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No Quick Fixes for Teen Behavior Problems

I see as many problems surface from the unrealistic expectations of parents of struggling teenagers as I do with the teenagers themselves. In some ways parental issues are tougher to address than a teen’s.

Parents often think that their teen’s problems can be fixed with the right formula, medication, or bandage, just like the cuts and scrapes of childhood. Then, when they’ve tried everything, and nothing works, they become discouraged and reactionary, leading to even more damage in the relationship with their child or their spouse.

The fact is, every child is unique. There are no “cookie cutter” kids and there is no formula for fixing them when they go down the wrong path. To think we can simply “fix” them with a particular method or doctrine is just wrong. While it is a nice marketing mantra for some well-known psychologists to promote quick fixes for serious teen problems, there really is no such simple cure. There are no easy answers and even with the best of help, a parent may not see real progress in their teen for a very long time.

So, what does that mean for you? It means that if you are struggling with your teen, you may need to hang in there for a year, five years, or even twenty years. Do you have the strength to wait for your child to come to terms with serious issues like alcohol or drug abuse, cutting, promiscuity, and other self-destructive choices?

Most parents in the midst of such storms become battered, worn down, devastated, embarrassed, frazzled, and totally unprepared for helping their teen through the struggle. It may not be until they are at a point of desperation, when unraveling the mess their life has become looms impossible, that they consider finding real help for themselves as well. When a teen is spinning out of control, parents are also in need of help, or they at least need a new and improved set of skills for coping, which may be found through counseling or participating in a support group. Your teen isn’t the only one in need. You deserve support as well, so you don’t turn into a useless heap of nerves. It is important to learn how to better cope with and gently respond to your teen’s issues and not stoop to feelings of parental failure.

It is important to prepare yourself for the long haul. Be prepared to spend more time, money, and energy than you ever imagined in this process. Find friends and spiritual advisors to lean on, and be real with them. Take care of your physical body, and pay attention to your walk with God.

Spiritually, parents of troubled teens are eventually forced to their knees to draw upon the Lord’s guidance and help with their teen. This position of utter helplessness is actually the best position to be in. The greatest strength comes from letting go of your child into the arms of a loving God. The Lord becomes the only real help when a teen is out of control or absent from the home anyway.

So, simply give up the idea that for serious teen problems there is a pill to take or a quick fix to be found. Instead, act quickly yourself to build up the support and strength you need, both from the Lord above and from those to which He’s given special knowledge and experience here on Earth.

Tools and Resources to Help You Cope…

If you are having difficulty coping or your teen is too close to the edge of self-destruction, one option is to place your teen in a therapeutic residential program for a time. That’s why we developed the Heartlight Residential Counseling Center in East Texas 28 years ago. Our trained staff helps both the teen and the family work through tough situations, providing a relief for the parents and time for relationships to heal. Our program is full to capacity much of the time, but there are other good programs we can refer you to as well. So, please contact us if things have gotten to a point that placing your teen in a program is recommended by your counselor or if you and your family simply need a break from the stress.

Another option is to participate in one of our Family in Crisis Conferences, where parents of struggling teenagers learn new tools for coping, and the proper relational skills for dealing with their teen. It’s a 3 day event. Participants learn from individual and group counseling how to address their own unique situation. You will hear from teenagers who are working through their rebellion, or have successfully struggled through their teen years and become fantastic and caring adults.

And finally, we’ve developed various books, tapes and video resources to help parents deal with a struggling teenager and learn from our own experience of working with teens for 40 years. To see these resources online, visit www.heartlightministries.org/resources.

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.


How Not to Drive a Wedge Between You and Your Teen

Student Story: Madie

Every mom and dad wants to have a healthy relationship with their child. But all too often, the daily interactions between parent and teen do more to build walls than tear them down. On this weekend’s edition of Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston coaches parents on how to foster a healthy environment for relationships to grow.

If you listen on a mobile phone or tablet, please download our Parenting Today’s Teens app available for Apple, Android and Window users. If you listen on a desktop or laptop computer, press the “play” button above to enjoy daily parenting advice.


Sorry, No Guarantees in Parenting

Thinking that anything a parent can say, do, or offer to their children as they grow up will guarantee a smooth and trouble-free adolescence is just plain wrong. I’ve learned that there are no such guarantees in parenting.

Stuff happens in the teen years that is out of a parent’s control, even if you do everything right. Raising one “angelic” teenager can lead one to think you have found the right formula, right up until you see your next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — a world where God gives each child a free will.

One parent wrote me saying, “We’ve done everything right. We took our son to church, raised him in a Christian home, sent him to a great Christian school, home-schooled for a few years, have taken him on mission trips and poured our life into him. What has gone wrong? How can he reject all that we’ve taught, and all that we’ve been striving for?”

These parents raised their teen in the church and taught him good and strong values. Then one day he decided that those things no longer worked for him, so he started “trying on” other values – values of his peer group. He was not interested in how his behavior made his parents feel. He was “in control.” He acted as he chose to act.  Every trick in their parenting bag failed. Their arsenal was empty. Did they do everything right? Possibly.

Pain and stress comes when a child has chosen poorly and is clearly heading down the wrong path in life. This is not just when their choices are self-destructive — drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, etc. — but also when they abandon their faith or decide after years of hard work, that college no longer matters.

When your teen is struggling to discover his or her identity in a quest to become independent, it can be an extremely frustrating and painful process for all involved. But it helps us better understand how God must feel when He see His children fail.  No parent is perfect, nor is perfection the answer, for even though God is perfect He still had a couple of rebellious kids.

So, it’s not always about the parents, and it’s not always about how a teen is raised. It’s all about your child and his God-given gift of individuality and free will, which will be fully exercised during adolescence.

I’m sure you laid a firm foundation for your teen. You did a great job! You did such a great job that your teen feels capable of creating his own immature views. It may not seem like it now, but that is a very good thing. It’s how a teen matures into a well-grounded adult, who contributes positively to this world. It’s how they stretch their wings and prepare to fly.

Sometimes these “first flights” are hard for parents to experience, especially when they typically involve several failed attempts. The important thing is to be there when your wounded teen wobbles back to the nest; to offer encouragement for a stronger and more skilled flight the next time around.

Being a parent of a teenager can be hard work. There is emotional pain and even feelings of betrayal when your child gets off track in the adolescent years. But I know this — it makes us parents spend a lot more time on our knees! Therefore, the process is worthwhile. For in our journey, no matter how bumpy the turbulence, we may learn what God is trying to teach us as well.

My recommendation for most Christian homes is to loosen your grip, and let go of the rope, just a little. Allow your teen some healthy freedoms, and open the doors of your heart and mind to trusting God a little more, and a self-made, isolated existence a little less. It is tough to trust God this way, and even tougher to watch your teen navigate the rough waters of today’s evils. But by the grace of God and the wisdom of parents willing to take their parenting to a level that is more effective – it can be done.

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.  Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.