What Makes Boys Different

Teenagers Using DrugsAfter numerous, harrowing experiences babysitting little boys, a friend recalled saying to God, “You know Lord, I don’t think I want kids.  And I especially don’t want boys!”  But as you may know, God has a sense of humor, and this young lady not only had seven kids, but six of them were male!

Being a mother to six boys, my friend became well acquainted with messy rooms, muddy shoes, smelly clothes, wrestling tournaments in the house, stupid pranks, dumber stunts, holes in the drywall, fiery tempers, and stubborn wills.  In the process of raising a pack of wild boys into mature and responsible men, this mom discovered that God had changed her heart considerably.  Where once she could not imagine coping with a house full of adolescent men, she found that she loved being a mother to these boys, despite the challenges.  Watching them develop, she had a front row seat to the unique challenges and obstacles that men face in today’s world.  Over the years, my friend gained a deep appreciation for the work that goes into training a boy to be a man.

Maybe you’ve got your own wild son at home, and you can relate to the trials and tests that come with being a parent for that particular gender.  Obviously, the goal of every mom and dad is to take that wild and willful boy and teach him to be a caring and courageous man.  To get to that point, parents have to understand the qualities and characteristics that make boys special.

Boys Are Different

Boys are different than girls, and I’m not just talking about the physical plumbing.  Each gender learns and grows differently.  The best way to talk with a girl is eyeball-to-eyeball, using words, attitudes and tones to convey information.  But boys learn best shoulder-to-shoulder.  You have to come alongside them in order to instruct them.  Boys process information in the course of living life.  Ever been talking directly to your son, looking him right in the eye, and it’s clear the words are washing right over him?  That’s because boys are wired that way.  Sure, it’s important that our kids pay attention when we speak and learn how to communicate properly with others.  But the best way to reach a boy’s mind is through action.  Spend time engaged in an activity with your son, and you’ll discover you’re training and teaching him as you participate together.  He’ll learn the value of taking care of property when you show him how to replace the oil in his car.  Your son can learn to make his own decisions when you take him shopping for school clothes.  If you feel like you’re banging up against a teen boy who is just not listening, switch your approach and teach him through doing.

Boys Are Independent

Here is the truth.  Boys from an early age want to be independent.  So they often challenge you on what you say, or question your actions and motives.  It’s why dads and sons can engage in some heated discussions.  Having two independent men butting heads in the same house can be difficult.  But if your son is showing signs of independence, it may just be part of the natural growth process.  As teenagers mature they begin to separate themselves from their parents as they test their capabilities in the outside world.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Look, it’s not always comfortable when your son starts pushing away from mom and dad.  You might feel some grinding in your relationship with him, and that’s when the sparks start flying.  But in reality, he is sharpening the beliefs, convictions, and attitudes you’ve worked hard to instill in him.  As moms and dads, we want our teenagers to have some independence.  We want them to learn how to think and make decisions for themselves.  So when your son starts questioning or seems to be testing your authority, don’t take it personally.  He’s flexing his muscles of independence.  Don’t allow disrespect, but don’t dampen the healthy independence in your teen.  Instead, give him more responsibility.  Feed your boy’s desire for self-reliance.  It will give him the needed experience to become a responsible adult.

Boys Are Macho

I’ve been around enough teen boys to know that a bravado attitude begins to enter the picture around twelve years old and sometimes doesn’t leave!  When the voice starts to drop, that’s when the swagger starts.  This need to prove their manliness, to display their tough guy attitude, is what leads boys to perform idiotic stunts, grow wispy tufts of hair on their chin, and pursue girls with reckless abandon.

Dealing with an arrogant teen is frustrating.  Parents often feel the urge to take them down a notch or two.  But try and look past your son’s macho behavior and respond to his heart.  Dig deep and find that inner softie in your son.  Once you get past the tough guy act and connect with your son’s heart, you’ll have a devoted friend for life.

Also, give your macho teen a model of strength under control.  Point them to Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2:6).  Jesus could have easily walked around, thumping His chest, and using His power and might to beat people into submission.  But instead, Jesus showed His great strength by being a servant.  And as He did so, people followed Him.  Dads, be an example of humility and quiet courage your sons can follow.  Show your boys that inner confidence and strength of character means more than how much you can bench press, or how many girlfriends you have.  You don’t have to be macho to be manly.

Boys Are Relational

What would make a teenage boy ditch school to hang out with a cute girl?  Hormones would be one answer, for sure.  But really it’s because teen boys are relational creatures.  Adolescence is the time when they are yearning for connections outside the home.  That’s why they spend so much time on Facebook, or texting, or hanging out with friends and girlfriends.  Boys crave relationships where they are valued, respected, and needed.  It’s a natural and important part of becoming a man.  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” (Genesis 2:24)  Boys want to form bonds outside the parental borders.  That’s why they’ll walk backwards in the snow for sixty miles to hang out with their friends, or stand outside a girl’s window with love songs blaring on the stereo.  Boys are on the hunt for relationships.  This means parents need to be careful that a teenage boy is building relationships appropriately and with the right people.  Also, the predilection to pursue these connections also means boys get stuck emotionally very easily.  Teenagers longing for relationships may get frustrated and turn to drugs or pornography and get caught in a damaging cycle that is not easily broken.

If you’re a single mom struggling to play the part of both parents, encourage your son not only to maintain healthy relationships with peers, but more importantly, to build friendships with a group of godly men.  It’s within a group of mature and responsible guys that your son will be initiated into manhood and find mentors that can help him make the transition into adult life.

Boys Are Fighters

Why is every stick in the hands of a boy magically transformed into a sword?  Why do boys crave the competition of sports, the challenges of video games?  It’s because boys are fighters.  It’s why they grow up to be boxers, soldiers, football players, firemen, or policemen.  In his book, Wild at Heart, author John Elridge writes, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”  This inner warrior in your son is a good thing.  A healthy, fighting spirit is what gives men perseverance, strength of will, and the ability to tackle life’s obstacles in their path.

But like all good qualities, being a fighter can get a boy in trouble.  And I’m not talking about getting in skirmishes at school or wrestling with siblings.  Many parents are struggling to understand why their sons are addicted to violent video games.  Left to their own devices, some teenage boys will spend hours and hours in front of a screen, lost in a world of adventure.  For them, it might be an outlet for that daring spirit, the need to do battle and feel accomplished.  So rather than ban your son from video games, channel that desire into more worthy hobbies.  Get him a membership to a rock-climbing gym.  Assign a section of the garage for him to paint or make pottery.  Sign him up for karate classes.  Buy a second-hand guitar, and take him out to dinner when he finally plays “Smoke on the Water.”  Boys go to battle to accomplish something.  So fuel that good desire for ambition by giving them opportunities to succeed at projects, quests, and activities that are worthwhile.

Boys are different than girls.  Parents must develop an entirely new skill set to get their teenage boys to the next phase of adulthood.  Though training a boy into a man is challenging, it’s also rewarding.  This world needs more men who are strong and humble, who lead and serve, who stand for what’s right and fight against what’s wrong.  Mom and dad; you have the awesome privilege of training and teaching the next generation of men.  And when you understand how boys are built, you can better raise a godly man.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Letting Consequences Teach Maturity

Facing Consequences“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum?  Practice makes perfect.  Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water.  When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant.  The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears.  But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat.  As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more.  Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!

The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well.  With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions.  But that means handing over some of the control.  Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature.  If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.

Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them.  There lies the heart of maturity – consequences.  If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal 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 how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?

Don’t Wait – Start Early

I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control?  Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.”  My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.”  By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time.  Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious.  Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.

Good decision- making 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).

Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger.  You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up.  Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child.  Start early, and often!

Avoid Over-Control

“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life.  There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night.  Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.

Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative.  Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework.  Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in.  And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class.  And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
  • Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. 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 note that gets them out of the consequences.
  • Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
  • Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet.  But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
  • Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile.  Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If your teenager is 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 you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
  • Give your teen the privilege of helping to 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 your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior.  If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
  • Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on 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.  Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
  • Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen.  Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.

Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions.  In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult.  That’s being a good parent!  Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.  Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.

Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be?  This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child.  But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems 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.  And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Boys to Men

Angry 15 year old boyThirty-five years ago, a pastor of the church I worked and I were eating lunch at a local restaurant and he asked me, “Mark, do you see every person in this room?” I knew there was a lesson coming.  He then said something that has been with me every since.  He said, “Each person here feels like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.”  You might not think that too profound.  Over the years I have learned that his comment was utterly profound.  I think it especially applies to fifteen-year-old boys.

Parents do a wonderful job of teaching and encouraging a young son with uplifting words and rewards for participation in every activity.  You tell him he’s great, brag on him in conversations and post his photo in your Christmas cards. Then he turns 15, and things begin to look a little different.

Life for a 15-year-old boy can be a tough time, and even more difficult when parents begin making greater demands that force him to begin taking more and more responsibility for himself.

Suddenly, it seems, he does have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Classes get harder. The pond he swims in just got bigger and he just got smaller.  His social world gets divided and distributed. He’s too old to ride a bike and too young to drive a car.  The lessons you taught him are harder to apply than first thought.  Your son’s sporting accomplishments are dissipated into an overwhelming number of other 15-year-old boys who have accomplished the same, and perhaps more.  Girlfriends move on to older guys.

You might begin to see that the pain of growing up makes your teenage son behave more selfishly.  It might make him angry because he’s getting less of what he wanted in life, and more of what he didn’t want.  He may take to “spewing” at you because there is no one else who’ll take it.  He hurts because it’s harder than he thought.  Sometimes boys retreat to a virtual world of games, hide in their room, or just crawl inside their own depression.  They may associate with a new group of kids that look like “losers” because they find that those losers feel the same way.

They might feel stuck, frustrated, and begin to lose motivation.  They might begin to use words that you only see on public bathroom walls.  They might express themselves in ways you would have never expected.  It’s a tough time.  But it’s the right time for you to help them through it so you aren’t left dealing with a prodigal at 18 or 25.

If Your Teenage Boy is Struggling

There is nothing worse than living with a teen spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process.  It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Begin to address problems with a 15-year old son by taking time to understand his battles.  Try to understand how tough life seems, and move toward him in compassion, not anger.

Then, decide what you will and won’t do to help him get to the place he wants to be.  If counseling is needed, get it.  If medical issues arise, see a doctor. If there are academic issues surrounded by learning disabilities, get help.  If it’s a discipline issue that begins to spin out of control, take the following steps to send the message, “I understand that things are tough right now, but we’re not going to live like this. ”

1. Set the Stage

When there’s a lull in the battle, share with your son that you’d like to have a conversation later in the week about how things are going.  Don’t give him any more information than just that.  Just tell him that you’d like to wait, and talk about it when you get together.  This will help him understand the serious nature of what you’re requesting.  He’ll know something is “up”.  He may begin to think about things he hasn’t up until now, because you’ve never asked this of him before.

When you get together later in the week, make sure it’s just one-on-one.  This is not the time to have two parents meeting with one child.  Scripture admonishes us to settle any conflict by going to the person alone first; we should do the same with our child.

2. Have the Talk

At the meeting, tell him that you know it is a tough age for them. I would encourage you not to share all the details of why you know it’s a tough time.  You’ll come up short, or say something “wrong,” or say too much and take away from the real point of the discussion.  Just tell him you know it’s a tough age.

Share with him how his behavior makes you feel.  I’ve found you can never really change a person’s feelings, so expressing your own gives them something that they cannot really argue or dispute.  You feel the way you do for whatever reason.

If accusations come up about your own failures, admit them.  Agreeing with your child about your failures pulls the fuse out of his firecracker. It can no longer be used as ammunition.  In addition, admitting your own wrongdoing provides an amazing example to your child of what you might want to see them do one day…admit when they are wrong.  They never will if you never do.

Tell him that from now on there are three rules for your home: Respect. Honesty. Obedience.  In that order.

Share your heart.  “Son, there’s some things that have to change….some things that have to stop, and some new things need to happen.” Or, if your daughter,  “Sweetheart, things can’t continue the way they are.” The overall message is, “There are going to be some changes in the way that we operate from now on.”

Feel free to use these helps that let them know change is inevitable:

“I can’t allow for the following behavior to happen anymore.”

“Beginning now life will be different in our household.”

“Yelling at your mother has to stop.  It is disrespectful and I can’t allow anyone to speak to my wife that way.”

“We have some new rules about money, chores, and helping around the house.”

“You may not demand everything all the time. “

“We will no longer do “these things” (laundry, driving you everywhere, paying for everything, cooking every meal, and jumping every time you say ‘frog’).

“Your cussing must stop.  Your younger brothers and sisters are being affected.”

“Our home will be safe for everyone.  You cannot get physical or be threatening.  If you do, we will call the police.”

“We will come to agreement about the way you dress.

“You’re on the computer quite a bit, and it’s keeping you from interacting with others.  We’re going to limit it’s use.”

“I love cell phones, but you have to turn it off during meals, after 10:00 pm, and when we’re having a discussion.”

“When you get your car next year, and I’ll put up the same amount of money that you give for its purchase, you’ll have to pay for gas or insurance”. (This is for future use. You’re saying it now to help get their expectations in order.)

Hopefully you understand what I’m proposing.  You are detailing what you would like to see in your home and what you want to be different.  You are lining out expectations, changing the rules of the game, establishing boundaries, developing new rules of engagement, and giving definition to acceptable and unacceptable behavior for your home.

3. Lay Out the Consequences

This is also the time to identify and express the consequences.  Then, when it comes time to enforce the consequences, your child already knows what to expect.

Here are a few helpful bits of wisdom that I’ve found are essential as you change the laws of your home, and move into new territory.  Know which battles you want to fight, and which ones you can let go.   Don’t try to correct everything at once.  Don’t keep hounding your child to change everything all at once.Tell him that you owe him nothing, but want to give him everything.  It’s a message that bears repeating to the point that he can say it back to you.  Plan for special times where the only boundary for the time together is “no sermons and no cell phones.”  You don’t preach, and he won’t talk or text on the phone.

And surprise your 15-year-old occasionally by bringing him the computer game or CD or DVD that he’s always wanted.  Not because he’s demanded it, but because you know that he wants it.   It’s a lot easier to require something of him when he knows that you are willing to also give to him.

To the harshest of situations, approach with humility, but carry that “big stick” of parental authority.  If you just don’t know what to do, then don’t lean on your own understanding.  Find help from others who have been there.  Let your 15-year-old son know that you will stop at nothing to change his heading in the wrong direction.

Most of the challenges you encounter during your son’s (or daughter’s) 15th year, are just bumps in the road and will soon pass.  It’s important that you not wait for that to happen but help make it happen.  Now is the time to be engaged in the life of your kids; they need you now more than ever.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!


A special message from Mark

I do hope and pray that this Christmas season is a wonderful time of celebration and reflection for you and your family.  It’s a special time for all of us at Parenting Today’s Teens, and the only time that we ask folks to partner with us financially to help support our work with teens and families.  If these newsletters, or any of the Parenting Today’s Teens resources have been beneficial to you, would you consider a gift to our ministry in your year-end giving?  You can do so by clicking here.

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Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  To find out about al the resources available through Parenting Today’s Teens, please visit www.parentingtodaysteens.org.  To find out more about the Heartlight residential counseling program that Mark founded, visit www.heartlightministries.org  You can also call Parenting Today’s Teens office directly at 1.866.700.FAMILY (3264)  And, hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.