When Your Teen is in the Wrong Crowd

Wrong CrowdIf you swim with the sharks, you’re bound to get bitOne bad apple spoils the whole bushel.  Bad company corrupts good character.  Many parents have added these phrases to their lexicon, because they illustrate the dangers of running with the “wrong crowd”. As moms and dads, we know how susceptible kids are to peer influence.  You’ve likely spent many sleepless nights worrying about the people your child is hanging around.  What are they teaching my son?  What are they pressuring my daughter to do?  Are these friends that will give needed support and encouragement to my teen, or are they the type of people who will bring my child down?

These are valid concerns if you suspect your child is hanging out with the wrong crowd.  But let’s pause for a moment and ask just who is the “wrong crowd?”  Here’s a simple definition we can use:  The “wrong crowd” includes anyone who influences your child in ways that are contradictory to your values, systems, and beliefs as parents.

When parents observe changes in their teen and note the actions and attitudes of their friends, they may arrive at the conclusion, “my teen is in league with some bad seeds.”  When this happens, how do we gently guide our teens away from negative influences?  My advice may not be what you might expect.

Teach Your Kids 

As parents, part of our job is to protect our kids.  We try to shield them from negative influences as much as possible.  We’re not going to let our 12-year-old daughter hang around 18-year-old girls who smoke pot and sleep with their boyfriends.  We have to shield our child’s innocence until they are mature enough to make wise decisions on their own.  It would be foolish to let young children spend time with people who have serious hang-ups.  But at some point, we must stop protecting our kids and start preparing them to make wise choices when choosing friends.  If all we are doing is holding our kids back from this or that person, we are not equipping them to make smart decisions once they are free of our control.

While every child is different, here is a basic guideline for starting that relational training:

  • 0–13 years old:  Get to know and closely monitor your child’s friends.  If your son or daughter is running with the wrong crowd this early, change schools, move houses, or pull your child from certain activities.  At this age, they still need to have their innocence protected.
  • 14–17 years old:  Continue to monitor your child’s friends, but begin to slowly back off from controlling their relationships.  If you have concerns about the people they are spending time with, talk with your kids about the problems you see.  Also, set personal and family boundaries regarding the kind of behavior that is acceptable among friends and the kind that is not.
  • 18+ years old:  At this age, young people must be responsible for their own choices, including their choices in friends.  If they are living with you, they must follow the rules of the house.  But if they are on their own, all you can do is let them know you are available to talk and give advice if they ever feel they need it.

As you train your teen to use discernment when choosing friends, you can help them along by asking good questions.  For instance, you can ask, “I’m curious; would you ever drink and drive?  Do you know someone who has?  Did they think it was a good idea?  Do you?”  Or you can ask, “Has anyone offered you drugs?  What crossed your mind in that moment?”  These types of questions are effective because they help your child articulate their values, beliefs, and convictions.  And if they ever get into a situation similar to the one you have discussed, chances are they will remember, “Hey, I remember telling my mom (or dad) that I don’t believe in drinking and driving.  I’m going to pass.”  By asking good questions, you are helping your child build up those decision-making muscles that will serve them well, whether they have good friends or not.

Embrace the “Bad” Kids

We have welcomed more than 2,500 teens to the Heartlight campus over the years.  All of the teens that walk through our doors would generally be included in what most people consider, the “wrong crowd.”  But I love them all to death.  Despite the numerous kids who have come through our program, I have yet to meet a “bad kid.”  Now, I have met some strong-willed kids.  I have helped teens with deep-seated problems and issues.  But there isn’t one child who is beyond help.  As moms and dads, we may spend a lot of time avoiding the “bad kids” and encouraging our children to do the same.  But as Christians, we are called to minister to people in need.  And who needs a helping hand more than a teen who is hurtling off the tracks at 90 miles an hour?

I remember taking a group of my Heartlight kids to church one Sunday.  As our large group walked through the doors, I could feel the eyes turning in our direction and I could sense the shuffling in the seats.  The congregants knew I was coming with teens who carried a lot of baggage.  We sat in the back, and tried not to disrupt the service.  But my heart broke when the pastor starting talking about a mission trip to Africa and their upcoming service to an orphanage in that part of the world.  I felt like standing up and saying, “But there are kids RIGHT HERE who you need your compassion!”  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with mission trips to Africa.  What I am saying is that there are kids who need to be the focus of our “mission” right here in all of our back yards.

Instead of running from the wrong crowd, let’s run towards them!  Turn your home into a safe, loving, and fun place where teens can hang out and interact.  Provide alternatives for your kids and their friends.  Invite them to watch a ball game.  Pack up enough supplies, and take a group fishing.  Let them set up their band in your garage.  Set aside a weekend, and go camping with your kids and their friends.  In this way, not only will you be providing a healthy outlet for teens to have fun, but they will be under your watch and protection.  Rather than cautioning your teen to side step the problem kids, take initiative and be the mentor, leader, or life coach they need.

Maybe your son or daughter has some friends with emotional, physical, or spiritual issues.  To pull away from these kids may mean we are running from the mission field God has for us!  The Proverbs 31 woman is a role model for all us.  God’s Word says that “she opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20).  Are there hurting and needy kids in your teen’s circle of friends?  Open up your arms, and embrace that “wrong crowd.”

Be The Change 

When you began to read this article, you probably thought that I would offer some suggestions about how to avoid the wrong crowd.  Maybe you are a bit surprised at my approach to this topic.  But please hear me out; no matter where you go, where you live, or who you know—there will always be a “wrong crowd” to worry about.  So rather than spend all your time playing defense trying to block the bad kids from your teens, start playing the offense.  Start influencing the “bad kids” yourself.  And teach your teen to do the same.  In that way, you won’t avoid the wrong crowd, you will change them!


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. On this site, you can also download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

It’s More Than the Birds and the Bees: Talking to Your Teen About Sex

Teen RomanceIt’s never a conversation a mom or dad wants to have with their child.  Talking about sex with your teen or pre-teen is uncomfortable for both you and your kid.  There’s a level of embarrassment, a fumbling for the right words, perhaps a hesitancy to share or to ask questions.  I’ll be honest; I’ve been talking to teens about sex for close to three decades, and it never gets any easier.

But here’s the deal; even if you aren’t talking to your kids about sex, you can guarantee someone else is.  That fact alone should prompt you to action.  Your teen is bombarded every day with a mixed bag of information about love, relationships, and intimacy.  She has a sex education class in school.  He has friends who offer their own “wisdom” and advice.  And of course, popular TV shows, movies, and magazines encourage teenagers to express their sexuality early and often.  It’s within this sex-saturated environment that your son or daughter desperately needs mom and dad to step into the gap and deliver the truth about this tantalizing subject.

Let’s take an example from another area of life.  When your teens start itching to get behind the wheel, you don’t put off teaching them about the mechanics or the responsibilities of driving in hopes that they’ll pick up the basics on their own.  Driving a car is a wonderful experience that can provide great freedom and joy in life, but done recklessly, or taken out of bounds, driving can bring unfortunate consequences.  You can’t put an uninformed teen in the driver’s seat and just expect them to know and safely follow all the rules of the road.  Similarly, we can’t expect our teens to navigate this sexualized world without causing damage to themselves and others unless mom and dad sit down with them and share some needed guidelines.  If we avoid these conversations and let peers or the media do the talking for us, we’re setting our teens up for failure.

So what should we be saying to our kids about sex?  It goes beyond the simple biology of the physical act.  Any textbook can teach that.  What teens need to hear from parents are the values and consequences inherent in a sexual relationship.  Unfortunately, many parents inadvertently send the wrong messages to their kids.

Wrong Message #1:  You’re Shameful

A teen once told me about a youth group meeting he attended, where the youth pastor took out a single rose, gave it to the first kid in the group, and asked that teen to pass along the flower to each person there.  After about forty hands and noses had battered the flower, the rose got back to the youth pastor—dirty, broken, and with it’s beautiful scent nearly gone.  Taking the flower in his hand, the pastor said, “This flower is like your body, kids.  See what happens when it gets passed around?  Who would want this flower now?

What this says to kids is that if they lose their virginity, they’re shameful and unlovable.  And that’s the wrong message to be promoting.  The gospel teaches that all of us are equally in need of forgiveness, and Christ accepts us in spite of our flaws!  No amount of sexual experimentation will ever change that.

Make no mistake—engaging in sexual activity before marriage is wrong, and will likely create some difficulties later in life.  But if your teen has made mistakes, or is in an inappropriate relationship, your job is not to shame them.  God offers unconditional love, and we should too.

Wrong Message #2: You’re Useless

Along the same lines as the erroneous rose analogy, I’ve heard some parents compare sex before marriage to chewing gum.  The punch line is, “Who would want a piece of gum that’s already been chewed?”  What that says to teens is that if you’ve engaged in sex before marriage, you’re gross and unwanted, useless and good for nothing.

But this is simply not true.  Just because your teen gave up his or her virginity doesn’t mean they’ve lost God’s purpose for their life.  Parents, it’s crushing to find out that your teen is sexually active.  It can feel like a massive defeat and a failure on your part.  But moms and dads, it is not the end of the world.  Your child’s life has not been destroyed.  God still has a plan and purpose for it.

I had one student who, as a result of a rebellious party lifestyle, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents and evaluate the consequences of her decisions.  With the support of her family, this young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a wise and productive adult.  Some years later I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark – getting pregnant was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”

Obviously, teen pregnancy is not something we’d wish on any family.  But God can use even a painful mistake like that to grow and mature your teen.  So don’t convey the message that a loss of virginity means a loss of purpose.

Wrong Message #3:  Love is Conditional

Now, we might not come out and directly say to our teens, “Hey, I’ll love ya only when you’re good.”  Yet, we often convey this message with our actions, especially when it comes to our kid’s sexual mistakes.  The underlying message that a parent’s love is conditional can be delivered through the silent treatment, explosive outbursts, walking away, or avoiding our children altogether.  When kids mess up (and they will mess up), it’s time for us moms and dads to invest even more time into our relationships with them.  That doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing punishment or alleviating the consequences of their actions for them.  Loving your child under these circumstances means showing love even in spite of their mistakes.  It’s saying, “I’m disappointed that you’re sleeping with your girlfriend, and this means that there will be restrictions on that relationship, but I DO love you and we can get past this.”  The moment your daughter tearfully confesses her pregnancy is not the best time to blow up and storm out.  Show her that you love her despite her error in judgment, and that you will do what it takes to help her deal with the consequences of her decisions.

When your son or daughter is sorry for their mistakes, don’t keep rehashing the past after it’s been dealt with.  Instead, think of how God deals with us.  In Jeremiah 31:34, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.”  Even though we fail quite often, God doesn’t see us as damaged goods.  He sees us as brand-new creations every moment of every day.  And we should treat our kids that way, as well.

Love, Truth, and the Grace of God

Talking about sex with your teen may feel uncomfortable, and addressing your teen’s sexual mistakes can be painful, but in a world where sexual activity outside of marriage is not only permissible, but also praised, your child needs a mom and a dad who are available to answer any questions they have, and who will listen to them and guide them as they struggle through their difficult and hormonal teenage years.  Talking about sex is more than just explaining the birds and the bees.  It’s living out and explaining the love, grace, and truth of God.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

Communication Hints with Your Teen

Communication HintsAs a child moves from his elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that the style of communicating with your child change with them.  They are moving from “concrete” thinking to “abstract” thought. What was “non-hormonal” now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence. While they have always wanted to listen, now they want to express.

It’s important for parents to transition with their child, to change their style of communication rather than not talking at all. Sadly, if this transition is not accomplished, then the next time that communication, or lack thereof, shows itself, is when your child begins to struggle or have difficulties, and desperately needs someone to talk to.

There is a scripture that has always stuck with me as one of those that accurately reflects the condition of most teens, and the “should-be role” of most parents.  It’s when Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden (the condition of the teens part), and I will give you rest for your soul” (the parent’s part).   The hope is that we, as parents, become that place of rest for our kids….a place where they might be restored.

Too many times parents become a place of added burden or hardship, or an extra “measure” of correction when correcting has already been done.  Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer Bunny communication” that just keeps on going and going and going, and dads have that tendency to not “go to bat” and just ignore those situations when communication is needed the most.  Moms, your over-correcting is not giving your child rest. And Dad, your not “speaking up” is not restoring anyone.  The balance will be that place of rest, so work hard to find that medium of the “Mom and Dad mix”.

The time to build lines of communication is before there are problems, struggles and difficulties.  The time to maintain these lines is always. Never stop just because there is a conflict.  Here’s an idea.  Come to the dinner table, and instead of “laying down the law”, lay down some new rules.  Not ones that dictate, but those that invite.  Those rules might include that you (as the parent) want to have one-on-one time with your child and that you will find a special time each week to spend together.  You might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a Mother-Daughter, or Father-Son special vacation each year, and do so as long as you’re alive, another might be a Family Joke Nite that gets everyone laughing….just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached….just a pure time of worship called laughing.

A changing child asks for change in the way they interact with their parents. Try some of the following tips, and see if they help in your communication:

  1. Create a sense of Wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, leave them with a question.  And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately.  Give your child time to think, time to ponder, time to look for an answer using all that you have given them. Give them time to wonder.  They will learn to think on their own, and they will begin to come to you for answers as you model one who isn’t afraid to ask questions.
  2. Wait to Be Invited. Hold off on the tendency to always share your opinion (Scripture says that a fool delights in airing his own opinion) and wait for your child to ask you what you think. Silence will move a child to ask, “What do you think?”  Don’t always enter the conversation unless invited.  Remember that other Proverb, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, or he will grow to hate you”.  Wait to be invited.
  3. Diffuse Difficult Discussions.  Admit where you are wrong, and take the fuse out of the firecracker.  Once you admit to where you have wronged, that issue can no longer be held against you.   Give it up.  What have you got to loose?  Whenever anyone admits to me their faults, it moves my discussion with them to a place that focus on proving who’s right and who’s wrong.
  4. Consider Others to be More Important. Easy to say and tough to do, especially if you’re as selfish as I am.  It’s basically putting others first, not me.  And this should affect the way I speak, the way I discipline, the way I show grace, and the way that I respond when I am disappointed and upset.

Over the last 30 years, I have met with thousands of families for countless hours in desperate and difficult situations.  One thing that I do know, there is hope.  More times than not, the difficult phases that a teen goes through are temporary, and “this too shall pass”.  The struggle for most parents is remaining engaged during those difficult times.  Don’t give up, for God promises to turn your ashes into beauty, your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing.  The God that has put His thumbprint on the life of your child still holds him (and you) in His palm.


Q – My teen is unruly and disrespectful. What is the most effective way to discipline without loosing control of the situation?

A – They are unruly and disrespectful for a reason, and their inappropriate behavior is usually a reflection of other things happening in their life.  Ask questions to probe if there is something else going on.  Their immaturity demands tighter boundaries, and their rebellion demands consequences.  But first make sure of what it is causing the unruliness and disrespect (ask questions).  Disrespect should not be allowed or tolerated and severe consequences should be levied against a child who chooses not to respect.

Q – Sometimes I get so angry at the choices my teen is making.  How can I keep anger from controlling the way I discipline my teen?

A – The focus seems to be on “your” anger….not your child’s.  Anger is an emotional response to not getting what you want.  It might do well to reflect on what your child is doing that is not giving you what you want, and ask why it is so important that they do that.  This doesn’t mean the reasoning is right or wrong, but it does help in getting to the root of the anger.  Don’t discipline out of your anger.  Discipline for wanting something “for your child”, out of a longing to have them not go in the direction they are going for their benefit.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.