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Don’t Be Blindsided by the Teen Years

Parents with children in the “tween” years should pat themselves on the back for a job well done! After a decade of protecting and nurturing their growing child, parenting can become easier at this time. But they would be wise to consider this breather period as a time to prepare for the often turbulent teen years and make the appropriate adjustments in their parenting style.

When your child reaches the “tween” years, parenting can seem to smooth out and become easier, but those who have been through this stage might call it, “the calm before the storm.”  The parent of a “tween-ager” may be tempted to think, “Why change the way I relate to my child, since things are going so well right now?” Here’s why… in a year or two your teen will begin to earnestly seek independence. They will spend more time away from you and your home, and they’ll become influenced by their culture and friends.

When kids begin thinking and reasoning for themselves, their parents may realize too late that they haven’t properly shifted their own parenting style to accommodate for a more self-willed and self-sufficient child.  They can therefore be surprised and dismayed at the rift it creates in their relationship.

Lacking a strong relationship with parents, teenagers who are spending more time away from home begin thinking they are in control and that their parents are irrelevant and totally out of sync with them and the world.  A parent who hasn’t learned to shift their style of parenting will see their child pull away from them at this time.  To their dismay, they’ll see their teen making immature decisions that can lead them down the wrong path in life.

To prevent your child from pulling away from you, here are a few suggestions for changing your parenting style for the next decade of your child’s life. Implementing these suggestions will provide a more stable line of defense by keeping you and your teen in a closer relationship; minimizing the possibility you’ll be blindsided by the storms of adolescence.

Change 1:  Give Your Teen Room to Decide on Their Own, Within Boundaries

First, realize that your child no longer needs or wants you to control their every move. So major on the majors and avoid hovering over your teen. Demanding that they follow your lead is counterproductive to their maturing process. It gets in the way of the greater goal of teaching them how to think for themselves and it can spoil the opportunity for them to flex their options-seeking and decision-making muscles.

“Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.” — Max Lucado

So, allow them to learn how to solve their own problems through finding their own answers. Don’t force your opinions or directives on them about the less significant matters in their life. Establish and enforce age-appropriate and moral boundaries to corral their behavior, but within those boundaries, allow them to make most of their own decisions. They will probably not make the right decisions at first, but failing a few times will teach them the right answer or at least to seek other alternatives the next time. Your job in the teen years is not to hawk over them and rescue them, as you did when they were younger, but to guide and encourage them.

Change 2:  Focus on Building Character More than Demanding Obedience

Secondly, change the focus and intent of your rules from protection to character-building. The most important character-building qualities your child will develop include keeping commitments and living honestly and respectfully. So, set up boundaries and rules in regard to these qualities, and seek out situations where character can be developed. For example, help them find a job where they will be held accountable for arriving on time. Let them volunteer and help those less fortunate while at the same time taking on leadership and responsibility. Assign the strongest penalties and consequences for character misjudgments, such as displays of disrespect, lying and cheating.

Change 3:  Listen Twice as Much as You Speak

I see two extremes in the way many parents listen, and neither one is very helpful. A parent might listen carefully, but then react to every word that comes out of their teen’s mouth. Or, a parent assumes they already know what their child is thinking, and ignores what they say entirely.

As difficult as it can be to hear what your teen is really thinking, I believe it is better to know it than to not know it. However, knowing it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to react or respond immediately. Sometimes your teen is just “thinking out loud” in an attempt to process a difficulty they are experiencing.

If you are guilty of not really listening, you may see your teen baiting you and picking fights just to try to get you to understand what’s going on in their life — at a deeper level.  And if you miss what they are really trying to say, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of heartache.

But listening only works if you find ways to keep in touch.  That’s why I recommend connecting with your teen periodically when they are out of the house, and requiring a breakfast or lunch meeting once a week, just to hear them out.  Connect with them in all the ways that they connect with their friends — through texting, email, social media, and cell phone.  Make it comfortable and fun for your teen to bring friends home, so you can get to know them and they you.

Ask your teen questions and don’t give your opinion until you are invited to do so. Show them you value their opinion.  Zip your lip and open your ears, even if it makes for an uncomfortable silence. It is a simple concept with staggering ramifications for a child who has for the first decade of their life looked to you for leading the discussion and giving all the answers.

Change 4:  Teach Them How to Weigh the Options

Parents are sometimes so intent on passing along their values and beliefs that they send the wrong message to their teen – one that says, “I know better than you, so your opinion doesn’t matter.” One sure way to set up a power struggle with your teen and a rift in your relationship is to make them feel that their opinions are stupid, or that some things cannot discussed with you.

A more productive way to respond to a teen’s rash conclusions is by saying, “I understand what you’re saying, but might there be other options?” The more you ask thoughtful questions, the more your teen will learn to think through their other options, rather than acting on the first idea that comes to mind. Teaching a teen to weigh the options and foresee the results is a valuable tool they’ll use again and again throughout their life.

Comments From the International Email Box…

Dear Mark – We are missionaries in Asia.  I just cannot thank you enough that you are using your God-given gifts for the Kingdom. I am just sincerely thanking you both for openly sharing what God has taught you and making it accessible for everyone.  That is truly a gift and blessing to parents’ hearts and countless families, including ours.  Thank you.  –LW

Dear Mark — I am a Christian in Guangzhou, China. It is really a big challenge to raise a child in today’s world, especially in China where we do not have many people who believe in Jesus! I thank God for providing your abundant resources to share with us. I have also shared with many of my friends who also have struggling teens! They all say it is so good! May God continue to bless your ministry and let your work be the blessing to the people all over the world! –MM

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.

 

 

 


Independence Day Getting Later for Today’s Teens

The definition of “independence” is different for the 18-year-olds of today. Fact is, fewer work or go on to college right out of high school.  More remain dependent on Mom and Dad, who house and support them for longer than parents have done so in the past.  Independence day for these kids seems to be coming later and later in life.

These kids aren’t all selfish, immature, and overly-dependent. But what I do see is a generation that seems to be taking longer to grow up, and doesn’t mind living off of Mom and Dad for as long as they are able. Somewhere between my generation — where we couldn’t wait to get out of our parent’s house — and this generation that seems content to remain at home, there’s been a definite shift in what kids consider to be “independence.”

When I was 16, a rocker named Alice Cooper came out with a song called “I’m Eighteen.” It was complete with Alice Cooper’s style of ranting and yelling about the freedom of life at age 18. I remember some of the words, and I chuckle whenever I hear some of the kids here at Heartlight share how they can’t wait until they are 18, because then no one can tell them what to do. What a surprise they’re in for!

As I remember, the song glorifies the life of an 18-year-old who lives without any plans and is a boy and a man at the same time. “I don’t know what I want… I just have to get away… I’ve gotta get out of this place.” My memory of the song merely affirms that 18-year-olds back then were just as confused as they are today. This is one thing that hasn’t changed. What has changed is their desire to stay at home.

All of my observations tell me that the relationships teens have with parents today are better than the relationships between parents and teens from years back. That’s great, but at the same time it is those relationships and a life of ease that have made it less desirable for kids to successfully become independent soon after reaching age 18. Other kids will move out for a time then move right back when they learn how much easier it was living at home.

In the cycle of life there is a natural progression for a child to graduate from high school and “commence” to begin a new life or responsibility and work. Teens have in the past desired to get established in a new environment and find their own way in life as quickly as possible. Most parents would call it a healthy transition from dependence to independence, from training to reality, from the nest to flight, from childhood into adulthood.

But for some, this normal transition scares teenagers into a numbing state of, “I don’t know what to do now, and I’m afraid.” They haven’t a clue as to what the next step in life is.  So, parents, it’s sometimes okay to give your 18-year-old time to get ready and to help them in every way possible to get to that point. Some young people need an extra “time on the vine” to ripen.

Others have all the “tools” to become independent and live on their own but they are just being lazy or defiant and need to be asked to leave the home.  Such a teen is like the baby bird that can fly, but sits in the nest with its mouth open because it is easier to be fed by its mother than to go out seeking food on its own.  Eventually the baby bird gets so fat it can’t even fly, and it is stuck in the nest for the rest of its life. I know that you love your teen, but do you really want them in your nest forever?

It is up to you to discern when they are able to make it on their own. But just because they are 18 it doesn’t mean they are prepared for leaving home.  Sometimes a well-intentioned parent will go too far the other way and “push” the teen out too soon, and into a world of harm that they aren’t prepared for.  If the teen is immature too irresponsible to make good choices on their own, parental guidance and structure for awhile longer may not be a bad idea, for their sake.

While an older teen is still living at home and not off to college, a wise parent will establish some timelines and rules for that generous arrangement.  For instance, they’ll require the teen to attend a local junior college or trade school, or to work to make money and share in the household expenses. Or, they’ll encourage the teen to grow into maturity through time in the military or working in a volunteer position such as time on the mission field.  After all, it is their maturity, not the amount of education they receive that insures a greater chance of success in adulthood.

And by all means, living in the parent’s home doesn’t mean they can sit all day playing video games or hanging around with their friends. And it doesn’t mean that your household rules are no longer in effect.  If they cannot abide by the rules and keep themselves productive with work or school and make successful steps toward a life of responsibility, then it’s time for them to leave home after all, since there is nothing more you can do for a defiant teen who is now a defiant adult.

The bottom line is this… once a healthy teen graduates from high school and turns 18, they should also graduate into a different lifestyle of taking on personal responsibility.  A parent can either encourage this transition, or they can discourage it by continuing to treat the teen as a needy child.  A life that’s too easy for the teen will only prove to prolong their childhood well into adulthood.  If they need more time before being “let go,” there’s nothing wrong with the scenario of the parent offering the home as a continued short-term base, as long as the teen is making steps toward personal responsibility and maturity.  In time, they’ll gain confidence and naturally want to move out and move on.

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.


Why Every Teen Needs a Job

Excuse me for a moment while I boast, but in fourth grade I discovered that I had a knack for selling stuff. You know those candy bar drives schools put on to raise money? Every student was saddled with an inventory of 2 cases of inexpensive chocolate and charged with hawking what they could to neighbors, friends, and family. It was a ritual despised by parents and kids alike. But when I saw the prizes I could win by selling these mediocre treats I was inspired to do whatever it would take to make my candy campaign successful. So I hatched a plan to offer free samples of the chocolate bars to potential customers, and then charge a little bit more for the candy bars to make up the difference. At the end of the drive, I had managed to sell sixty cases of chocolate bars! Not bad for a ten-year-old kid! But before my head swells too big, let me admit that I’ve also had a few failures in my work career. I’ve even been fired from a job (3 times). It didn’t feel good, that’s for sure, but the lessons I learned have stuck with me.

Here’s the point of these personal illustrations: kids need jobs! And no amount of after-school activities, social clubs, sports programs, or music lessons can replace the education and life skills gained at work. These days, parents may be tempted to focus too much attention on their kids. We used to call this “spoiling” our kids. But doing too much, or giving too much to your teens without asking any responsibility from them in return may result in an entitled teen, who becomes an entitled adult. And there’s no better way to teach responsibility than requiring your teen to have a job. Sure, maybe the pay off is not immediate. But the void left when kids don’t work is felt later on in life.

What happens when your son or daughter gets married and the clash of finances begins? It’s one of the main reasons marriages dissolve. Young couples that haven’t had much experience handling their own finances don’t understand how to create and live under a budget, so they fight about who is spending what or they use credit cards to supply all their wants and needs. Pretty soon, they’re in a financial hole that takes decades to escape!

Mom and Dad; now is the time to start instilling the value of work and the principles of financial management. When your teenagers begin a job, they can look forward to learning a few lessons along the way that will help them succeed throughout their lives.

Learn How to Listen

Parents often tell me, “My kid just won’t listen to me!” However, this bad habit will start to wither away once your son or daughter starts working for a boss. They’ll understand quickly that respect and attention are essential in order to earn that paycheck at the end of the week. You can’t mouth off to a superior (well, you can, but you won’t have a job very long). You have to listen to instructions and have the maturity to carry them out. If your teen is not grasping this lesson at home, he will definitely be able to learn it at the workplace.

Learn to Handle Finances

What’s that old proverb? Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Applied to the area of finances, this time-tested bit of wisdom holds water. We can give teenagers an allowance of money, pay their bills, finance their hobbies, and supply their needs and wants. But when we do this, we are really robbing them off the chance to earn and handle money on their own. Hear me out here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide anything for your kids. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to care for their basic needs. But it’s possible to take this too far. Some parents never turn down their teens’ requests for cash, and are always buying them bigger and better toys. It’s wiser to encourage your teens to earn money and budget for what they want. A dollar earned is more valuable than a dollar given. When teens realize the effort that goes into making money, they’ll understand the value of being good stewards of what they have. So every year, slowly step back from financing their lives. One year, let them pay for gifts for Christmas and birthday parties. The next year, have them help pay for school clothes. When they get a license, let your son or daughter pay their car insurance. In college, have them pay for books or the interest payments on their school loans. Of course, they’ll need a job to pay for all these things. But that’s good! Give them the opportunity to handle money at an early age, and you’ll be preparing them for a financially healthy life later on.

Learn to Work Well

It’s not all about the dollars and cents. Having a job can instill a sense of accomplishment and purpose in a teen’s life. Your child can learn what it means to be devoted to doing quality and valuable work. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that comes from a job well done. So start early, and give your child chores around the house and praise him or her for a good job. If your teen mows the lawn, comment on how good the yard looks. If your kids are in charge of feeding and walking the animals, let them know that you appreciate their work. Reinforce the idea that working with your hands is worthwhile and meaningful. Work is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced and done with an eye towards excellence.

Learn Their Own Potential

There may be some moms and dads reading this thinking, “Frankly, Mark, I think teenagers shouldn’t have to jump into the working world so soon. I mean, they’re just kids! They don’t have the tools necessary to handle that type of responsibility.

But that is just not true. Teenagers have more potential then we often give them credit for. Let’s go back a hundred years. What would we find? Seventeen-year-olds running the family farm. Fourteen-year-olds managing large animals. Nineteen year-olds leading armies into battle. Sixteen-year-olds getting married (Of course, this doesn’t mean your high-school daughter should run off and marry her boyfriend). Were kids inherently different back then? I don’t think so. Teenagers today are not all that different from the teenagers of yesterday. The problem is, we expect less of them or don’t give them the opportunities to earn maturity. Give a teenager a project that has substance, or meaning, or adds value, and you’ll find them rising to the challenge and displaying levels of character you might have never seen before! Work can bring out the hidden potential in your child.

Learn Valuable Skills

Mom and Dad, let me ask you this—have you replaced your teen’s work with after-school activities? Now, there’s nothing wrong with soccer practice, violin lessons, or being in the chess club. Will every child who shoots hoops after school become a basketball star? Probably not. But every child will eventually join the workforce. Instead of forcing activities on your child that he or she may not continue later on in life, why not give them a chance to develop the skills they will need to have a career one day?

If your teen’s schedule is too packed for a part-time job, it’s time to evaluate the priorities. Provide the time needed to take on a construction job, or fold clothes at the GAP, cook fries at the drive-thru, or groom neighborhood animals. Let your teens find work. That way, you’re supplying them with needed skills they will use for the rest of their adult life.

In this culture, work is being viewed as a lifetime punishment with no possibility of parole. And while our teens are over exposed to the issues and subjects of adult life, they are under exposed to needed responsibilities. We have teens who can build complex software from the ground-up, but can’t socially interact with supervisors or people in charge.

A job can change that. And you’re not a bad parent for making your teenager get a job. In fact, you’re giving them a priceless gift. You’re teaching them the value of work.

 

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.