by Mark Gregston
All relationships are motivated by a goal or a desire. A desire to be seen and to be heard. A desire to be loved and appreciated. A desire to be happy and safe. So, when a teen begins to look for love, support, friendships, happiness, and safety in all the wrong places, parents need to step back and reevaluate the relationships inside their home. Why, might you ask? Well, because people don’t typically seek out something they already possess.
I’ve often wondered if relationship problems at home aren’t simply the result of a parent’s inability to understand the changing needs of their teenage child. It makes sense—and here’s why. If you don’t understand what someone needs, then you’re not going to be able to meet the need or to effectively provide for it. And if you can’t give an immediate answer to what your teen’s currents needs are or if you’re curious about the heart motivator behind your child’s action, then keep reading for some practical information on what your teen needs most from you right now.
What Your Teen Needs
It’s important to realize what the needs of your teens are so that you can address them appropriately and quickly. Think about the world today. Kids live in a constantly negative culture. Social media is filled with self-proclaimed authorities and bullying is on the rise. The internet has made it easy to gossip about anything and everything. And today’s teen is often bombarded by know-it-alls who had one life experience, but is now, suddenly an expert on the topic. Your teen doesn’t need another bully or another know-it-all, they need someone in their life who will tell them the truth in a way that’s positive, trustworthy, and loving. So, be that person who fills the gap between truth and our fabricated realities while conveying wisdom that’s authentic and practical.
Teens also need to know that you’re going to be the person who has their back. No matter what! Especially on the days when everything that could go wrong, does. Just like you and me, your teen will win some, and they’ll lose some, and while you may not agree with every decision they make, it’s important to let them know that you love them, and you’re supporting them, and you’re always going to be there for them—just as God is always there for us.
What Your Teen Does NOT Need
Teens need to feel cared about, comfortable, and loved. They also need rest and a place to rest that’s a sanctuary from the outside world. As a parent, it’s up to you to take inventory of how your family dynamics are working, or maybe not working. As I mentioned earlier, the world has a lot to say and it’s saying it constantly, so one thing your teen doesn’t need from you is a lot of chatter. Teen don’t need someone pushing information on them 24/7. They have Google and lots of other information portals at their disposal for info. What they need from you is wisdom.
Which brings me to my next point. The wisdom of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son. Are you familiar with the story? Scripture tells us that the dynamics of this family relationship changed when everyone stopped doing everything for the young man. And also, that the father had wisdom to know that after his folly, the boy would return. Parents, I know you want the best for your kids, but you can’t stifle them and expect to get great results. So, stop doing everything for them all the time, and stop planning their lives every single second of the day! Over-scheduling and micromanaging have yet to produce well-rounded people. And you’re only delaying the process of your teen maturing into a responsible, healthy adult.
And finally, your kids do not need perfection, so you gotta stop pretending that everything and everyone in your family has to be perfect. This false idea will never benefit your family. So, go against the grain! As the parents of this generation of teens, it’s up to us, to remind them that in our appearance and performance-driven world, it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to be imperfect and vulnerable. Your imperfections are what make you authentic—and human. And being authentic is what will allow peace and harmony to dwell within your family and in your home.
One Teen’s Story
Gabe, one of our Heartlight students, came to us recently because he was struggling with getting along with his family. By the time he was in middle school, Gabe was already doing drugs and stealing from his little brother. It all stemmed from him feeling like a disappointment at home and at school. Those feelings, along with his desire to feel loved and accepted, in addition to his parents’ confusion about how to properly handle or understand the situation in its totality, caused Gabe to begin a two-year free fall that ended when he was arrested for bringing a firearm to court.
At first, when he was sentenced to rehab at Heartlight, he was angry. But after some time, Gabe realized he could have gone to jail for a very long time, and he has since learned to be grateful for the second chance he’s been given. Being at Heartlight has allowed him and his parents to begin the hard work of repairing their relationship. And Gabe tells us that it’s a challenge, but it’s one that he’s up for as he looks forward to the future.
Mom and Dad … your teens need you desperately. They need your genuine and authentic lifestyle that displays the values and the biblical insights that you’ve gathered through all your years. So, it’s important for them to see the value of a connection with you and for you to value them as they mature and learn to spread their wings. I’m sure if you’re like me, you don’t want their preteen years to hold their greatest memories of your relationship. You want your relationships to grow as they do. And you want to maintain and deepen your relationship in the days ahead. To do that, you’ve gotta know their needs and strive to meet their needs, just as God endeavors to meet yours.
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 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.