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Letting Go of the Rope

I recently looked at some old photos of myself and was shocked to realize that I was wearing the same shirts today that I wore 20 years ago.  I was so used to wearing them that I never took time to notice the nicer, newer shirts left for me in my closet as a gracious hint from my wife. I have the same problem with my shirts that many parents have with their old parenting techniques.  There is nothing wrong with their tactics for kids in their younger years, but they are just a little outdated for teenagers.

If your son or daughter is responding negatively to some of your well-intended discipline, and your attempts to rein in their behavior is not working, don’t automatically assume that what you’re doing is all wrong.  It’s just that your teen is changing at such an alarming rate that some of the established ways of doing things are no longer giving you the positive results they once were.

You can’t control the way your teen responds, so you might have to adjust what you have control of—your own rules and regulations—in order to initiate a different response.

Many times the way parents approach teen discipline is exactly what Ephesians 6:4 says not to do: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Though well intended, their use of outmoded discipline and efforts to shelter their teen can bring them to exasperation.  The definition of exasperation includes a number of words that clearly describe the situation I see with so many families today.  They are words like; make furious, irritate, provoke, annoy, anger, inflame, infuriate, exacerbate, make worse, enrage, and aggravate.

I have always read that verse thinking that the intent of the writer was to discourage dads from doing anything wrong in the rearing of their child, like cussing at a child, beating him, abusing him, yelling and screaming, acting selfishly, sinning against the family, and other things that would cause a child to respond negatively. However, older children in the teen years can also be exasperated over things that parents are trying to do right, without the parent realizing that their method is the heart of the problem!

For example, I once worked with a father who needed to update the way he approached his son’s discipline. His solution to protect his teen from this crazed culture was to keep him from participating in it in any way.  While it is admirable to insulate a child from the evils of the world, isolating him will never work.

The son shared that he loved his parents, but that they were ruining his life. He said, “They won’t allow me to just grow up.”  He brokenly shared how he was teased and picked on at school for never being able to attend school functions. He had no friends because he could not attend the events that the other kids did, or visit them in their homes. He choked up when he talked about not knowing how to relate to girls, and his embarrassment over making stupid comments in front others.  He did not know how to relate to them because he was never allowed to be around them.

He was being insightful when he stated that he was moving away from his family, his friends were moving away from him, and he was stuck in the lonely middle.

His story caused me to tear up, repeatedly. It hurt to hear this young man — who was really a good kid — talk about struggling through awful pains of adolescence. Something was so right in his parents’ good intentions, but also so wrong. Their son needed to know how to live in his world.  But when he couldn’t, he rebelled.  He was not right in the way he rebelled, but I understood his reasons for doing so.

My recommendation for this family is the same for yours; learn to loosen your grip, and let go of the rope, just a little.  Allow your teen some healthy freedoms, and open the doors of your heart and mind to trusting God a little more, and a self-made, isolated existence a little less.  It is tough to trust God this way, and even tougher to watch your teen navigate the rough waters of today’s evils.  But by the grace of God and the wisdom of parents willing to take their parenting to a level that is more effective – it can be done.

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.

 


Stop Controlling Teens and Start Trusting Them

Student Story: Abe

Does is feel like your parenting routine is growing stale? Well, the new year is a perfect chance to start fresh with your teen. So what are you waiting for? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston encourages parents to ditch their old parenting habits and try something new.

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


Teenagers and Consequences

Practice makes perfect – especially in music. We parents hear a child practice, make mistakes, practice more, make some more mistakes. But eventually, with enough practice, they get it right, and we jump for joy. The same is true for decision-making. With enough practice, your child can learn to become a good decision-maker, and to become mature, responsible, and trustworthy.

Handing over some control, and setting good boundaries is essential to fostering maturity in your teen. However, we parents often don’t realize that unless we allow our child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain immature. I deal with this constantly in my work with struggling teens and their parents, who wonder why their teen is so out of control.

At the heart of this issue is one central theme – 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.

Sometimes a parent says, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child till I give them more responsibility or control, then they won’t have such difficult consequences?” My answer is that if you wait until you trust them, you will never give them any responsibility. You never will. And, they won’t learn how to face consequences and learn from them, or the consequences they face later on will be of a much more serious nature.

Don’t Wait…Start Early

Building responsibility and good decision-making takes practice, and you have to start earlier than you think. It is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14

Start by giving responsibilities early. Give them a checkbook in the sixth grade. Give them a debit card with their allowance on it so they learn early how to manage it. Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school every morning. Let them keep a calendar and be responsible to let you know in advance when they need transport to and from events. Then, don’t take them if you don’t discuss it in advance. The consequence of not communicating about the calendar is, “you don’t get to go.”

When they begin driving, agree to periodically put money on a gas card. Then, when they prematurely run out of their gas allowance, don’t give them more. I guarantee it will be the last time they run out. In the process they will figure out how to manage their gas money.

The idea here is to stop helping teenagers so much – the way you have helped them when they were younger. While a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect our children, parents must make room for their older children to make mistakes. You help a teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then letting them figure out how to get back up.

In many cases, a parent takes control because they see an absence of a child’s self-control and there is a display of immaturity and irresponsibility. Parents of struggling teens often feel forced into the mode of over-control.

Avoiding Over-Control

Over-control happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits (Example: Not wanting them to be with others for fear of them learning bad habits, getting hurt, etc.)

Over-controlled children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They may also have problems taking risks and being creative.

Every culture on earth has a proverb that resembles this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.

Handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions means:

  • They may get an “F” on their homework when they don’t turn in homework. When they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. If they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school. If they don’t make it up in summer school, they won’t graduate. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen just this way.)
  • They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse that gets them out of the consequences.
  • If they serve detention at school, then let them miss the football game on Friday night as well.
  • If they use the Internet to promote an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect it for a period of time.
  • Should they be arrested and it is obvious that they or the friends they were hanging around with are at fault, let them sit in jail for awhile. Don’t bail them out right away. Sitting in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If they are ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since they will not be driving your car.
  • Let them help pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree. If grades become unsatisfactory, then let them pay for the next semester. If you are paying for college, tell them the schools you are willing to pay for. If they wish to attend elsewhere, they can pay for it
  • If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things (like extra gas money). Doing without may teach them to stop spending foolishly.
  • If they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, require them to pass periodic and unannounced drug and alcohol tests as a requirement to live in your house.
  • Let them decide how to pay for college next semester if this semester they spent more time partying than studying. And don’t finance an apartment or a car if they continue with that lifestyle. Let them decide how to finance that lifestyle themselves.
  • Turn off the TV, remove the TV, or cancel your cable if staying away from viewing inappropriate content is a problem for them. Loss of the TV is an appropriate consequence.

What it doesn’t mean is that you are a being bad parent by allowing these consequences to happen. Letting them experience consequences for poor reasoning is the best thing you can do for a teenager.

Pre-teens are just a few short years away from driving, earning, and spending. Make it your goal to create the environment where they learn responsibility, and grow into maturity. You want them to experience the Fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control, with the ability to make good decisions, and not be controlled by unhealthy things.

Are you willing to begin to relinquish control and therefore help your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be? It doesn’t mean you stop helping your child. It means that you wait to be invited into the problem-solving process, and even then you don’t solve problems for them. You let them face the music and experience the consequences of their own decisions. You set new boundaries, and let them move in the direction they decide works best for them.

You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there. Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.

 

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.