“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24
I have never heard a mom express to me out loud, “I want perfect kids.” And I have never heard a dad actually say, “I want to force my authority on my family.” Yet, somewhere between our intention and our execution, these sentiments can come through loud and clear in our parenting styles. Then we wonder why our teenagers don’t listen to what we say! Though we might not verbally demand perfection, our habits and patterns may prove otherwise. If we run up against consistent patterns of disregard and disobedience in our kids, it could be time to ask ourselves a tough question: Is there something I’m doing to keep my kids from hearing me?
I would like to point out five problematic parenting styles that can slowly work their way into our homes. These habits are guaranteed to wound relationships and push your children away. A little honesty and self-examination can go a long way as we do our part to reach our teen’s heart.
#1: Perfection Parents
The first parenting style to avoid is one that demands perfection from our kids. Sure, we may not say, “I want you to be perfect,” but if the majority of our conversations with our teenager revolves around what they should do, what they should have done, and how they can do better, those are verbal cues that shout, “Be perfect!” When kids get overwhelmed with these types of expectations they will eventually start to shut down. Faced with the constant stress of living up to their parent’s ideals, teens will either give up altogether or burn themselves out trying to meet unreal goals. I’ve had teens tell me that if they don’t make A’s in school, then their parents will not love them as much. These parents are shocked to hear their burdened teen voice this perception, because they never explicitly said that grades determine their love. They had no intention of relaying that message to their teens, but their actions and conversation said otherwise.
If you’re unsure whether your child feels this expectation from you, tonight around the dinner table ask your family point blank, “Do you feel that I demand perfection from you guys?” But if you ask that question, be prepared for their response. Be humble enough to listen to your child’s opinions and feelings and work towards adjusting your parenting style.
#2: Irresponsible Parents
While perfection parents are always telling their kids what to do, “irresponsible parents” do everything for their kids! Well-meaning, responsible parents can many times create irresponsible teens. It happens when mom and dad take it upon themselves to solve every problem, meet every need, and work to make sure their child never feels sad or angry. But this type of parenting style robs a teen of valuable life lessons in how to manage their own life. Upset with the lack of any control, a teen may lose all motivation to accomplish anything on their own. Or worse, a child may try to escape the home and engage in dangerous behavior just to prove to their parents that they can make their own decisions.
If there are hints of the “irresponsible parent” in you, then it’s time to back off! Start small by giving your teen control over decisions like clothes, music, homework, friends, or other issues. As they display responsibility, hand over more control each year. Allow your teen the opportunities to learn, grow, and develop the disciplines that will make for a responsible adult.
#3: Overprotective Parents
When I encounter parents who want to shelter their teenagers from the outside world, I always say, “Train your kids to survive in the jungle, not live in a zoo.” I agree that our culture is scary place with influences and beliefs that run counter to our own. But we do no service to our kids by cloistering our teens and shutting down all access to anything negative. I know of many parents who work so hard to monitor TV, computers, phones, friends, school, and life that it resulted in domesticated children who would have a difficult time surviving in the world. We all know of an over-sheltered teen who became a wild child once they reached college and eventually crashed and burned.
No parent wants that for a son or daughter. So ease off the restraints. When your child encounters bullies, instruct them how to respond appropriately. When they hear offensive language in movies or music, take time to discuss why it’s inappropriate and why they should avoid it. Be open about the sexual temptations that they will experience out in the world, or inform them of the dangers of drugs and your concerns. Instead of putting blinders on your children, turn those negative influences around and use them as teaching opportunities to train your child for the wild!
#4: Negative Parents
If you haven’t found your parenting style in our list so far, try this little exercise this week. Start counting the times you say no (or phrases like it) to your teen. You may be surprised how many times that word comes out of your mouth. A foolproof method to get your kids to shut down is to speak more negatives than positives into their lives. If you spend more time criticizing than encouraging, judging than training, condemning than approving, it’s time to reassess your parenting style. Be intentional about finding positive behaviors, actions, and attitudes for which you can praise your child.
Now, you might say, “Mark, you don’t live with my son. I don’t think I could find one positive thing to commend him for!” But I have found that even in the most difficult teen, there is always something worth being proud of, even if it’s how your teenager ties his shoes! No one wants to spend time with people who are consistently negative, let alone heed their advice. Don’t get me wrong—kids need constructive guidance. But they also need consistent love and support. Stress the positive about your child, and watch your relationship grow.
#5: Judgmental Parent
This final dangerous habit is related to the negative parenting style, but it goes a few steps further. I’ve witnessed parents using their voice inflection, body language, and even Bible verses in a judgmental attitude towards their teenager, only to push their children further away. Have you rolled your eyes when your daughter came out wearing a certain outfit? Do you use Scripture as a way to enforce rules and requirements in the house? Have you withheld hugs or signs of affection when your son disappointed you? We’ve all done similar actions from time-to-time, but we need to put a stop to them. They are signs of a judgmental spirit, and teens pick up on them quickly.
I know that kids make mistakes and are prone to do some stupid things. But that’s all part of growing up and learning. It’s okay to voice your concern or disappointment, but be careful that your actions don’t belittle your kids or make them feel like they are unworthy of your love. In every way that we interact with them, our message should be “Nothing you do could make me love you more, and nothing you do could make me love you less.” It’s that freedom that allows our family to feel safe, secure, and protected. It makes for great relationships with our kids.
I realize that these are tough words to handle. It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids. But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. There’s always room for growth as moms and dads. Great relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness to pray what the Psalmist prayed; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.