The Parent Your Teen Needs You To Be

As parents, we put a lot of expectations on ourselves. Before kids, we might have been content to be average Joes and Janes. But the moment that little bundle of joy was first placed in our arms, we felt the need to put on a cape and transform into “Super Parent”! And that’s a hard role to play. But good news mom and dad—your teen doesn’t need you to be a superhero. You don’t need to have your face on the Mount Rushmore of parents, or make it into the parenting Hall of Fame. In my 40 years of working with teens, I’ve discovered that our kids don’t need parents who are perfect saints or super human. Teens simply need parents who are willing to make some necessary changes.

Parents Who Are Willing To Be Imperfect

First, let’s debunk the fairytale that families can attain perfection. Where exactly did that myth come from? No family is perfect. So quit trying. It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family. Relax. Deal with failures as opportunities to learn. If you have never shared your personal flaws with your kids, they haven’t had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live with imperfection. Instead, they think that faultlessness is normal. The first time they sprout a pimple they’re ready to freak out! Let me offer you this challenge—tonight around the dinner table, share one thing about you that isn’t as perfect as you’d like it to be. By sharing your inadequacies, you allow your teen to connect with you in a different way. It will reaffirm your teen’s understanding and acceptance of himself, while drawing him into relationship with you as well. Teens need parents who are willing to be imperfect.

Parents Who Are Willing to Be Disliked

Parents who want to “rescue” their children from pain or suffering are actually hurting their kids more then they know. It usually happens for three reasons:

  • Parents want to be friends with their kids
  • Parents can’t handle the constant nagging of their teen during punishment
  • Parents are afraid that if they punish their child, he or she will rebel

Mom and Dad, your child doesn’t need another friend. During these tough adolescent years they need you to be a parent—to correct them when they make a mistake and love them regardless of their behavior. Teens need parents who are willing to love their kids, even if it means their kids dislike them. So if your daughter gets a speeding ticket, don’t pay for it yourself. If your son is failing a class, don’t do his homework for him. Yes, we should extend grace to our teens. But showing grace doesn’t mean swooping in and saving the day when your kid messes up. That’s caving in. Setting aside time to help with homework is loving. Writing their book report–because you read it and they didn’t–is rescuing. Teens learn independence and maturity when they face hard times more than when everything is going smooth. Handing out discipline isn’t for the faint of heart. I know it can be hard, draining, and exhausting. But if we want to follow God’s plan for character growth, we need to let natural consequences shape our kids into mature adults. Hebrews 12:6 says, Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. No matter what your kids might think in the moment, punishment isn’t a cruel action. When done in the right way, it can be an expression of love. And it’s what your kids need from you.

Parents Who Are Willing to Say “No”

Some parents relish being needed by their teenager. They dote on them and take care of their every need. They ask “How high?” when their teens says, “Jump!” They may even take abuse and disrespect from their teen when it is directed their way, thinking, “Oh, they’re just having a bad day.” These parents need to step back and understand that teens need to hear “no” sometimes. If not, it will lead to selfish, bossy, and entitled adolescents who don’t understand when life doesn’t go their way. It’s okay to say “no” as long as you provide a good reason. When your son demands the latest iPhone, you are allowed to say “no” and explain why. When your daughter asks to go to a certain party, you have the freedom to say “no” and provide your reasons. Life doesn’t always say “yes” to our requests. And parents shouldn’t either.

Parents Who Are Willing to Let Go

Very few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when young people announce their desire to “fly the coop” and become independent. Those words are tough to hear because in the minds of most parents there is a voice shouting, “We can’t let this happen!” Some parents might think, “What will they do without me?” Other parents wonder, “What will I do without them?” Change is hard, but the desire for independence is actually a very normal and healthy desire in teens.

So Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and go to college, move out, or make smaller steps towards independence, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking. This may be the opportunity to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter. Instead of thinking about all the reasons your teen shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on an ultimately very necessary transition. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity. Teens need parents who are willing to let go. They need parents who believe in them and can even encourage them to become increasingly independent. Isn’t that the goal of raising kids to become adults?

Now, I’m not saying that as parents you should throw caution to the wind and go with anything your kid suggests. But I am saying that because your 12 year old will one day become that 18 or 19-year-old young adult, you need to train to let go, and foster independence more and more each year. Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child. In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!” Trust what you have taught, and are teaching.  And even enjoy watching them launch into the adulthood.

Your teen doesn’t need you to be a superhero or a saint. But your teen does need a parent who is willing to be imperfect, willing to be disliked, willing to say “no,” and willing to let go. It’s the type of parent all of us can learn to be.



 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.  Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.


Implementing Change in Your Home


Some families have become so overwhelmed by chaos in their home, they don’t even know where to begin to restore order.  Today on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston outlines a list of effective steps to gradually return calm to a household ruled by chaos.  We’re learning how to effectively implement change … today with Mark Gregston on Parenting Today’s Teens!

Heartlight Ministries’ 20th Annual Dallas Dinner will be held at the Dallas Galleria Westin Ballroom in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, April 12th.  This is our largest fundraiser, and promises to a fun event for all.  This year’s entertainer is Tracy Byrd; one of country music’s favorite artists.  A silent auction, dinner, and special presentation by Mark Gregston will highlight the night’s events.  Please join us!  To reserve your spot or to sponsor a table of 10, please call Adam Gregston at 972.342.4416.

When Our Dreams Shatter

Broken dreams are like broken plates: we hang on to them way too long because one day we’ll get around to gluing them back together, but even when you do they don’t look quite right and eventually end up in the trash anyway.”  – Anonymous

Every parent has lofty dreams for their children.  As a newborn infant cradled in your arms, you probably envisioned your son or daughter as a healthy, intelligent and mature adult with a great job and beautiful family of their own.  Maybe you even imagined your kid in the White House!

But as they grow, many of the hopeful dreams we cherished will be dashed to pieces.  It could happen as a result of some bad decisions on their part.  Or it may happen as a result of something beyond anyone’s control.  The fact of the matter is that no child can live up to every silent or spoken expectation.  So how do we prepare to deal with the heartbreak of our broken dreams?  There are a few basic action steps we need to take.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #1: Identify the Issue in Your Child

Expectations can be dashed in an instant.  Imagine your star athlete son calls you from county jail to bail him out, or your beautiful daughter confesses to a debilitating eating disorder.  Realizations like these can take the wind right out of our sails.

When we’re overcome with disappointment, the first step we need to take is identifying the reasons for our child’s behavior.  Have they moved to a new school?  Are there issues with a divorce or a re-marriage in the family?  Has there been a loss in your teen’s life?  Examining why your son or daughter is not living up to certain rules and expectations can help you identify the problem and move on a lot easier.  Now, looking for a reason for the behavior is not the same as finding an excuse for your child.  The goal is not to let them off the hook or brush the problem under the rug.  Rather, we want to dig deeper into the hearts of our kids to understand why they’re struggling.  Once we pinpoint the problem, we can work on getting past the disappointment.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #2: Move Towards Your Child

Even when you understand the reason behind your child’s behavior, it can be tough to maintain a relationship when they have crushed your expectations.  It can feel like they are rejecting you and everything good you desire for them!  However, dealing properly with broken dreams and getting back on track with your child requires a conscious movement towards the relationship instead of away from it.

This commitment to move toward your child looks different for men than for women.  For dads, dreams are often unspoken and assumed.  Men generally express their expectations through actions like cheering at their kid’s football and soccer games or pushing teens towards academic or personal achievements.  When those unspoken dreams are broken, dads tend to retreat back, withdraw and move away from the offending child.  They might even become angry or severely critical of their kids.  So for dads, moving towards your teen means articulating disappointment and responding in love instead of anger.

For moms, speaking up usually comes a little easier.  Teens probably know right up front what mom expects from them.  But when the best-laid plans are cast aside, it’s common for moms to respond by laying on guilt or becoming overly protective and demanding.  So for moms, moving towards your teen could mean resisting the urge to guilt kids into making the right decision and scaling back the control.

Even when they’re at their worst, kids need their parents.  They need our support.  Don’t let your broken hopes for your teen prevent you from maintaining a positive relationship with your child.  Move towards him or her in love, grace and comfort even when it’s the most difficult thing to do.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #3: Release Your Kids to God

As parents, the roles we play in our kid’s lives are temporary.  What will last forever is their relationship with the Lord.  But releasing our children to the mercies of God can be one of the hardest, most excruciating things in the world.  Letting a wayward son walk out the door can seem unbearable.  Watching your daughter suffer health issues or the repercussions of a painful accident is agonizing.  But as we let go of our children and give their lives over to God, we can be sure they are in the very best of hands.

If we trust our kids to God, we will never be disappointed.  The story of Hannah is a good reminder of that fact.  Burdened with infertility, Hannah prayed to God for a child every single day.  And one day, God answered her prayers and Hannah and her husband conceived a child.  Now, you would think that Hannah would hold tight to this miracle baby of hers.  I mean, she waited years to get pregnant!  But Hannah knew that she had to release her boy to the Lord.  In First Samuel 1:27-28 she said, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”  Hannah’s son went on to become the one of the greatest prophets and judges in all Israel.

Do you think Hannah struggled with broken dreams?  I’m sure she did!  But she placed her son and her expectations into the hands of God, and He did not disappoint.  Maybe it’s time to turn that prodigal son over to God.  Perhaps you need to stop grasping for control and release things to your Heavenly Father.  Because, let me tell you, God can work miracles in your child’s life!

Dreams are powerful.  They provide drive and encouragement.  I say, dream big dreams for your kids!  But remember not to hold on too tightly to those wishes.  Broken hopes and expectations are a natural part of parenthood.  So when your dream for your child does shatter, sweep up the pieces, move towards your teen and turn the keys over to God.  Only He can change our dreams into something much greater.



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.