fbpx

Is Your Teen Driving You Crazy?

There is much in the news these days about cars accelerating out of control, leaving the driver and passengers helpless to know how to slow down or stop their runaway vehicle.  That’s kind of what it is like in a family with a teenager who is out of control. The whole family gets swept along for the not so joyful ride.

Is your family experiencing a frightening ride with an out of control teenager? Are you at a loss to know what to do, or don’t know how to react when your teen’s behavior makes every wrong turn and is accelerating toward disaster?

Typical adolescent behavior includes moodiness, hyper-sensitivity and irrational thinking — no cause for much alarm.  But there are other behaviors that are warning signs of a bigger problem than you may realize. These attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a child’s feeling of being disrespected or abandoned in some way at some point in their life, and the level at which those feelings impact their actions, relationships and decisions in the teen years becomes abnormal.

Do you understand the difference between normal and abnormal teenager behavior? If not, here’s a handy tool we’ve developed to describe the behaviors that may mean that there is more going on than the normal bumps of adolescence:

BEHAVIORAL WARNING SIGNS

Instructions: Enter how often the behavior is experienced: 0=Never  1=Sometimes  2=Frequently  3=All the Time

[___] Your teen refuses to abide by anything you say or request. These behaviors may put your teen or your family in danger or high risk, and lead to constant fear or stress in the home.

[___] Your teen displays behavior that is a marked change from what has been normal for them in the past (slipping grades, sleeping too little or too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, aggression, depression, anxiety, hating what they once loved or loving what they once hated, always wanting to be with friends away from home, or avoiding friends altogether and spending too much time alone).

[___] Your teen is increasingly disrespectful and dishonest and no longer veils his or her feelings nor cares about the consequences of misbehavior. Seemingly a loss of a conscience or moral compass.

[___] There is a blatant ignorance or profound rebellion toward the boundaries and rules of your home. This can be shown in passive aggressiveness or open defiance that is unusually excessive for your teen.

[___] Outright or veiled threats of suicide; participation in self-mutilation or eating disorders or cutting (Important: Get immediate professional help!)

[___] Excessive risk-taking, running away, dangerous drug or alcohol use (confirmed by drug tests); blatant sexual promiscuity, or same-sex relationships.

[___] Threatening or out-of-control treatment against people, pets, or belongings, or your teen exhibits a vengeful spirit and destroys things to “pay back” a perceived mistreatment by others. Disrespect for all forms of authority.

[___] Your teen thinks he or she is the center of your family, while at the same time showing a growing hatred for the family, evidenced by a blatant disregard for their feelings, time and possessions.  Demands for money or outright theft of money or family possessions, or using things without permission and then claiming they were lost.

[___] You cannot keep your teen away from peers who are obviously leading a lifestyle counter to your beliefs, and your teen is buying into their destructive behavior and attitudes.

SCORE:  ________(total of the numbers you entered)

If the score is 15 or more, there is probably more going on in your teen’s life than you can handle on your own or through the normal tools of parenting.  Your child needs some professional help, and things have escalated to the point that it could even mean that your child needs to be treated for a time away from your home, at a therapeutic facility like our Heartlight program.

If the score is less than 15, it doesn’t mean that you are off the hook.  Things can escalate quickly and the errant behaviors will expand to other areas; so if you’ve written a “2” or “3” next to any of these warning signs, you need to work hard to do to get that particular area under control before it spreads.

Keep in mind that misbehavior in teenagers is usually nothing more than a flag they are waving high in the air to tell the adults in their life that something is wrong. Their actions are likely being sparked by something in their past, like: abuse, a split in the home, a death of a loved one, a mental illness, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance. They could also be the result of hidden substance abuse, excessive feelings of guilt, or bullying by peers. Sometimes the causes are so tragic and personal that a child would never think of telling anyone about them, but they bubble or explode to the surface through their actions instead. Or, they may not even know why they are acting the way they are.  In those cases, it is best to get a professional counselor involved, who can deal with these issues privately and skillfully.

Other Signs

Some teens act out their issues and stresses in less apparent ways, but these are warning signs as well. Those include: frequent sadness, crying for no reason, withdrawal from friends and activities, refusal to eat or over-eating, sleeping too much, feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, talk of death, suicide or ending it all are all signs of depression. A depressed teen may not be making a fuss in the family, but the issues and outcomes can be just as serious.

Another type of warning sign is your own feelings.  Pay attention to them.  If you’ve caught yourself thinking: “Our family cannot live like this any longer,” or “I can’t put a finger on it, but something is wrong with that kid,” or “I can’t sit by and watch him destroy himself,” then you already know that something needs to change.  And if you have the feeling that something is going on that you just can’t put your finger on, you’d be wise to put on your detective hat and get to the bottom of it, because your gut feeling is probably right.  You may be able to stop the problem well before it gets out of control.

Take Action

So, are you ready to put the brakes on the joy-less ride your teen has you on?  You’re in charge, even when it seems your teen is “hogging the road.”  It’s up to you to take notice and take appropriate action when your teenager appears to either be accelerating out of control, or spiraling downward with anxiety or depression. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Being sensitive to them can prevent more serious and potentially lifelong dangers.

Sadly, every day, I meet good kids from great families with wonderful parents who are dismayed by their teen’s journey down the wrong road.  The stress of it has torn their family and even their marriage apart in the process.  I trust you will not allow things to get that far before you deal with the problem, or seek the right kind of help, if that is needed.

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.


Some Common Questions About Teens

I lead seminars throughout the country and without fail, I get a number of similar questions that are always asked. Here are few that seem to always come up. 

My son has been displaying a lot of anger toward us lately. Even the littlest thing seems to set him off. How can we find out what’s causing these outbursts and if it’s as serious as it seems?

Anger is an emotional response to not getting what one wants. And chances are your son feels frustrated about something that you are doing or saying. Young boys want to grow up and become young men, and that process is many times hampered by parents who don’t give freedom soon enough, allow choices to be made early, or treat their son like he “was” rather than who he wants “to be”. Giving more freedom and learning to nag less, gives a young man the opportunity to make choices thus assuming responsibility for his actions, thus develop maturity in the process.   That anger you speak of will then be self-directed, motivating him to make better decisions in the future.

Another reason teen boys express frustration and anger about their position in life is that they don’t feel prepared to face the world in which they are to live. This happens when parents spend more time teaching and less time training as a child walks through their adolescent years. They know “what” to do; they just don’t know “how” to do it. So, moms and dads, spend more time giving your son opportunities to make decisions and choices so he can flex his decision-making muscle and be prepared when to handle the “heavier” stuff the older he gets.

Adolescence is a time when teens search for their identity and begin to apply all of who they are to their world. They find that some of their stuff works, and some doesn’t. Frustration increases as they experiment and learn to apply their knowledge to their world. As Alison Gopnick reminds us, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer or brake.”

So as they traverse the new teen highway and hit curbs, brake too quick, and accelerate way to fast, a few bumps in the road might make this new road a bit more challenging than the path of their earlier years. But as they make this transition, Moms and Dads can help them learn to make the drive a little smoother by not always correcting, telling them how they can do it better, and what they should have done different. No one likes a back seat driver. So buckle up and sit next to them and help them, not discourage them. They’re having a tough enough time already to have people they admire become critical.

My daughter has gotten into a rut regarding her friends. We are trying to get her involved with activities at church or school, but she always responds with “I don’t want to do it unless my friends are doing it.” I know relationships are important to teens, but how can we help her see that she can’t plan her life around her friends?

Friends are important to any teen and the desire to “belong” or “fit in” are strong motivating factors, more so when they are younger than older. And if you have a daughter that is more of a follower than a leader, you’ll find that you’ll have more of a chance to get her involved in activities by encouraging and enticing her participation through rewards and enticements. It’s saying, “if you will do “this”, we will do “this” to make it worth your while. In time, their involvement in these activities you’ve “encouraged” them to participate in will teach them of their ability to develop new friends, thus eliminating the “friend factor” in planning their activities.

Here’s the transition we have to make about our teen’s desire to be more concerned about their friends than about most other things. While we don’t want them to plan her life around friends, teens do. It’s a fact. They’re trying to find their place and create some protection around them through their wall of relationships. Friends are important. And they’re more important to our teens today than ever before because of the vast “disconnect” happening among adolescents. Teens today spend more time in the shallow end of the “relationships pool” than the deep end. So in the shallow end of that pool, teens will have more people surrounding them, in hopes of finding like-minded peers who will venture into the deeper end of spectrum.

So help them in their adolescent journey. Help them socialize and develop more and more social collateral so that these friends can go deeper and sharpen your child, just as iron sharpens iron. They need relationships around them who will help them get to the “deep end of the pool”. So help them and don’t restrict them so much that they will never have the opportunity to put into practice the way you’ve taught them to swim.

My son seems reluctant to try new things. Sometimes, I wonder if he’s just being lazy and doesn’t want to bother himself with getting outside his comfortable “bubble.” But I also wonder if he’s suffering from low self-esteem and a fear of failure. How can I know what’s going on with him and help him gain the confidence to branch out?

It’s sometimes hard to motivate a teen once they’ve found their “comfort zone” and I’m sure that laziness, low self-esteem, and the fear of failure all come to play in trying to get them to move elsewhere. Have a heart-to-heart talk about how you desire to do something together with him. Find something you both like to do and make it a habit to do it together, even requiring it if needed, and encouraging his participation with reward. Discussions are best with young men side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. When you do something together, then have the discussions you desire to teach him about the need to always live life outside one’s comfort zone.

What kid wouldn’t want to “stay put” when faced with a culture that you and I have said, “We’re glad we don’t have to grow up in this culture!” Well they do. So when you see these signs of not being motivated to move into new arenas of social interaction, you might have to help make it happen… in a gentle way. It may mean that you have to eliminate some of those comforts at home to help push them out of the nest, but I would encourage you do so in a way that helps your child make the transition into their new world.

Be intentional about engaging about the deeper things in his life by learning to ask questions and giving him opportunity to respond. And when he does respond, don’t share your opinion unless he asks. Remember, he’s not wanting more information… he’s wanting wisdom. And he’s wanting it from you. Help him understand this world and be the one that he can come to when he finds frustration entering into it. Fear keeps most teens from venturing to places they want to go. So be that parent that helps them get there; not one that ridicules them for not trying.

If you have questions that you’d like for me to answer, please send them our way.

 

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.


A Journey to Hope

Pain is the pen that writes the song that calls us forth to dance. –Michael Card

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the season when we celebrate life and the goodness of God. We give gifts, attend parties, and make an effort to spend time with family.

If all is well, we feel happy. But for those of us facing the holidays with a struggling teen, this time of year may bring more pain than bliss. After all, it is difficult to be joyful when the negative atmosphere in our home is in stark contrast to the happy and celebratory nature of the season.

When you have a teen whose life is spinning out of control, you may ask yourself, “Where did we go wrong?” Or, “Will we survive this?” Or, “Will life ever be the same?” You may even begin to question your own sanity or wonder what demon or alien may have invaded your once happy and contented child.

If this sounds like you, allow me a moment to offer encouragement. I say this often, because it bears repeating often. As a parent you have probably done the best job you knew how. You most likely did a better job than your own parents. Fact is, even the most intelligent and godly people I know have had teens who struggle. That’s because there are often other factors at work that have nothing to do with your parenting skills, nor the level of love and care you provided your child. And these same factors are mostly out of your control.

Where Does Hope Begin?

So, where does a parent turn to find hope when things seem so bleak? Scripture gives us two fine examples of people who found a place to turn when everything seemed to be going wrong. In the stories of Job and King David we learn that that there is a pathway toward hope, even in the midst of despair. Both had honest conversations with God about their suffering, their sorrow, and their need for relief. Each sought to understand what God was doing in their life through their suffering. In the end, both found hope–not because He or they were able to solve their problem, or because their suffering ended, but because through it they also found a nearness to God.

For the frazzled parents of a troubled teen, the journey of hope entails a journey back to the presence of God, where you can know without a doubt that He is there, even when your life remains difficult and your teen continues to struggle.

Tell God Your Troubles

Let me to urge you to not despair and certainly not to quit. Instead, choose to have an honest conversation with God about your struggle. Ask Him your questions, and tell Him how you feel. Ask Him what you are supposed to learn from this struggle. Stop worrying about how it looks to everyone else, and rest assured that it’s not a problem to have a problem. Be okay with life not always making sense. Celebrate being needful of God’s care. Doesn’t scripture confirm that our Heavenly Father shines best when our life is a mess?

How Does That Help?

When you invite God’s presence to invade your life, then you no longer have to fix the problem yourself. You just have to hold on and trust that He sees it all. You can work through your struggle knowing that God is very near, that He loves both you and your child, and that He will use every single bit of your current dilemma for His good purposes.

Trust me. The pain you are feeling at this moment will eventually come to an end. In the meantime, a renewed hope will come from recognizing that this temporary suffering is a part of God’s plan, and that He is not only aware of the struggle, He is right there in the midst of the struggle. He hasn’t abandoned you and He hasn’t abandoned your teen, no matter what you or they have done.

May you find peace in knowing that God is in it, no matter what the outcome may be.  And for that, we can all be truly hopeful, and thankful. To that end, I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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.