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Handling Anger and Disrespect

Student Story: Amber

When your teen blows up and acts disrespectfully, it takes every ounce of self-control to hold back and not react! Is there a better way to handle anger and outbursts of rage? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston teaches parents to restore peace by getting to the root of anger. Learn gracious ways to engage and redirect your teen’s frustration with appropriate boundaries.

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Setting Boundaries With Your Teen

I really like homemade waffles—especially when they’re topped with real butter, Canadian maple syrup, fruit, a pile of nuts… and more waffles. I’m serious as a heart attack about that. But while I love waffles, I hate waffling. And I’m pretty sure God is not big on that either. In James 1:8, we learn that a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” And in Matthew 5:37, we read: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

This holds true for how we parent our children as well. That’s why when you set boundaries for your kids and teens, you had better make sure that you stick to your guns on whatever boundaries and rules that you’ve set for your family. This includes implementing pre-determined consequences for breaking those rules.

Rules Rule!

No one likes the word “rules.” It sounds—well restrictive. Yet who would argue the need for rules in a court of law, a school classroom, or just about any sport? Without rules, it would be an “anything goes” free-for-all! I’ve got to tell you… I hate stop signs and traffic lights… but I wouldn’t want to live without them.

Raising a family requires rules, too. Children need and want boundaries. The world makes more sense when they know what’s accepted and what’s not. Children feel safer when boundaries are explained and defined. And they find comfort in the consistency of parents who stick to their game plan.

If You Don’t Make the Rules, Someone Else Will

Make no mistake; you absolutely, unequivocally need a parenting game plan. Because if you don’t have rules in place, the world will. And without your rules to follow, they will follow the culture or a peer group that could lead to life-shattering issues. The culture is constantly telling our children they aren’t enough, trying to get them to eat, drink, party and even spend their way into acceptance. Kids often lose their true selves due to social pressures, opting to morph into whatever is popular or acceptable to their peer group. Many teens end up in a personal identity crisis in high school or even middle school, medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, and other addictions.

So, how do you as parents keep your children from falling prey to these challenges to their true identity? It takes lots of prayer, unconditional love and clearly defined rules. Rules with relationship—because rules without relationship cause rebellion. And the most important relationship your child can ever have on this earth is with you. You—not their peers—need to be their most important role model. They need to have your love and acceptance, and home has to be a safe place for them to land each day after school. They need to know that your rules are designed for their best and that as their parent they can trust and rely on you at all times. And they need to see you living out your life and your faith in an authentic way. You can model being true to yourself, giving them the courage and permission to be real and true to themselves. Your home will then become a place that builds intimacy through love, humility and honesty. With this model, you’ll have a lot less need to exert external controls. Why? Because they’ll want what you have.

Rules for Cyber City

But until they are adults, your children need you to keep external controls in place. As I already stated, kids needs boundaries to feel secure. Take the area of setting boundaries for social media use—a big concern for parents today, and rightly so.

How many times have we heard news stories about pre-teens and teens getting into trouble on the Internet via some form of social media? Increasingly, this trouble is turning deadly. It did for Amanda Todd. At age 15, Amanda committed suicide after years of cyber bullying. She was just eleven-years old when it all began. First, she became a victim of a Facebook predator/blackmailer, and then fellow classmates bullied her—both verbally and physically. Inappropriate photos of herself— that she posted in an impulsive moment —followed her everywhere. No matter how many times she changed schools, she could not escape the torment.

In a televised interview with Amanda’s mother, it was clear that she had no clue as to what her daughter was up to all those years. There Amanda was, alone in her room with unlimited, unrestricted, 24/7 Internet access. She would stare into the video cam with endless fascination and at all hours of the night. When her mother told her that she couldn’t have the video cam, she whined and pouted to the point where her mother finally waffled and gave in. “I lost that fight” she later lamented with deep regret in her voice.

When I was Seventeen, I “Unfriended” My Parents

Honestly, it is all so preventable—if as parents you set boundaries and rules early on for your teens. And then stick to those rules. Drawing lines in the sand, and re-drawing them, and re-drawing them again is pointless as your teen will use your weakened resolve against you. Whatever respect you might have had from them, can be lost completely.

The following is just one example of how an increasing level of earned trust, in the form of setting boundaries, might go down in the area of social media use. (You can read more examples in my book, Tough Guys and Drama Queens.)

  • When you’re 12 years old, you won’t be able to have a social media page—be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever.
  • When you’re 13 and 14, you can have an account, but you can only check it once a day for 30 minutes (not 30 minutes for each one). We’ll have full access to all your posts, tweets, etc. You must “friend’ us on your Facebook so we’ll know what your posting.
  • When you’re 15, you can spend one hour a day on social media as long as it doesn’t take away from family time, completing your homework, or keeping you up so late that you can’t get up on your own in the morning. Oh … and we’re still watching!
  • When you’re 16, no more than two hours on social media and make sure that your language is appropriate.
  • When you’re 17, it’s all yours. We’re no longer watching. You can “unfriend” us.
  • When you’re 18, I hope that you’ll accept my “friend” request.

My purpose here in giving you this example is not to turn you into a clone of myself and my own parenting style—rather to give you an idea, or model of what it might look like. I can only tell you that these boundaries have worked well for myself as a parent.

Well Behaved Kids or Healthy Adults?

But again, you need to first have a well-defined worldview. Only then can you add clear boundaries and subtract strictness. In other words, your goal is not to have well-behaved kids, but well-adjusted and spiritually mature adults who have learned how to flesh out their faith in a rapidly changing society. You want them to shine as lights in a dark world. And the only way they can do this, is if you (1) allow your children to be exposed to opposing worldviews while they are still under your influence, (2) to lovingly speak truth to them when they’re exposed to error and (3) to be a strong voice of reason and wisdom.

In short, if you do your “God job” as a parent right, you’ll make that “forbidden fruit” (worldly enticements) as appealing to your teen as a rotten banana—because, after all, home and hearth is where the homemade waffles are!

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.


Boundaries for Teenagers

When a teenager doesn’t have boundaries, he does what seems right in his own eyes.

Contrary to what most moms and dads think, teens really do want rules. Rules help keep them headed in the right direction and prevent them from ending up in a place that they don’t want to be. When coupled with consequences, they help the teen more easily resist temptation and the inappropriate scheming of their peers. Having a good reason to say “No” comes as a relief to a teen raised to know basic moral values. Deep down, teens understand this, no matter how much they push against the rules, bend them, break them, and balk at them.

To be effective, rules need to be based on the boundaries you establish in your home, which are even more important and foundational for a child to learn. Boundaries aren’t the rules; they are the fence posts placed around behavior. They are the delineation of how a family’s beliefs are to be lived out; the “I will” and “I will not” statements that are the basis of our daily living and interaction with others. They help everyone in the family take responsibility for their own behavior, improve their choices, and know if they are headed into dangerous territory.

Boundaries define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

An example of a boundary might be: “We will treat each other with mutual respect.”  If you believe that respect for one another has merit (I certainly do), then your boundary will include showing respect to those you live with, and teaching family members to respect authority and those outside the family as well. Being respectful means: not taking things without asking, not talking badly about another, not leaving a mess, not calling names or mouthing off. On the positive side, being respectful means: celebrating one another’s successes, helping each other out when it’s needed, asking permission before using something that is not yours, or standing up for other family members. You fill in what you consider to be respectful and disrespectful practices.

Did you notice in this example that boundaries are about every member of the family, not just the kids? They are more about setting an accepted lifestyle and mode of interaction for everyone in the home, versus specific do’s and don’ts. If the boundaries are completely understood, then rules almost become redundant. For instance, “respect” would also cover issues like theft, honesty, caring for others, taking care of one’s belongings, etc.

Boundaries ensure each family member takes responsibility for themselves and their own actions.

Boundaries include what your child already knows, what you’ve taught them all their life. But sometimes teens get confused by “childhood” rules within those boundaries and rules that are lifelong.  For instance, the boundary, “We will avoid unnecessary risks and dangers,” would include holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street as a child. This would of course not be appropriate in the teen years. Rather, it would shift more toward wearing a car seatbelt, a bike helmet, and not taking medications without a parent’s permission or doctor’s prescription in the teen years.  But another typical boundary, “We will avoid illegal activities,” is a lifelong boundary. It never changes, other than according to changes in the current laws. The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries and related rules are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Boundaries aren’t just to corral behavior, but they are also for protecting teens from their peers on the other side of the fence. For instance, a teen girl should establish her own personal boundaries in regard to her body and not allow others to cross those boundaries with her.  Talk to her about those boundaries, so she solidifies them in her mind before the situation arises.

How to Establish Boundaries

Parents can begin to establish boundaries by picking their top ten or fifteen deeply held beliefs and then identifying boundaries for each. Think about and write down different real-life situations and how far things can go before your family boundaries will be violated.  Having too many boundaries can confuse the whole family and make it impossible to grow and adapt, so keep it simple.

Here are some examples of boundaries (yours may be different):

  • We believe our home is a refuge, where there should be mutual respect for one another and for each other’s belongings, time and personal space.
  • We believe in truth and honesty, so we will tell the truth (including the whole story). We will not bend the truth, gossip untruths or exaggerate.
  • We believe that having positive and uplifting communications is important, so will not use inappropriate language, cussing, swearing, off-color stories, or yelling in anger.
  • We believe that there is nothing good that can happen after midnight, so everyone should be home.
  • We believe that excellence is important, so we expect everyone to do their best in what they do, including work, chores and school.
  • We believe that faith is an important part of life, so we will participate in the activities and the fellowship of others in our church.

Boundaries Demand Rules and Consequences

If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing with the consequences of their choices and behavior.  It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

So, the next job is to create specific rules and then consequences for breaking those rules. That’s a job best developed by the whole family, so they feel as though they have contributed. You’ll be surprised how harsh your teen will make their own consequences, so it will be your job to make those more reasonable. And don’t forget to make the consequences escalate for each continued breach of the rules and match consequences with the severity of the infraction.

“Every one, though born of God in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.” – John Wesley

The point is this: your teen needs to learn how to make good choices. When they know in advance what the boundaries are, what the specific rules are, and what the consequences will be, they’ll more likely be able to make a better choice. At the very least, they’ll not be shocked and feel “ganged up” on when consequences are applied. “Mom might ground me for this” simply isn’t a concrete deterrent. Instead, “I’ll lose my cell phone for a month” is a clearer and more direct deterrent that will stick in the teen’s mind.

Keep In Touch

Boundaries are important. But teens are still prone to test them in every possible way.  So, as you develop and enforce healthy boundaries it is important to spend time with your child on a regularly scheduled basis to discuss them. This makes it clear to them that no matter what decisions they make; your relationship will not be affected. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner where you can talk, one to one. Avoid rehashing past mistakes but talk about better choices that can be made in the future and how those will positively impact your teen’s life. Help them begin to set goals and think about their purpose in life.  And be sure to begin and end your discussion with making sure your child understands that there is nothing they can do to make you love them more, and there’s nothing they can do to make you love them less.

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.