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Prodigal Fathers

Have you ever considered the father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal to be the focus of that story, not the wayward son? After all, the word “father” is mentioned many more times than the word “son.”

A “prodigal” is defined as one who “spends extravagantly.” While the son spent his inheritance; it was the father who was the most extravagant, both with his money and with his love. It was the father who was the prodigal.

Whether or not Jesus’ parable was taken from a real life example, I imagine it wouldn’t be easy for any father to see his son live a sinful lifestyle and waste his inheritance. But there is no mention of the father bringing brute force or threats to bear to hold back his son or to bring him home, any more than God forces Himself on us.

“Oh, how much would he have liked to pull (him) back with fatherly authority and hold (him) close to himself so that (he) would not get hurt. But his love is too great to do any of that. It cannot force, constrain, push, or pull. It offers the freedom to reject that love or to love in return. It is precisely the immensity of the divine love that is the source of the divine suffering. God, creator of heavens and earth, has chosen to be, first and foremost, a Father”. — Henri J.W. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

When the son came to his senses, the father again showed his prodigal nature by extravagantly welcoming him back into the family with fanfare and rejoicing. There was no demand for repayment, no warnings, no threats, and no expressions of disappointment… just love and grace. He threw a party and lavished all the same rights and privileges on the son as if he had never left the fold.

It’s the kind of prodigal grace and attention fathers need to lavish on their teens every day today. In our counseling of teens at Heartlight, the most often mentioned desire of teen girls is, “I want more time with my Dad.” They want time together, even if they don’t act like they do.

If you are a dad, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, find things you can do together, and communicate with them online. Send daily text messages to say “Hi” or, “I love you.” Make sure your teen knows your desire to continue to be involved in his or her life even if there is a split in the family. Do it, or they’ll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.

The Missing Dad

I asked one young girl in our counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple “doing okay” answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba. She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do. She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, and a volleyball queen.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen and the “most likely to succeed” in her class. She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be. She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her. She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue. Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?” Her chattering stopped, her eyes welled up with tears, and she replied, “When my dad left, I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug. She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey… you don’t need to say anything.” Finally, a real connection was made.

When dads are missing, problems will usually follow. Why? Because moms are the ones who instill a sense of value, and dads are the ones who validate it. All children need their father’s blessing. When dad’s stamp of approval is not there, the child will look for validation somewhere else.

Be a Blessing to Your Teenage Boy

“(Tell your teen) I’m proud of you. I love you. I enjoy watching God shape you into a man.” There’s special power when those words come from the mouths of fathers, and even the toughest teen guys admit they long to hear approval from their moms and dads.”

— Michael Ross & Susie Shellenberger, from What Your Son Isn’t Telling You

This is especially true of teenage girls. They need their dad to meet that need for validation – something only he can really fulfill. And with 12- to 14-year-old girls, this need is greater than ever. But sadly, many dads get too busy or otherwise emotionally move away from their daughters at this time in their life.

Learn to Listen Extravagantly

Dads are usually weak at listening. They’re made that way. They aren’t easily distracted from their focus on whatever they are doing and they’re always doing something. It’s a great asset to have in the business world, but it’s a liability at home. Many times dads are concentrating on something else when their teen attempts to talk to them; or they are only thinking one way and anything different fails to get through their filter.

You don’t have to work so hard to listen to your children when they’re little, but when they enter the teen years, you have to work at it. If you are willing to just listen, you might touch the heart of your teen and convey a sense of value. Don’t try to fix their problems like when they were young – not unless they ask for your help. And don’t worry about what your answer is going to be; we can’t all come up with the scripted responses of TV dad’s like Ward Cleaver, Ben Cartwright, or Heathcliff Huxtable. Focus on your teen and offer your attention as a wordless message of support.

Have Fun Extravagantly

Life isn’t about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain. — Author Unknown

Years ago, I listened to a man on the radio that I’ve been a fan of all my life, Chuck Swindoll. He stated in so many words, “What I want written on my epitaph is that ‘Dad was fun!’” Does that surprise you? It did me. I thought what every good Christian parent was supposed to want written on their epitaph was something to the affect of how godly or spiritual a person they were, or some thought about how they provided for the family. And here was one of the godliest men that I ever listened to sharing how he wanted to be known forever as a “Dad of fun.”

I agree with that philosophy, balanced with everything else that it means to be a good father. You may be pretty good at maintaining parental authority and discipline in the home, but are you making a connection with your teen in a way that is fun — fun for them? Sometimes it’s okay just to sit and watch a movie together. You could go fishing somewhere or take blankets and go out and see the stars in the middle of the night. You may see a meteor shower. These connections are manufactured times and they just don’t happen automatically. Come up with a list of ideas that you’ve got to make happen for that special time with your child — even when they don’t want to do it. Build up to it, “Tomorrow, we’re going to do this,” and then make sure you do it, without fail.

Right the Wrong

Dads can be great at checking out or avoiding issues. They can boil, stew, hold a grudge, and allow unresolved issues to destroy their relationship with their child; or, avoid conflict by compromising their standards. Then there are those who cover up problems by overindulging their kids… deflecting the problem temporarily and causing even more problems in the future.

But dads can also be pretty good at correcting their own errors if they put their attention to it. If you’ve not been the dad you know you should have been, 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.

I recently witnessed an entire family break down and sob when the father asked each member to forgive him for his failures. 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 and it was a new beginning for that family.

Dad, let me urge you to not despair and certainly not to quit. Instead, choose to have an honest conversation with God about your struggle, just as your teen should be able to have with you. Ask Him your questions, and tell Him how you feel. He, too, is a Father. Ask Him what you are supposed to learn and what you should do to make things better. Be okay with life not always making sense. Celebrate being needful of God’s care. Our Heavenly Father shines best when our life is a mess, and I hope you’ll be your best when your teen needs you.

Have a great Father’s Day!

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.


When Parenting Styles Collide

Parenting teens is sometimes hard enough when parents agree on how a child should be parented; and tougher when parenting styles collide. And the one place that parents should be especially concerned about not allowing confusion is in their own home. Confusion flourishes and relationships flounder when parents can’t get their parenting styles to compliment one another, during a time when a teen needs the cohesive and focused team approach by Mom and Dad, whether living in the same house or not.

Parenting types have more to do with personalities of parents. Some are authoritative, some uninvolved, some militaristic, and others permissive.   Of more importance is the parenting style, which has more to do with the focus of one’s parenting personality.   I call it the “4 P’s of Parenting” that reflect four different styles that should shift accommodate the aging of your child.   Pleasing is a focus of the first six years. The elementary school years, parents should focus on protecting their child. During Middle School and Jr. High, intent should be providing. And during the high school years, a parent’s focus should be preparing their child for the next chapter of life. I see more conflict when parenting styles collide than I do when parenting types are different.

I parent different than my wife. My wife’s personality is different than mine. The two combined provide a varied approach to our kids who have different personalities. There are times in a particular child’s life that my type of parenting works best, and there are times when hers does. But make no mistake, when it comes to our focus, we’re at the top of our game when we are utilizing our parenting styles to come together for same purpose.

If we don’t, there’s going to trouble. Here’s an example. If one parent is focused on pleasing a teen and “making them happy” all the time, and the other is focused on preparing them for the next stage of life, you’ll end up with a teen who remains immature, and tends to favor the one parent who is taking the path of least resistance. The other parent becomes the “bad guy” and the teen isn’t prepared to handle which will soon be before him.

If, during their child’s adolescent years, one parent chooses to protect their teen, and the other takes on a style of providing for their teen, that teen will have “a lot of toys but no one to play with” and might not have too much success when they leave home for the first job, or go off to college.

Additionally, a collision will happen in the life of a child if parents don’t “shift gears” in parenting and adapt their style to the needs of their teen.   Wise parents change their styles to one accord so they can focus on helping their teen grow and mature, become independent, and be ready for the next stage in life. Best practice is for mom and dad to be on the same page when it comes to parenting styles. And during the teen years, that focus should be on preparation. Remember that verse in Scripture that says, “Train up a child….” this is where it applies.

This is usually what happens when parenting styles collide. A teen learns a coping mechanism that gives them what they want, and doesn’t necessarily allow them to receive what they need. That coping skill is manipulation. It’s where they play one parent against the other. It’s called triangulating. Eventually, somewhere along the teen-timeline, their way of engaging fails, relationships are damaged, spouses are hurt, and lessons lost will now have to be made up at a later time when the price of failure has greater consequences.

Here’s an easy way to remember how to unite in your parenting styles.

Easy as A-B-C.

Agree. Agree that your styles must be the same. Come to an agreement that you will work together and speak from one voice with one message. Agree to talk through disagreements about what is important for your child. When there is disagreement in parenting styles and what the focus should be within your home, a little bit of sacrifice on both parts to come to a conclusion will move to an agreement that can bring about some big results. Agree to be united in your approach to your kids. Agree on which “hills to die on”, what’s major; what’s minor, what’s important; what’s not. And if you can’t come to an agreement, then seek counsel from someone you both respect.

The lack of agreement between parents usually shows up in a negative character traits being developed in the life of a teen.

Belief System. Develop what you believe should be the focus of your parenting strategy into a system of rules and consequences that would encourage responsibility, promote maturity, and give opportunity for your teen to learn to make choices and develop discernment. Do this. Name 10 things that you would like to see changed in your home, i.e. inappropriate behavior, more assumption of responsibility, curbing the unacceptable, encouraging the positive. Just 10 things mom! And Dad, you’ve got to come up with more than one! If one of the goals of parenting is to help a child become independent, ask yourself what can you do to help them get to where they want to go, and keep them from ending up in a place where they don’t want to be.   I call it a Belief System.   Take what you believe, and strategize that into an agreed plan of household operation, where your teen knows the goals and understands the consequences for getting off track.

Once a teen understands that a concerted and agreed upon effort is to help them take control of their life, have more freedom, develop more responsibility, and get to make more decisions about their life, they’ll love the idea of having both parents playing by the same rule book.

Communicate. Let your teen know that you’ve decided to work together as parents and that Mom and Dad have come to some agreements about how they’d like the home to operate. Ask for their input, comments, and desires. This will give you, and them, something to talk about around the dinner table and will move small talk into deeper conversations.

Mom and Dads, communicate with each other about the focus of your strategy and reassess your emphasis every month.   Communicate with each other, then, communicate “the plan” with your kids. If you’re a single parent family, the process of planning still works. But before you communicate that plan to your kids, let another set of eyes look it over, just to make sure you’re communicating what you want to say.

If you haven’t been on the same page when it comes to parenting styles, and you haven’t shifted to the gear that will allow your child to mature, back off the throttle for a week. In other words, quit pushing the old ineffective agenda of collision and usher in an atmosphere of change. Then push in the clutch and glide for another week. Your kids will sense that a “shifting of gears” is about to happen in your household.   Then make the shift at a special dinner at your home where you prepare your kids favorite meal. Communicate the new plan, ask for their agreement, and put the petal to the metal, in helping your teen, and soon to be adult, flourish.

It’s never too late to align your parenting styles. So do it now, before there’s a collision.

 

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.