#219 – How To Repair a Broken Relationship With Your Teen

How’s your relationship with your teen? Do feel there is a distance between you and your child, and the space is only increasing everyday? Has your once happy relationship with your kid turned into open animosity with your teen? Maybe it feels like your sweet baby went upstairs one day, and came down a totally different person – someone who seems like a total stranger to you?

You’re not alone. I get calls every day from parents just like you who say, “My relationship with my teen is disintegrating before my eyes. What can I do?” If that sounds like a call you could make right now, let me share some ways you can start mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether. Consider implementing some of these relationship repairs:

Take Stock of the Relationship

Like going into your closet and getting rid of all the clothes that don’t fit us anymore or have simply gone out of style (are you ever going to wear anything with shoulder pads again?), we need to go into our parenting closet and take inventory. This requires an honest evaluation of the actions, beliefs, styles, and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong or doesn’t work. What are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent?  How can you accommodate the growing needs of your teenager?  How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world?  Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those corduroy bell-bottoms you haven’t worn since high school, take regular time to examine the ways you are connecting to your teen. See what is out of style, what needs to change and what keeps you stuck in the past. I realize that these are tough words to handle. It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids.  But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. There’s always room for growth as moms and dads. As our children grow, so should we. Rebuilding relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness to pray what the Psalmist prayed; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23)

Start Asking Questions

Want to get your relationship with your teen back on track? Start asking the right kind of questions. What do you mean by that? Ask the kind of questions that make them think about things, not just “yes” or “no” questions. Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why. When a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen, take advantage of the moment to reinforce their insights. Talk about controversial subjects as you would with a friend or co-worker for whom you have great respect. Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?

Then, ask some more personal questions. “What could I do to improve our relationship?” or “What things would you like to see change in our family?” Let me warn you–if you ask these types of questions, you may not like what you hear. But don’t run from the answers. Hearing honest feedback from your child may open your eyes to areas that need to change. You’ll also be communicating to your child that you desire to do everything you can to restore and maintain a loving relationship.

Take Ownership for Mistakes

The statement “I was wrong” (when said by a parent) can do wonders for a broken relationship. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you made a mistake. Never will your child respect you more than when you admit your faults and ask for forgiveness. Humble parents who admit their mistakes and apologize are building healthy, happy families. Rebuilding your relationship with your child is always a higher calling than saving face. Learn phrases that specifically communicate your offense and build a bridge:

  • “I was wrong in the way I approached you. Will you forgive me for that and allow us to talk about it further?”
  • “I made some comments that were out of line. I was wrong, and I’d like to start our discussion over. Can we do that?”
  • “I think what I said came out wrong.  I never meant to hurt you.  Would you give me a second chance to tell you what I was thinking?”

Create the Proper Environment

Don’t let your family get emotionally stuck in the mistakes and tension of the past. Create an environment that welcomes and invites change.  If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here–me included. It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old.  Let’s work together as a family to move forward.” I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times.  And afterwards, I always have parents and teens come up to me and say, “Thank You!  We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made.  Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!

Act On It

Once you decide to make some changes towards restoring broken relationships, it’s time to act!  Maybe you’ve realized that as a mom or dad you have been too overprotective in certain areas.  Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control. Perhaps you’ve seen that much of your conversation with your children comes off as judgmental. Express to your family your desire to change, and work towards infusing your conversations with grace. Or maybe you’ve realized that you just haven’t spent the time you need with your teen. Drop that weekend golf game, or forgo that daily run, in order to spend time with your teen. Those visible actions convey your willingness to work towards a better relationship.

Stay With the Plan

We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, or perfect home.  Those relationships take time and effort. So if your connection with your teen is in trouble, and you are working towards making positive changes, don’t give up!  Stay with the plan.  In difficult transitions, your teen may push back.  They may dig in their heels as you try to rebuild the relationship. But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.” Even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep up your weekly time together, week after week. Eventually they’ll come around. Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond. He or she may secretly be testing your commitment!

I want to challenge you today to commit to rebuilding a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. No matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always hope. It may take time and persistence, but keep at it. You can have a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with your teen.

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.


Hope for Healing

Some time ago we remodeled our home.  A project that was to last 6 months went on for nearly 30 months and the costs soared.  Throughout the project we met workers that did a great job, but others who took advantage of us.  They lied to us, conned us, made horrendous mistakes, broke promises, and caused much pain and hardship.

I asked a number of questions throughout the project… questions like:  “Why in the world does this need to be done this way?” or “I thought we had planned for that?” and ultimately, “Why has something that was supposed to be so quick and easy, now become so drawn out and hard… will it ever end?”  Sound familiar?

Maybe your relationship with your teenager feels like my home remodeling project.  Perhaps what you thought would be a momentary struggle has turned into open wound that won’t heal.  Maybe your plans for your teen are seemingly going awry, and they are lying, conning you, and making horrible mistakes.  If so, I want to challenge you to a different perspective.

Conflict and Struggle With Your Teen Can Bring About Change

What’s that perspective?  That conflict and struggle can bring about change.  I know that statement is true in my life.  And, I believe it can be true in yours. So, look for the positive purpose in the conflict you are having today.

Consider this… if you have ever prayed to be the parent God has called you to be, that’s just what He’s doing!  This is a time of tremendous opportunity to build into your child’s life… trusting God to direct your path along the way. Now’s your chance to be used when you’re needed the most.

Don’t back off from the role that He’s called you to.  Your understanding of your parenting role is necessary.  Your willingness to hang in there during this tough time is perseverance at its best. Your commitment to be a part of God’s plan for your child, seen or unseen, is godly.  Your love for your child when it isn’t so pretty is true love.  Your knowledge that God is involved in your family is an anchor of hope that will keep you reflecting His love to your child.

And if you will keep the perspective that conflict can bring about change, there is genuine hope… hope that your child can get on the other side and that your relationship can be healed.

The Bigger Picture

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”   So don’t give up.  And keep a proper frame of mind.”

Galatians 6:9

When you begin to think about your child and what they’ve been involved in behaviorally, more times than not, it’s usually worse than what you think, but never quite as bad as you can imagine.  But no matter what you think or what you imagine, there is nothing that can’t be overcome, and there is no relationship that can’t be restored… none.

Understand that what is happening right now in the life of your child and your family is not the whole story.  The whole story is what God is up to… His “bigger picture” which entails a whole lot more people than you or your child.  And the breadth of that picture is spread far beyond your timing.

I know that it’s hard to think about the bigger picture when you hurt for your child now.  But there’s a lot more going on than your situation and your child’s behavior.  It doesn’t mean your struggle is any less important, but it does help with keeping your situation in a proper framework.  Use this difficult time as a prod to deepen your relationship with your child, and you’ll shorten the amount of time that your child remains in their darkness.

Finally, don’t panic and don’t try to “fix” your child.  Fix the boundaries, fix the consequences, and maybe even change the environment, but you’ll never fix your child.  Only God can change your child’s heart.  Instead, focus on what you can fix in your parenting, and get out of God’s way to do what He needs to do.

Over the years I have found that parents usually get pretty scared when a child begins to struggle.  Their fear is based on the realization that they may not be ready to tackle these new challenges.  Some may “awfulize” the situation and make more of it than they should.  Others may do nothing and hope the fire will extinguish itself.  Or, it may be that they are just exhausted.

So, could this be a good time to place these things in God’s hands… into the hands of the one who promises that He will cause all things to work together for good?  You bet it is!  If you do, you will be on the pathway to restoration.

True Hope for Healing

The only true hope is that God is involved in what is going on with your child.  Whether you see it or not isn’t going to change God’s plan for you or your child.  So, if God is at work in the life of our child, we’d best understand what He’s doing.  That understanding comes through prayer; prayer to understand His will and prayers of submission to God to do whatever He needs to do in your life and the life of your child to turn things around.  The older I get, the more I understand that prayer is meant to help us get in line with and understand God’s perfect will, versus trying to influence or change it.

You and I know of God’s hand in the past… we know of it in the future… but our difficulty comes in believing in His involvement in what is happening today.  So, pray.  And keep a daily diary; it will help you maintain perspective.  Look for ways that God is working in your teen’s life, and record those; being sure to thank Him as you see His hand at work.

Yes, there is hope…if you will hang in there with your child… trust God to fulfill His plan… keep a right perspective… and understand that there is indeed a path to restoration. Depend on His promises to remain true.  God, the Creator, is fully capable to fashion a new life and a new relationship between you and your child… so allow Him to heal your relationship.  He’ll amaze you, as he does me, as He creates abundant life and perfection out of dust and confusion.

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.


Healthy Resolutions for Parenting Teens

If you could change one thing about your family in 2017, what would it be? And, more importantly, what steps can you take to make that dream a reality? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregstons offers a list of practical New Year’s resolutions to help bring positive changes in your family.

If you listen on a mobile phone or tablet, please download our Parenting Today’s Teens app available for Apple or Android. If you listen on a desktop or laptop computer, press the “play” button above to enjoy daily parenting advice.