What is it about teenagers that makes it so easy for them to get under our skin? We love our kids, for sure. But between the ages of 12 and 20, teens really start to develop and refine the unique ability to raise our blood pressure! Maybe it’s because we care about our kids so much that they can invoke such strong reactions in us. I’ve loved every one of the 3,000 kids who have made their way through the doors of our Heartlight campus. But let me tell you; there were times I was so frustrated with a teen’s behavior or attitude, I was about ready to put him on the next ferry to Iceland and wish him Bon Voyage!
Maybe, like me, you can point to every gray hair on your head and explain how your teen gave you that particular shade. Or perhaps the constant tension and frustration in your home is tearing the family apart. You’re fighting with your spouse more. You’re spending less time at home. You’re having trouble eating or sleeping. Maybe the aggravation has built up so much that, although you wouldn’t say it aloud, deep down, you do not like your child right now.
If you’re a frustrated mom or dad, you’re in good company! Certain teen behaviors increase the agitation between parents and children. If you want to stop feeling the urge to bang your head against the wall every time you talk with your child, here are some ways to correct their actions.
If the egotism of your son or daughter is giving you ulcers, it’s time to inject a little humility into their lives. One way to do this is to stop revolving your life around your teen. If mom and dad act like their kid is the center of the universe, a planet-sized ego will be the result. So don’t put your child in the center of your life. That’s a place reserved only for God. Secondly, give your selfish teen responsibilities. Let them babysit the kids on your next date night. Put them in charge of feeding the dog. Make them responsible for getting up for school on their own, and finishing homework on time. You’ll be well on your way to curing that selfish teen.
Disrespectful behavior is a sure fire way to get parent’s blood to boil. If your teen is treating you with disdain, don’t pull your hair out just yet. The truth is, disrespect problems are really relationship problems. Work on your relationship with your teen, and chances are respect will follow right behind.
Also, enact fair and reasonable boundaries for your home, with clear consequences. And, most importantly, follow though! If the punishment for swearing is a month without a phone, then make sure your teen spends a month without a phone. If breaking curfew means doing the family laundry for a week, then don’t start running the washer after only three days! Clear boundaries and deliberate consequences can restore a level of respect in your home, and calm the tension in your family.
Many moms and dads have come up to me to say, “Mark, our son won’t get off the couch, and it’s driving us up a wall! What do we do?”
I have a donkey on my ranch named Toy. Now, Toy is a sweet, gentle animal. But she is stubborn! She won’t do anything unless she really wants to. I literally have to dangle a carrot in front of her to even get her to move a few steps. Now, I’m not comparing teens to donkeys (but if you want to, that’s fine by me!) But like a stubborn mule, to motivate a lethargic teen, you have to show them what they will get out it. Give them a reason to get a job, go to class, make some friends, or turn off the TV. Make them believe that it’s in their best interest to act. Offer your son or daughter incentives, and it’s likely they’ll motivate themselves.
A dishonest teen is a major frustration for any parent. It’s hard to build trust or strengthen a relationship with someone who cannot be taken at his word. If you wonder why your teen is constantly lying to you, let me offer a little insight. Teenagers live in a performance culture. Every day it’s a competition with others to climb up the social totem pole. So when your son or daughter feels that they cannot match up to their peers or earn their respect or value, they will lie to bolster their self-image.
For many teens, a lie is also a way to protect their relationships. They’re fearful that if mom and dad knew what they did, said, thought, or failed at, you would turn your back and stop loving them. Lying is a deceitful way (in more ways than one) for your teen to hold on to precious connections.
Lying is not only frustrating to parents; it’s also destructive to a family. As with disrespect, this behavior has to be dealt with head-on and immediately. Start by reaffirming as often as possible that there is nothing your son or daughter could do to make you love them more or make you love them less. But explain that lying destroys relationships, and that it cannot happen in your family. Even if the truth is something you don’t want to hear, thank your daughter when she does share honestly. Commend your son when he tells you the truth. And be a good example. Plant yourself firmly in the truth, and force your kids to do the same.
When your teen gets angry and then you get angry, it snowballs into mounting frustrations, raw nerves, and stressful family life. If dealing with an angry teen is making you see red, let me share some tips for cooling down the situation.
First, anger is a reaction to a need that’s unmet. A teen is not getting what he or she wants, and the result is rage. So when your kid starts the next outburst, calmly ask, “What is it that you want?” Get your teen to verbalize what is making them so angry. Once they share, try to work out how both of you can make it happen. Sometimes it’s not a reasonable request, and you have to honestly tell your child, “I don’t think that’s possible right now.” Other times, it’s a need that can be met very simply, and the anger is readily defused.
Second, don’t wait for the next eruption to see what your child needs. Spend regular time catching up with your teen and asking, “What is making you the most happy right now? What is frustrating you the most right now?” If you let your child bottle up everything they are feeling, it will only make the resulting explosion that much bigger. Communicate openly, ask clear questions, and you’ll be able to decrease the level of frustration in your home.
Mom and Dad, maybe your teen exhibits some of these behaviors, or perhaps shows signs of all of them! No doubt this can be frustrating. But remember this; God is teaching us right alongside our kids. Just like teens need to mature and grow, so parents are maturing and growing with them. Use those aggravating moments at home to stop and think, “What is God trying to teach me right now?” The sooner you answer that question, the quicker you’ll learn the lesson God has for you.
Also, don’t play doctor in your home. A physician’s job is to always be hunting for problems. Unfortunately, some parents act the same way. Even when family life is great, they are turning over every rock and leaf looking for the next issue. If your home is experiencing a time of peace, enjoy it! Praise God for it! And if you are experiencing some hard times right now, focus on the problem at hand and don’t go searching for new difficulties to fix. That will only lead to frustration.
Finally, pray every day. Don’t let a day go by where you don’t bring your kids, spouse and home to the Lord and ask for protection, healing and direction. Let God’s peace take the place of frustration in your heart.
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.org. You 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.