fbpx

Teens Can Learn By Your Mistakes

Do you understand what your teenager is thinking?  Probably not. Maybe you wonder if your teenager is thinking at all!  Though the evidence may suggest otherwise, your teenager is probably thinking too much about the world around them and wondering too much about how they will fit in.

A teenager’s culture can dramatically affect how they think and act.  And today’s culture is far different from when you and I were teenagers.  What’s similar is their need to fit in and to be liked by their peers, which can trump all other needs in their life.  But can you appreciate the unusual pressures they face today, like their wondering if the economy will ever recover and whether or not they’ll get a job, go to college, or have what you had in life?

So it would be a good exercise today to at least try to understand where they are coming from and to walk in their shoes for a day.  You’ll then begin to understand that it can be a very daunting world for them.  They live in a cultural universe that is absent moral absolutes; devoid of values, and where integrity is conditional. Often a teenager’s behavior is simply mirroring that culture without the teen ever realizing its effect on them. And nowadays, that culture isn’t across town, or in another city — it beams into your home through the Internet, cell phone instant messaging and texting, video games and television. As a result, choices that seem perfectly fine to your teenager can counter just about everything you hold dear.

Expressing how badly you continue to feel about your own poor decisions at that age can teach a teenager a lot about how to avoid similar mistakes.  More than ever, kids are in desperate need of parents who are willing to be a bit vulnerable in sharing their own failures. That’s where transparency comes in. Teens can learn volumes from how you handled or mishandled decisions when you were the same age. You see, it’s important to help your teen understand that mistakes are a part of growing up, and everyone makes them, but some mistakes are best avoided.

When you acknowledge your own imperfections and the lessons learned from your own mistakes, it builds a bridge to your teenager.  So talk with remorse about those moments in the past when you blew it.

Being genuine and transparent also means communicating that you still aren’t perfect.   For instance, if you’ve recently failed your teen in some way, such as yelling at them inappropriately or maybe even being hypocritical about the rules in your home, then ask their forgiveness!  Don’t make excuses; admit it, and maybe even assign some consequences to yourself! Better yet, ask them what the consequences should be for your failure.  When you are wrong, just be wrong, and accept the consequences. When a teen understands that his parents aren’t perfect, it gives him freedom to confess his own failings and also to identify his own need for a Savior.

Like it or not, you as parents are accountable for being an example to your children, who will assimilate that example into their own lives when they are older. Be assured, they are watching you. And they’ll learn the right or wrong way to deal with decisions and failures by your example.

So my advice is to begin to appreciate the pressure points in your teenager’s world.  You may not fully understand how your teenager thinks, or how different the culture is from when you were a teen, but when teens feel that their parents have at least tried to walk in their shoes, they’ll be more likely to open up and accept parental help in pointing them in a better direction.

 

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.

 


Power Parenting

The most powerful thing you can do as a parent is to empower your teenager.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the parents of teenagers, whether through our residential program, books, blogs, seminars, or our two national radio programs.

As you can imagine, I also receive numerous calls and emailed pleas for help from parents of struggling teens every day. I’d like to share a few excerpts from the messages I received in my email Inbox recently:

“Well … On Christmas Eve, I kicked my daughter out of my house (she is my eldest ) because for the umpteenth time she didn’t have any desire to follow rules, not lie, or respect her family…”

and…

“My 13 year-old son does not mind me at all. Every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie, and he has also been stealing things and getting into trouble at school. His attitude is — “I don’t care about anything” — and I am afraid that his bad language and bad habits will start affecting my 3 year old…”

also…

“We have currently been experiencing some problems with our 14 year old daughter. She has tried to run away once and has gotten into fights at school. She is very defiant towards us and is really hateful toward her younger brother — age 10.”

and…

“We are dealing with our 15 year old daughter who is convinced she’s a lesbian, is cutting, and possibly has an eating disorder.”

Like these concerned parents, you might be having a bump in the road. You hope there will be better days ahead. Perhaps you would like your child to stop lying, be more respectful, get better grades, or act as if they appreciate all you’ve done for them. Or, maybe it’s more than that, and you don’t know exactly what needs to change, but you know something must change or your family won’t hold up under all the strain and stress of living with an out of control teen.

We don’t often think of change in terms of giving something up in order to gain something better — especially as it applies to parenting. Usually, we believe that things will get better if we just clamp down harder and get things under our control.  But that’s not always the case.  So, let’s talk a minute about Power Parenting.

Empower Your Teenager

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do as a parent is to give some of your power over them.  A line from the 1994 publication Flight of the Buffalo says it best;  “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have — and underestimate the value of what they gain by giving it up.” I tell parents all the time, if you want your child to grow up, you have to let go of some of the power and control over their life.

It boils down to one very simple concept — the best way to empower your teenager is to gradually share the power you have, allowing them more and more control and responsibility for their own decisions.

To empower your child, hand them the responsibility for their own decisions.

When empowered, your teen’s expectations will shift away from leaning on mom and dad to fix everything, to understanding that they are the ones responsible for how things turn out. They may make many mistakes before they begin to understand what good decision-making looks like. And they may even try every trick in the book to get you to rescue them out of their poor choices.  But don’t do it!  Hold them responsible, just as they will some day be held accountable as an adult.

In Closing…

I want to share a heartbreaking email message I just this minute received as I was finishing writing this article, this time from a teenager…

“I have been in a program before but was kicked out because I didn’t want to obey the rules. When I got out I realized I needed help and wish I could go back. I suffer from depression and cut myself. I attempted suicide and almost died, then went to a program and didn’t want help so I didn’t take it. I can be very verbally abusive to my parents and do hit them. I was adopted and have had lots of issues with that. I need help and am willing to do whatever it takes to receive it.” –Marie (age 15)

Some may believe that teenage problems are generally trivial and “child’s play,” or that parents are just overreacting.  I hope that such a plea for help from a dear 15 year old teenager sheds a different light on the struggles of teenagers today and what we deal with every day here at Heartlight.

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.


Dealing With Difficult Teens

Has your teen figured out that he can live without a care in the world for the problems his irresponsible behavior creates, or the stress it puts on you as a parent? Do you spend all your time worrying about him or trying to figure out how to get him to behave differently?

Whenever I see a teen who is irresponsible, and happy to be so, I know his parents are the ones who are quite miserable. The more they try to take control and change their teen’s poor choices, the worse the behavior becomes. It’s what I call “the spin cycle,” a downward spiral in teen behavior that often results in their life spinning totally out of control or ending in dire consequences. And the whole family spins out of control, too.

The good news is that there is a way out of the “spin cycle.” Life doesn’t have to revolve around chasing your troubled teen’s problems and fixing them. Parents can stop it by handing the problems their teen creates right back to them, giving them responsibility for both their choices and the outcomes of their choices.

Until your teen is given responsibility for the problems he causes, he won’t stop causing them.

It’s not a mystery. Your child behaves irresponsibly because he is irresponsible. He’ll not magically become more responsible or mature, or wise. He won’t grow out of it. Responsibility is a learned behavior that comes from facing the consequences of one’s deeds, and the more dire the consequences, the more likely and quickly the lesson will be learned.

It would be impossible to change everything in your teen’s behavior all at once, so let me offer one simple example: Say your 16-year-old is failing in math for the second time. You have gone through this struggle before, and you know your son is fully capable of passing his math class (he has the aptitude, but lacks the attitude). So, you begin a process of systematically limiting how your child spends his time, help him complete lists of homework and study assignments, check daily to see his homework is finished, ask for weekly progress reports, and speak with the teacher every other week to make sure your child is on track, with passing grades.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Wrong! When you jump into the “gung ho” mode of parenting, like you had to do when he was a child, you make your son’s problems your own problems. Managing problems for a teenager never works! He needs to learn to solve his own problems in life.  He’ll never take responsibility for his actions if he knows you’ll fix things for him.

A better approach might be to try something a little more drastic, but tons more effective. Hand the problem back to him; making him responsible to solve it. First, tell him that you welcome any questions about homework and you are willing to help him if he asks for it (even though you know he won’t). But you won’t bother him to make sure he’s keeping up on assignments, to see that he has passing grades, or to say one word about school for six weeks.

Next, tell him that at the end of six weeks you will check with his teacher to see if he has completed all of his homework assignments and has a passing grade. If even one assignment is missing, even just one, or if the grade has not improved . . . you will park the car and cancel his cell-phone. In fact, until he improves his grade, he can ride the bus to school and he’ll have no way to text message or chat with his friends.

You see, the really great thing about how many “things” kids have these days, is that they can be taken away, one by one, as consequences for bad behavior. In my teenage years, I had no cell phone, no Ipod and no computer, so grounding the car was my parents’ only choice. And to this day, I still remember the times and circumstances of when my car was grounded.

But here’s the point where many parents fail. They cave in. They don’t follow through or they lessen the consequences due to sad, remorseful pleas from their teen. They think they are “loving” their teen by doing so, but in this case it’s not doing your teen nor your relationship any good. If you don’t follow through, you’ve made an empty threat that will only serve to teach your teen that you really don’t mean what you say and that he is not really responsible to manage the problems he creates.

What’s worse, if you don’t follow through, his behavior will likely deteriorate, and after a few “feel good” minutes, hours or days of happiness for letting him off easy, the poor choices will return. So don’t make a threat if you can’t follow through with it — to the letter. No remorse, and no letting him off easy.  The first few times need to be the whole nine yards.

Once your teen realizes you mean what you say, and that sooner or later you intend to hand him responsibility for every part of his life, then your life will improve as well. Your teen will know that you keep your promises, and a simple reminder about the “math” incident might be all it takes to help your teen remember that he is responsible to solve the problems his behavior creates. More importantly, your teen will learn from his mistakes.

To summarize, don’t step in to fix the irresponsibility or poor choices of your teenager. Instead, help him realize that his choices always have consequences, that may even drastically change his life. It is totally up to him whether the results of his behavior will be good or bad.

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.