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Possibly the Greatest Teen Parenting Mistake

Well-intentioned parents, doing as they have always done to protect their children when they were young, often circle the wagons and marshal control when their teenager makes a mistake in judgment. Others keep their wagons circled all the time, never giving up any control to the teenager in the first place. Such parents then wonder why their teenager rebels against them or lacks maturity.

It’s natural for parents to believe that trouble can be avoided by keeping their teenager always in sight, by fixing their every problem, and by generally keeping them under their control.  But I’ve learned that teens mature quicker when parents take steps in the early teen years to give up some of the control they have over their teen’s life.

Learn to Let Go!

Do you have the habit of picking up the slack, covering all the bases, answering all the questions, solving all the problems, and making everything easy for your teen? If so, you might not be doing your teenager any favors. Instead, you may just be keeping your teenager immature, dependent and powerless.

If you want your child to grow up, and he’s reached the teen years, you may have to learn to let go. You may have to get out of the way. It boils down to one very simple concept — the best way to empower your teenager is to share the power you’ve always had over him, allowing him more and more power and responsibility for making his own decisions.

Hold Them Accountable

Responsibility becomes an internal life force when parents empower a child to make decisions, line out their options, define the consequences, and then let them choose.

If your teenager is fully capable of doing well, communicate that belief to him by giving him more freedoms. Fortunately, most teens want to take control of things in their life — so let them. As you back off, let your teenager know they will be given even more freedoms if they handle the first steps well. And make it clear that you will remain in the role of the enforcer of consequences, should they break the rules. Such consequences could include losing some of their newfound freedoms and losing some of your trust.

Then, let them make their own choices, and also let them bear the full responsibility for those choices. Line out their options, define the consequences for bad decisions, and then let them choose. Don’t rescue them by not enforcing consequences for their poor choices. And equally as important, don’t forget to congratulate and reward them for making good choices!

The Power of Empowerment

As you learn to let go, your teen’s expectations will shift away from leaning on you to run their life and fix everything for them (including their mistakes), to the understanding that they are the ones responsible for how things turn out. They’ll surely make many mistakes before they begin to understand what good decision-making looks like. And they may even try every trick in the book to get you to rescue them out of their poor choices. But don’t do it!  Hold them responsible, just as they will some day be held accountable as an adult.

Give Them Something to Be Responsible For

Teenagers don’t become responsible or learn to think more maturely by accident. They learn from being in situations where responsibility and maturity is expected and modeled. That’s why I highly recommend to parents that they get their child into a part-time job throughout the teen years, and particularly one that is service-oriented. Probably the biggest mistake of schools today is when they keep kids so busy with after school activities, that there is no time for a job in which teens can learn responsibility. Outside of what Mom and Dad are expecting of them, nothing can teach a teenager about life and making a livelihood than a job can, whether they need the money or not.  Kids who get their first job after they graduate from high school are at a disadvantage and have a lot of catch-up to do in the area of maturity.

The right job for just a few hours each week can be a perfect training ground for a teenager, teaching people-skills, money-management, time-management, and even helping the teenager determine what she does or doesn’t want to do after high school. Skills learned on a part-time job can also help the teen appreciate their education and encourage them to seek more education after high school so they won’t have to continue serving hamburgers, washing cars, or being a lifeguard their entire life.

When to Take Back Full Parental Power

Now, let me address the family dealing with a teen who is already spinning out of control or is addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or other harmful substances or behaviors. This situation is entirely different. In this day and age, a child choosing to self-destruct or to live a dangerous lifestyle could end up in serious trouble, or could even die. In this case, empowerment shifts back to the parent, who must intervene and retake decisive control, since the teen’s lifestyle is actually controlling the teenager at this point.

An old Jewish proverb says, “Don’t meet troubles half-way.” Give it all your attention now, or it could take more than you can give later. And you’ll be powerless when they become an adult.  Take whatever measures are necessary to ensure his safety and do it now. It is up to you to create a solution, such as counseling or substance abuse treatment. And you, too, will need to surround yourself with good counsel and a group of godly friends who are willing to pray with you and encourage you.

Then, with a plan in hand and with all the power you can muster, communicate this message: “Honey – we love you.  Nothing you do or say will make us love you any less, and nothing you do or say will make us love you any more.  But we are not going to live like this anymore. Since you are not making the right choices on your own, here is what will change in your life, as of today…” And then stick to your plan.  There’s nothing that will ruin your future ability to get such a teen back on track than to not follow through the first time.

Small Bumps Are Temporary

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things — I Corinthians 13:11 (KJV).

Maybe you are just having some small bumps in the road with your teenager. Let me assure you, most immature behavior is just that — immaturity.  They will grow out of it as they mature and as they come up against the consequences for wrong decisions.  And they’ll mature more quickly if you empower them to take on more responsibility for their own life.  Give them ample opportunity to make errors in judgment early on, when you still have some control over them in your home.

Letting go doesn’t mean backing off completely.  It simply means allowing the teenager to make more and more decisions on their own, and to have more and more freedoms.  When they make mistakes, or overstep your household boundaries, it is still a parent’s responsibility to dole out the consequences as a means of discipline, which will prevent them from making the same mistake again and again.  For that is how teenagers learn.

So, what have you done today to encourage and empower your teenager to put away their childish immaturity?

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.


Superhero or Not?

None of us can see our own errors; deliver me, LORD, from (my) hidden faults! -­ Psalms 19:12

Being a superhero works out pretty well in the movies or comic books, but when it comes to parenting, rescuing your teenager every time can lead to problems. It can spoil their ability to see the world as it truly is, and it can cause uncaring, self-centered and entitled thinking in your teenager now and throughout their lifetime.

Parents are wired to protect their children. It’s natural and it is needed in the early childhood years, but some parents continue protecting their offspring far longer than they should. Beginning in the teen years, kids need to begin feeling the impact of their own actions and to be given more responsibility for their own survival.

Counter to what some people might think, I find that the most irresponsible teens come from the most responsible parents. I call them “Super Parents.” They are so fixated on fixing problems that they fix all of their teenager’s mistakes as well. They don their cape and fly off to badger a teacher who has given their teenager a bad grade. They run faster than a steaming locomotive and bend steel bars to get their errant teen out of jail. And in everyday terms; they pick up their teen’s room, manage his money, pay his speeding tickets, wash his clothes and rush him to school when he oversleeps in the morning.

When it comes to parenting in the teen years, another name for a “Super Parent” is an “enabler.” They enable a teen to go right on breaking the rules and stomping all over everyone – and each time the teen is rescued it is from something a little more serious.

If you are an enabler, I’d like you to consider a different approach, for everyone’s sake.  Life doesn’t have to revolve around chasing after your teen’s problems – even if you like being the superhero! Believe me; the problems will only get worse, not better, with every rescue. You’re not doing your teenager any favors. In fact, you’ll likely end up with exactly the opposite of what you are hoping for –  a childish adult who remains dependent on you and cannot manage his finances, his relationships, nor his life.

The only way out of this spin cycle is to bring it to an end. How? By having a good talk with your teenager to tell them you will no longer be intervening on their behalf.  Then hand your teen’s problems right back to them. They won’t believe it at first. They’ll think you’ll still rescue them, but don’t do it! They need to feel the bite of making their own mistakes, and they need to know you won’t come running (or leaping tall buildings) to rescue them.  I’m not talking about “not being there” for your teen, or ignoring them and “throwing them to the wolves.”  I’m talking about rescuing them from opportunities they encounter in life that will help them develop responsibility, make better choices, and mature.

Until the pain of consequences of behavior is greater than the pleasure a teen gets from that particular behavior, their actions won’t stop.

Why Kids Need Consequences

It’s no mystery. Teenagers behave irresponsibly when they’ve not had to be responsible for their behavior. They do not magically become more responsible, mature, or wiser as they get older.  They learn experientially, and they get wiser by living. They learn by being given responsibility and by facing uncomfortable consequences for failing in that responsibility or making bad decisions. If they put their hand in a flame, they need to learn they’ll get burned. Even if you tell them they’ll be burned, at some point they’ll test out your theory. And if they don’t feel the sting of the fire when they do test it, they’ll likely do it again and again, just to show you that you’re wrong!

So, what does Scripture say about consequences? In Proverbs it says, “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12a) and “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace”(Proverbs 29:17).  Discipline is a principle found throughout the Old and New Testaments.  So, there is nothing more loving, biblical and godly than to give proper discipline to your children.

Consequences can be the natural result of foolish actions, such as breaking a leg from jumping off a roof, or they can be what employers, parents or authorities use to bring about a positive change in behavior.  For parents, the goal of consequences is not punishment; it is to help your teenager grow up.  In adult life, we deal with consequences every day, and if we’re smart we avoid them, but teenagers still need to learn that wisdom, even though they are capable of being adults intellectually and biologically.

First-Time Consequences

When a teenager first misbehaves, parents can nip it in the bud by applying disproportionate first-time consequences.  Unless a child learns a memorable lesson the very first time they are caught, each wrong deed can be a stepping stone to more serious missteps. Disproportionate first-time consequences ensure that the child never thinks about making that same mistake again.

For instance, if you catch your teen driving under the influence, you might consider donating their car to a local charity. Now, that’s a big deal to the teenager, but it could prevent them from dying in future a car wreck, or from having a lifelong problem with alcohol. Or, the first time they miss curfew you might require them to volunteer at the local mission every weekend for a month.

In both cases, the first-time consequences I’ve illustrated are both uncomfortable and memorable for a lifetime. The teen won’t soon forget that they lost their car or had to volunteer every weekend for making a stupid mistake, and they’ll wonder what bigger privilege they’ll lose if they do it again! Compare that to what most parents do today, which is to ground their child. Grounding can be appropriate at times, but grounding is more of a convenience to parents than anything — at least they know where their teenager is!  If you resort to grounding, then couple it with something memorable and decidedly boring for your teen, like several hours of physical yard work with no iPod, no cell phone and no friends hanging around to entertain them.

Don’t Waffle on the Consequences

A parent is his own worst enemy when he waffles or makes idle threats in regard to consequences. It takes effort to properly discipline children, and that’s why it is easier for parents to warn, warn again, and then resort to yelling angry warnings instead of simply applying consequences.  Warnings serve to tell kids that they have multiple opportunities to avoid consequences, and they quickly learn just how far they can exasperate their parent before the parent takes action.  So, the house ends up in a constant state of chaos and everyone feels lousy.

If you waffle or don’t follow through, it’s an empty threat that will teach your teen that you don’t mean what you say, and he is not responsible managing the problems he creates.  On the other hand, when your teen realizes that he’ll be held responsible for his actions and every part of his life, then your life will improve, and so will his.

So, what happens if your teenager holds out longer than expected? In other words, he keeps making the same mistakes in spite of the consequences.  My advice is to hang in there. Rather than changing the game plan, continue to apply consequences, even if there seems to be no positive effect.  Eventually they will take hold, but only if you don’t waver.  If you stop or lighten the consequences, you’ll be giving your teenager exactly what he is holding out for. You’ll lose all credibility and it will undermine your ability to correct them at all in the future.

Rules Require Consequences

Some parents cringe at the thought of applying consequences, fearing it may harm the relationship they have with their teenager. Step-parents and adoptive parents can be especially conflicted on this point. But I’ve found that young people want rules from their parents, step-parents and adoptive parents. And what good are rules without consequences for breaking the rules? The world makes more sense to kids when they know what is expected and what is not.  They feel safer when they know where the boundaries are. And they find comfort in the consistency of parents who stick to their guns, while loving their children just as much no matter how many mistakes they make.

My advice to you is to build maturity and character in your teenager through sound rules and reasonable consequences. Do this consistently, and with a strong and loving relationship, and I guarantee that someday you’ll hear your child call you their biggest hero — a true Superhero.

Mark

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.


Getting Teens to Grow Up

Remember Alice in Wonderland?  There’s one part of the story that finds a diminutive Alice trapped in a room where everything is bigger and taller than she is.  But there, at her feet, she finds a piece of cake labeled “Eat Me.”  After one bite from that questionable dessert, Alice grows exponentially, transforming into a full-fledged adult in the space of a few seconds.

I know many parents who would love to feed a bit of that kind of “maturity cake” to their own kids!  It seems that more and more teenagers in this generation are becoming stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence.  Instead of growing into healthy adults, a rising number of young people are prolonging their childhood.  In fact, the American Medical Association has recently increased the age of adolescence to 27.  That means we have a bunch of twenty-somethings running around behaving like kids!

No parent wants his or her child stuck.  Our desire is to see our kids develop into mature, responsible, and independent adults.  So how can we get young people to grow up?

Causes

Before we work to fix the problem, we first have to identify the cause.  Now, we could blame society for this generation of childish teens.  But here’s the honest truth—parents, the fault lies with us.  Young people will remain kids as long as we allow them to be kids.  When we entertain their every desire, cater to their every need, protect them from every threat, and fund their every activity, why would they ever feel the need to be mature or responsible?

Another cause for stunted growth could be related to how we communicate with our teens.  When we constantly criticize their behavior, we stop their decision-making processes and send a clear message that they can’t function on their own.  As they move through the process of maturity, remember to transition from lectures to discussions.  Parents; stop the constant correction of your kids!  I realize that sometimes they need it, but communication made up entirely of criticism can stunt a child’s growth.  If you want your child to grow into an adult, begin to treat him like one.  If your son or daughter makes a mistake and doesn’t always listen to your advice, that’s okay.  The consequences of bad decisions are often better than any correction you could give.

Solutions

When your child shows no desire to hold a job, move out of the house, pursue goals, or further her life, it’s time to ask some tough questions.  Are you giving too much and expecting too little?  Are you nurturing a child’s inner adult or catering to an adult’s inner child?  Though on the outside it looks like a maturity problem with your child, a teen stuck as a kid is really a family problem.  And it needs to be corrected!

Zookeepers know that you can turn a ferocious grizzly bear into a non-threatening stuffed animal by providing for their every need and limiting their freedom.  But don’t make that mistake with your teens.  Allow them opportunities to reach, grow, and mature, even if that means they make mistakes along the way.  We want our teens to survive in the jungle, not a controlled habitat at home.

Start by making a detailed plan of moving your child through maturity.  It could look something like this:

  • Age 13: Start washing his or her own clothes
  • Age 14: Pick up more chores around the house
  • Age 15: Get involved in helping others at church or in the community
  • Age 16: Get a summer job
  • Age 17: Be responsible for his or her own school career, including homework, tests, and activities
  • Age 18: Manage personal money, including clothes budget or gas

These are simply examples, but you can see that the goal is to slowly nudge your children to deeper levels of maturity and growth, and lovingly train them to stand on their own two feet.  Mom and Dad, start taking the emotional training wheels off your child’s bike early and often.  This doesn’t mean we can’t help him steer or balance the bike from time to time.  But we don’t allow our eighteen year-old to keep riding around on a tricycle!

No teen is past the age where you can teach maturity.  Maybe you have a 19-year-old living in your basement, playing video games and contributing nothing.  Now’s the time to take action and give him a big push in the right direction.  Announce that you’ll be charging rent next month.  However, maybe the first month you’ll cover half the payment, the second month you’ll cover a quarter, and by the third month you’ll expect a full rent payment.  The ramp-up will give him time to get on his feet.  Or make the decision that gas money, insurance, and clothing allowances are contingent on going to college or holding down a job.  Set the rules, then don’t give in!  Stick to your guns.  If you don’t do anything now, two years down the road, instead of a 19-year-old living in your basement, you’ll have a 21-year-old living there!  Make a decision to help your teen move forward right now, and put it at the top of the priority list.

Though the American Medical Association says that 27 is the new 18, we don’t want that to be the case for our kids.  It starts with us as parents.  Let’s take the initiative and begin offering our teens opportunities to nibble the cake that will help them grow up.  Stop the constant correction, take off the training wheels, and make a yearly maturity plan for your teen.  Use these tools to get your teen moving forward into adulthood.

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.