Is Your Teen Rebellious or Lost?

Student Story: Meredith

Would you describe your teen as a rebel without a cause? Many teens are unfairly labeled as “rebellious,” when they’re really just different from others or genuinely lost. How can you tell the difference? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston cautions parents against misinterpreting teen behavior and offers advice on how to recover the lost.

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Which Parent Are You? Part II

Okay, earlier this week I detailed some various types of parents in hopes of helping us all realize that no parent is perfect, and there are always ways to improve who we are and how we come across.

This article is a continuation of that. If you weren’t able to read the one published a few days ago, click here, and read it first. I’ve exaggerated a bit of the descriptions to make it a little easier to “swallow” who you might really be, or how your child perceives you.

Here’s the next set of parents. Which one are you?

Spiritual Stan (identical twin to Bible Bob)

Stan loves the Lord, possesses wonderful biblical wisdom, yet looses his effectiveness in communicating with his teens because he’s more concerned about how he appears spiritually rather than showing interest in the life of his children. In other words, he’s more concerned about the appearance of the messenger than the crucial-ness of his message. And he can’t be challenged with because he possesses the answer, and any attempt for discussion only ends up in an argument.   Stan believes that the now antiquated way of instilling the Truth by telling, trumps the great need of his teens to have this wisdom shared. Many times, Stan is so determined to have to be “right” because he feels the only alternative to talking about scripture can never be wrong. Well intended, Stan talks about his love for the Lord and scripture in such a way that doesn’t allow for discussion, the critical way to engage with teens wanting to learn to process the Truth.

Here’s what you can do to change the perception of yourself, Stan.

If the Gospel is being lifted up and its not drawing people to it, then there’s something wrong in the presentation or with the messenger. I think we all have to figure this one out for our self. How we present the Truth that we know to be true is important. And as kids move into their teen years, we’ve got to allow them to wrestle a bit with what they know to be true, and learn how to apply it to their lives. It’s okay to let them struggle a bit with learning how to take all the truth given to them and assimilating it into their life. We don’t have to push, because they’ll seek. So the atmosphere I create is key to the invite of having your teen engage, knowing their questions, comments, reflections, and answers won’t be shot down every time they “process” out loud. Rightly handling scripture should invite participation, not discourage it.

Never Wrong William (aka: Always Right Willy)

Willy is never wrong. He’s always got to be right. So anyone that might make him even appear to be wrong becomes an adversary that must be verbally crushed. He knows everything, about everything. Most people feel that there’s not much need for a discussion because Willy already knows the answer. And if a discussion begins, he dominates the verbal exchange by being a know-it-all, who needs nothing from the other. He spends little time listening, and most of his time figuring out how he should appropriately respond. A discussion with a mirror would be of more benefit to Willy than wasting the time of a teen who deep down knows that this dad really won’t ever hear anything that he says… because this dad is so bent to always be right. And if he’s right, then any other comments or reflections are treated as wrong.

Here’s some help for you, Willy.

Willy…. you can’t always be right, and you’ll never always be wrong. And people know that you possess a great amount of knowledge. So use that knowledge for good so that others are attracted to your timely words, your deep intelligence, and godly wisdom. But, no one likes to be around someone who’s never wrong. So flavor your conversation with comments like “I may be wrong, but I think….” , or “You know, you’re right… I’m wrong,” or “I don’t know,” even when you do know… just so you can engage with folks and not make them feel stupid because they can’t keep up with your intellect.

Trainer Tom

Tom gets it. This is one dad who understands that he must switch parenting style from teaching to training. Instead of having everything depend on him, he realizes that his purpose of his parenting during the adolescent years is to prepare his kids for the next stage of life. He takes advantages of opportunities to transfer wisdom through allowing his teens to observe, reflect, and experience different parts of his life. He spends more time in discussion than trying to compete with Siri. He spends more time letting his kids make decisions; less time deciding everything for them. More time listening, less time talking. Gives fewer answers, asks more questions. Tom pushes his teen to independence on Him, and less time on him. He allows consequences to have their full effect when rules have been broken, and spends more time engaging in relationship. Trainer Tom allows experiences to speak for itself, and daily interactions to become the platform for displaying a daily walk with the Lord. Tom gets it. And his kids love him dearly because they know he truly has them as the focus.

Tom, here’s my comments to you, my friend.

Way to go, Tom. Seems like you’ve got this parenting thing down.

Teacher Trish

Mom Trish doesn’t leave a stone unturned. She never stops and is always looking for a new way to teach her teens a new lesson. She does it with a tenacity that would almost show that she would have very little value in the life of her kids unless she is doing her “mom program” as if she were competing for some world “mother of the year” award. Now, don’t get me wrong. She wants good things for her kids and wants to be a good mom, but her kids ignore her because they want a mom, not just a teacher. Trish doesn’t realize that not every teachable moment needs to be a time of teaching.   Familiar comment from her kids would be, “Stop, mom”, “Mom, not now”, or “We get it, Mom”.  Trish doesn’t realize that too much teaching douses the flames of wanting to learn. She also doesn’t realize that what all kids want first is a mom who can teach instead of a teacher that can occasionally do the “mom thing.”

Here’s some good lessons for you to learn, Trish.

You are to be applauded for your desire to be thorough. And there are a million lessons to teach teens, especially in a culture where we’re all concerned about our kids knowing enough to survive. But it’s okay to back it up a few notches and trust what you’ve taught yours kids will “stick”. And, know that God is involved in the life of your teen as well. You can rest in the job that you’ve done with them and now allow them to come to you with questions, rather than you going to them constantly with answers. The teachable moments NOW that will stick are the ones that are demonstrated through your life as they observe, reflect, and experience life with you. This is how they learn now. So don’t push them away with teaching times and miss out on the opportunity on the training experiences that they NOW so desperately need. Put as much effort in trainable moments, on their terms, as you have in your teaching opportunities, and you’ll be a parent who will never be forgotten.

Perfectionist Pam

Pam doesn’t think that she communicates how she wants her daughter to be perfect. But her daughter would tell you otherwise. Pam portrays herself as perfect. All is good, everyone is doing well, and her life is lined up perfectly. She doesn’t know it, but people feel uncomfortable around her. They feel judged just by being in her presence. Her kids couldn’t tell you where their mom has made a mistake, nor can they tell you one wrong thing in her life. What is presented is that she has it all together, struggles with nothing, all is well. How her teenage kids would love to see a flaw, or imperfection to feel that it’s okay that they can have flaws in their life.   Pam doesn’t know it, but if she would ask her kids if they thought she wanted them to be perfect, she would be surprised. It’s not her intent, but she subtly demands those around her to be perfect, because she show’s no imperfection. Pam’s perceived perfection pushes her kids away. And Pam, can’t understand why her kids want to hang out with those “imperfect kids”. What she doesn’t know is that her kids find rest in those “imperfect kids”, because they identify more with imperfection than perfection.

Oh Pam, I know it’s hard to improve on perfection, but here are some thoughts that might help.

It’s time to start showing some of your imperfections to your kids. Share some of your “mistake” stories and let them know that you’re not perfect. You don’t have to give them all the details and you must use discretion in your storytelling, but you must let them know that you’re not perfect, they’re not perfect, and all of you won’t be this side of heaven. And do this also. Flavor your speech with comments like “I don’t want you guys to be perfect…” or “I know I may sound like I want perfect kids but that’s not what I’m saying.” You have probably become accustomed to verbiage that you use that conveys perfection. Identify what that is and stop it. Ask your kids what it is about you and your words that bothers them the most. Tell them they have to be brutally honest. Whatever they say, don’t correct, change, or justify their answer or reflections. Just listen. And even if they’re wrong. Stop doing it. It will help you engage with them so they can hear all the wisdom that you possess.

Judgmental John

John doesn’t really think he’s judgmental. He truly believes that he’s just sharing his faith and giving good guidance and direction to his teenage kids. Little does he know that they think he’s the most judgmental person in their world.   John’s trying to share biblical truth and principled living ideas with his teenage kids, but they perceive him as cutting down those around them. John doesn’t intend to be judgmental, but his kids perceive him as that. He doesn’t intend to push them away by presenting Biblical truth, but they are more distant today than they ever have been. And John is confused. He’s confused why he feels so far away from his kid’s heart, when he tries so hard to communicate truth and wisdom to them. He’s stuck. And he’s really as frustrated as his kids are. Perception is truth to the one who perceives. And John’s kids perceive something different than what John really intends.

If you kids feel like you’re a judgmental person in their life, here are some thoughts that might help.

John, if your teens feel like you’re being judgmental of them or their friends they’ll shut you out. And if they shut you out, they’ll shut down all you stand for, missing out on the great wisdom you need to transfer to them. Standards, principles, and values when conveyed in a perceived judgmental way these days are pretty inflammatory so it’s important to learn how to get your ideas principles across without judgment. Do this. Flavor your speech with comments like “I don’t mean to be judgmental, but what do you think about…”, or “I know I might sound like I’m speaking down to this, but…”, or “Don’t take this as judgmental, but…”. These statements many times will diffuse the judgment perception if your teens feel like you are.

Critical Chris – (cousin to Pointer Paul)

Chris is good in the workplace. He’s a problem solver. He spends his days solving problems, and doing what men do best… fix things. He’s on a daily mission to search and destroy problems and to detect and destroy anything that would interfere with the mission of his workplace environment. And he’s good at it. Matter of fact, he’s one of the best. But when he comes home and does that same, he’s destroying his family. Chris hasn’t realized that what makes him good in the workplace will destroy his relationships with family members at home. Chris’ cousin, Pointer Paul is the same way. He gets home and all he does it point out things that are wrong. After a while, the teens in the home ignore all he is saying and eventually ignore the once close relationship they’ve all had. Chris and Paul don’t understand that their pointing out and detection of problems communicates tenuous atmosphere where everyone has to walk on eggshells, and be careful on what expose of themselves, fearful that someone might detect and point out their problems.

Chris! You’ve got to quit… you’re killing your kids and ruining your relationship with them. Here are some thoughts; please don’t pick this apart (Ha!)

To the two cousins, Critical Chris and Pointer Paul, I would tell you to only correct your kids on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I know that you’re good as seeing faults, but you have to be better at bridling your tongue so that you don’t discourage your teen’s presence in your life. No one likes to be criticized all the time, nor have areas of needed improvement point out continually. This may work in your child’s earlier years, but it doesn’t in the teen years.

Nagging Nancy

Nancy nags, pesters, irritates, and badgers people around her. Her teenage kids feel like its harassment. They are constantly told what they’ve done wrong, what they need to do different, and how they can do it better. They know that they’ll never be good enough, that their attempts will never be appreciated, and their efforts will always be futile. Nancy feels justified in her comments and as she really believes that it is her role to point out issues. And she’s frustrated because she can’t see anything but that which is wrong, or could be done better. What she’s finding out is that her kids begin to lie to her or say whatever is necessary to get the dripping faucet to stop. And the bigger problem is that her kids will shut her down and miss out on all the wisdom she could share. That wisdom gets lost in all the noise. Nancy’s got to give it a break or she’ll break the spirits of her kids and spouse.

Nancy, let me give you a bit of advice that all parents would do well to hear.

It’s time to turn off the dripping faucet before you flood those you love with critical constancy that will only drown your relationship with them. Scripture says “A fool delights in airing his opinion” and also states “Even a fool appears wise when he keeps his mouth shut”. It’s time to do both. And reason is that if you continue to nag, a habit that is easily to develop, your family will miss out on all the great wisdom and encouragement that you have to offer. So tonight, around the dinner table, ask your family a question. Tell them that you want to quit being a “nag” and ask them for ways that you can break your habit. It’s a hard question, but one that will enhance your relationships with each of your family members.

Well that’s about all the types of parents that I know. How did you fare? What’s important here is to ask that question that is found in the book of Psalms. “Lord, search me, know my heart, and see if there is any hurtful way in me…” There’s nothing wrong with some introspection, and things can only get better will a little self evaluation.


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.

When Good Kids Live Dangerously

On a warm day in September, Penny received a call from her oldest daughter. But what would typically be a light-hearted conversation about the week’s events and happenings was tragically different this time.

Mom, it’s about Kyle.

Kyle was the baby of the family. As the youngest child of a single parent, Kyle was protective of his mom, Penny, and was probably the most affectionate of her children. Outside the home, Kyle was a gifted athlete, earning a place on the varsity swim team. He was a decent student, with a close group of friends. After graduating high school, Kyle packed his things, and moved out of his mom’s house, promising her that he would be safe, and would make sure to check in with her from time-to-time. He was off to make a life for himself, and Penny knew he would succeed, because Kyle was an all-around good kid.

Mom, I’m here at the hospital. It’s Kyle. He just passed away from a heroin overdose.

The words sounded unreal to Penny. Her son gone? From drugs? There were never any signs that Kyle was using narcotics. He was a talented kid. A loving son. There had to be some mistake.

As the tragic story unfolded, Penny found out that Kyle and some of his friends had been using heroin for some time. At the time of his death, Kyle’s friends knew something was wrong with him, but not wanting to get their friend in trouble, they maintained a code of silence, never realizing that Kyle would eventually succumb to the drug.

While profoundly sad, Kyle’s story is not unique today. What was once abnormal behavior has now become the new normal for many kids. It’s not just the teens with marijuana t-shirts who meet underneath the bleachers at lunch. Athletes, musicians, scholars and the good kids you never thought would abuse drugs or alcohol are, in fact, doing just that. It’s a new generation of good kids engaging in dangerous activities. And if you think, my son or daughter would never get involved in that sort of risky behavior, think again. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported the following. In 2012, 6.5 percent of 8th graders, 17.0 percent of 10th graders, and 22.9 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month—an increase among 10th and 12th graders from 14.2 percent, and 18.8 percent in 2007. In the same year, 14.8 percent of high-school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year. And In 2012, 3.6 percent of 8th graders, 14.5 percent of 10th graders, and 28.1 percent of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month. These substances are increasingly available and accessible. And what makes them even more dangerous is the fact that the kids who use them are often committed to keeping a code of silence. Chances are you won’t hear your child’s friends tell you that your son is smoking pot or your daughter is binge drinking at parties. Even when the stories are swapped from peer-to-peer, they may never reach the ears of a parent.

In order to engage with good kids involved in dangerous activities, we first have to understand what’s at the root of the behavior. Why are teens, even the ones we would least suspect, turning to drugs and alcohol?

In teen culture, there is a constant push and search for the next “high.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a drug high. It could be the rush that comes from jumping out of a plane, getting a tattoo, piercing something on the body, dancing at a rock concert, skating down a steep hill, or playing the latest video game. Teens are looking for the thrill of experience. And when one outlet no longer holds the excitement it once did, drugs or alcohol may provide the next big rush.

Along with a search for ever-increasing “highs”, teens are navigating a very narcissistic world. All moms and dads have to do is hop on Facebook to see kids posting pictures or writing messages with the implied captions, “Look at Me! Look at what I bought! Look at what I wear! Look at what I can do! Look at what I can accomplish!” Substance abuse among teens is not about being rebellious; it’s more about being noticed. When the accolades and accomplishments don’t feel like enough, teens might turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, find acceptance or be respected. And there’s no shortage of substances available to kids who look for them.

Every teen feels the pressures of our culture. But our so-called “good” teens struggle under the added burden of trying not to disappoint mom or dad. If your son or daughter is engaging in risky behavior, they may feel additional pressure due to the fact that they don’t want you to find out. Like Kyle, they work harder to hide it. That’s why even parents of good kids need to be observant. Now, I’m not encouraging you to snoop or spy on your child. But you should be keeping a close eye on your teenager’s behavior, social group and environment. Take a peek into your son’s bedroom occasionally. Do you see any drug paraphilia? Can you smell incense or heavy masking odors? Invite your teen’s friends to the house, and get to know them. Establish trust with your child’s peers. Keep tabs on where your son or daughter goes. Are they attending parties where you know illegal substances are used? Do they disappear at odd times of the day? All these could be signs your teen is involved in dangerous behavior.

If you discover your child is caught up in substance abuse, get help immediately! It’s not just a phase, or mistaken experimenting. Regardless of what teens may hear, see or believe, there is no such thing as harmless drug use or getting drunk safely. The longer the risky behavior is allowed to continue, the higher the chances are that your child will wind up getting hurt. So if substance abuse is evident, take the steps to help your child right away. Get them in a program, or take them to see a counselor immediately.

Lastly, don’t think that your child is the exemption to the rule. If 90% of teens are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, are you willing to bet that your son or daughter is in the minority? Ask questions, watch closely and understand that even good kids can get caught up in harmful practices. If you do, you’ll be better prepared to help your teen escape and avoid this kind of risky behavior.


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.