down and sob when the father asked each member to forgive him for the way he’d handled himself in their relationship. He repeated his request with intensity and emotion. It was a humble, sincere apology, and a good step toward healing the resentment of his children. Every heart in the room melted.

Will you take responsibility for steering your home in the right direction, fostering positive emotions and mutual respect? Start by identifying where you have been wrong, and seek forgiveness from those you have offended. Start today.

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.