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The Battle for Control

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a fight with your teen, thinking:  how can we be seeing this so differently?  Why can’t my teen understand that I’m doing this to protect him?  

Often, when we argue with our teens, we are fighting for two different things.  Parents fight for protection.  Teens fight for control.

As a parent, we have a tendency to control our kids to protect them.  It makes sense.  We want to ensure that our kids have the best opportunities for life.  But in that protection, our high-control techniques keep them from exercising muscle that will actually strengthen their character in the long run.

It’s like getting a new car.  When you pull your new wheels into the driveway, it looks gorgeous.  It’s clean, sleek, and perfect.  And then, you drive it.  After you put on a couple thousand miles, it gets dings in the door and scratches in the paint.  The shine wears off.  You have the choice to keep the car in perfect condition, but you would need to keep it in the garage to do so.

The way we control our kids is similar.  If you keep them away from the world, they won’t experience the pain and hurt that normally comes with everyday life.  But keeping your kids isolated in the garage has an inherent problem:  someday they will be forced to drive out into the world.  Do you really want the first time your child gets hurt or makes a mistake to be when they are away from you?  Whether that’s away at college, or when their primary relationship is with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the mistakes they make will be a lot more costly if they aren’t in relationship with you.

Adolescence is about the transition teens make from childhood to adulthood.  In order to allow this to happen, they need to have opportunities to make choices in their lives.  Teens really want three things:  to make decisions about themselves, to feel like they’re in control, and to have opportunities to prove their maturity and to show you that they can do it.  It’s not a surprise that they want these things.  When your kids were young, they learned about growing up.  They used you as their model and formed their own hopes and expectations for adulthood on what they saw in you.  Now that they are teens, they are breaking away from having their identity tied so tightly to you as their parent, and because of this, they encounter this struggle for control.

As a parent, when you don’t allow your teens to have opportunities for control, they can respond with rebellious behavior.  Sometimes, they withdraw from opportunities.  They may become aloof or lazy and will just coast through life.  Other times, teens can fight for control through making choices without your counsel, or will intentionally rebel against how you have counseled them.  At some point, you aren’t going to be able to influence your teen.  Whether your teen is out of the area for college, the military, or a job, your ability to speak into your child’s life will decrease.  When this happens, what you have done up until that point will be the primary source of guidance that your teen will have to reflect on – so it’s wise to make the most of the time you have with them right now.

If you aren’t sure whether you are controlling your teen’s life, ask them!  Hey, I’m sure your son or daughter will be brutally honest when you simply ask the question.  And an open line of communication is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your teen.  Whether or not your teen thinks you are controlling, give them more things to be responsible for.  Think about chores around the house, and responsibilities they have in school or extracurricular activities.  Every piece of life is an opportunity to give your child a chance to grow his own ability to apply the lessons you have taught them.  If you are controlling every aspect of your child’s life, later on, they will not know how to respond to the things that life throws at them.

As you give your child more opportunities for responsibility, be ready to support them in both success and in failure.  Having your teen become more responsible may be exciting to you in the beginning, but if you don’t build that sense of trust between you and your teen that you will be there when they fail, the responsibility you give them will end up demoralizing and frustrating them.

With the right balance of responsibility and opportunity, your child can begin to build a sense of independence and character needed to transition from adolescence to adulthood.  On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we will talk to pastor and father of four, Joey O’Connor.  Joey shares his perspective on this matter and I’m confident you will appreciate his insight.

It’s hard to think about your teen growing up.  We like the young and innocent phase, and it’s a little threatening when our children begin to emerge as young adults.  At times, when your teen makes goofy choices or makes stupid mistakes, you will be tempted to seize control so that you can protect them.  The secret is finding a healthy balance to allowing freedom while building trust with your teen.

As parents, let’s do our best to stop controlling and start inviting our teens to greater levels of responsibility.  The rewards will be rich as we watch them develop into responsible and independent adults.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

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.


Helping our Teens Make the Grade

I didn’t excel in academics while in high school.  Academics just didn’t mean anything to me because I was more preoccupied by social interacting and my sport of choice, swimming.  Posting good scores on my report card was for others to do; I was too busy.

After flunking out of a semester in college, I finally began to grow up and take school seriously.  In fact, I actually began to flourish in college.

Then I became a dad.  And when Jan and I had our two children, my whole perspective shifted.  We want nothing more than to see our kids excel in school.  We want them to succeed.  And when they’re in grade school, middle school and high school, the only gauge for objectively measuring their success is in academics.  We take their report cards very seriously, don’t we?

The Balancing Act

Our teens are faced with a balancing act every day.  Every day is a performance.  Not just in the classroom, but in the hallways, too.  Adolescence is the season when our kids learn to build healthy relationships.  Have you ever seen your son or daughter’s calendar or the number of “friends” they have on Facebook?  They are hard-wired for relationship.  But the balancing act gets difficult because as kids become more connected socially, they tend to become disconnected academically.

Parents, this is often where we make our biggest mistakes.  When relationships overpower a child’s focus on schoolwork, we sometimes see the grades begin to slip.  Incomplete assignments, poor exams, missed deadlines … these are all red flags.  And for some of us, we tend to overreact.

If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your teen, then stepping in and helping your teen get back on course can help.  But if the relationship has become weakened, or if it seems like your relationship with your teen is more about his academic performance than who he is—it’s a recipe for conflict.  Lots of kids find themselves pushed into this corner and they decide to push away from academics altogether.  The harder you push, the less your teen wants to have anything to do with you.

Once a teen loses ground in their studies, it gets harder and harder to catch up.  With every grade that goes down, the student loses the knowledge that they will need to raise those grades later on.  And at that point, it becomes a downward spiral.

Finding Connection

Parents, I understand that you want to engage with your teen.  When you feel like there isn’t a hobby or extracurricular activity that you can use to connect with your teen, many parents turn to academics.  But academics is a risky place to have as a sole connection.

Schools are designed to value academic achievement.  Families are designed to value people.  If these roles are switched, then we may see our teens looking to their peers to find their value as human beings.

Any encouragement for academic growth should be couched in the arena of relationship.  Parents, it’s healthy to allow your teen to assume responsibility for his or her grades.  It’s not up to you whether your teen graduates.  It’s up to your teen.  You can support them as much as you can, whether that’s through providing tutors, study materials, or just being available for questions when they come up.  But, if you put too much pressure on your teen to get good grades, they can respond by becoming an underachiever (ignoring school or just getting by), or an overachiever (spending too much time on schoolwork and overemphasizing their quest to get good grades).

Our teens are already facing a lot of pressure.  School puts pressure on our kids.  They face pressures to fit in with other kids.  They are transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  They are in a heavy season for defining their identity.  And they are continually assaulted with images of what our culture says is perfection.

It’s hard to be a teen right now.  And our kids want to take advantage of this time to discover who they are and to be guided and molded.  But sometimes, our encouragement and guidance may sound like just another pressure.  As a mom or dad of a teen, we need to be very careful on how much pressure we apply to their academic performance because it might be our pressure that pushes our kids right over the edge.

So, how should we cope with their failures?  This is the hard part.  We naturally want to step in and rescue a child from academic failure.

Try not to shame them or chastise them if they fail.  Instead, encourage them in the things they are doing well.  Our role as parents is to help our kids know their role in their own life and to help them become acquainted with their God-ordained personality.  We know that we have succeeded as parents if we have helped our children grow up and become independent.  As hard as that is, that means breaking away from us.

On the upcoming broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll be talking about this subject in-depth.  And from another perspective, I’ll talk to a high school guidance counselor, Wendy Mattner of Harvest Christian Academy, to hear her thoughts for moms and dads.

Healthy parents give their kids a chance to live, to succeed, to fail, in a safe environment.  We provide a safety net for our kids, so that they know that they can turn to us when they fear failing.  We can encourage them to do well, but if they fail we need to be ready to rely on the relationship we’ve built.  A relationship built not on scores, but on each person’s inherent value.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Discipline and Teenagers

A few years ago my mother said, “You know, you boys weren’t disciplined a whole lot growing up.”  I looked at my brother and he looked at me.  For a brief moment we wondered if Alzheimer’s was setting in.  That’s sure not the way we remember it!

Now I’m not saying we didn’t deserve it…in fact we probably deserved more than we got. But while there was indeed discipline, the style of discipline that we received from our father made it less effective than it could have been. His style was to simply whack us when we got out of line. Along with it came a lot of anger and yelling, and the whole family got upset. Continue reading “Discipline and Teenagers”