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Helping Our Kids Spread Their Wings

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.”

 ~ Hodding Carter, Jr.

When a kid hasn’t studied or prepared for a test, it’s pretty obvious.  One science teacher humorously recalls a student’s response to the essay question, “What is a vacuum?”  They wrote down, “Something my mom says I should use more often.”  A math teacher once asked her class how to convert “centimeters” into “meters,” and an unprepared student responded, “Take out centi-.

Fortunately, a failed science test every now and then probably won’t make or break our kid’s future.  But there’s another kind of test that every young adult will have to face, and it’s our job as parents to see that they succeed!  Eighty percent of your son or daughter’s life will be spent outside the home and away from you.  Are you training your child to handle the difficult questions, issues, and responsibilities that come with adulthood?

If you have a pre-teen or a full-blown teenager in your home, the main goal right now is equipping that young person to be independent.  This is more than teaching them how to handle the finances, cook a healthy meal, or drive responsibly.  Preparing them for life includes training them to be godly men and women of strong character.  It can be scary to watch our children spread their wings to fly, but it will make all the difference in their life.

Independence, But With Limits!

Before we give our kids every freedom imaginable, we need to think carefully about the limits.  Some parents have a tendency to go far, too fast.  This can happen when divorced moms and dads feel guilty and try to compensate by being lax in discipline.  Other parents want to be friends with their children, so they toss their parental role to the side, along with the rules.  But children raised without boundaries don’t usually become responsible and mature adults.  More often they become selfish, demanding, and controlling.

Proper boundaries are like lanes on the freeway.  They keep your child from veering off the road and running headlong into dangerous situations!  If you don’t provide appropriate limits, teens will feel unprepared for their new freedom and grow confused or frustrated.  But this doesn’t mean the boundaries have to be narrowly rigid.  Once your teen demonstrates that he or she can handle the first baby steps of freedom, expand his or her responsibilities.  Reward trustworthy behavior with increasing freedom.  You can be sure that teenagers will become impatient with the step-by-step process, but remind them that earning their wings takes time.

Teach Self-Control

Your teenager is often pulled in many different ways by many different forces—hormones, peers, and authority figures, to name a few.  In today’s culture, it’s tough being a teen!  In order to help kids mature into healthy, independent adults, parents need to teach them self-control.  Teenagers need practical instruction on resisting negative influences and embracing good decisions.  And like most disciplines, self-control is a learned trait.  It comes with trial and error, and a lot of preparation.  Here are some ways to begin the process:

  • Start by asking a lot of questions.  Ask your teen about the moral, cultural, or current issues of the day, and wait for their answer.  Questions like, “ what do you think would be the best thing to do in this situation? or, “what would you do if you were asked to have sex, steal or take drugs?”  or even statements like, “Tell me what you think about…” are great ways to stimulate clear thinking and wise decisions.  Allow your teen to come up with their own answer without injecting yours.  Let them realize the fullness of their response by hearing their words.  A teen’s reply may be immature, irresponsible, or just plain wrong, but their response will echo in their mind and start them on a path to exercising self-control.
  • As you give them more freedom, allow your teen to make their own choices in that area of liberty, whether good or bad.  For example, if you give your son or daughter gas money and they choose to spend that money on something other than fuel, then they will have to figure out another way to get around.  Don’t give in and provide more money to fill up the tank!  Let your teen walk, if necessary, in order to impress the importance self-restraint.  Believe me, once a licensed teenager has to walk instead of drive they’ll never make that same decision again!
  • Encourage your child in their good decisions.  Highlight their successes, not their failures.  Don’t say, “I told you so,” when they make a mistake.  That simply clips their wings.  Instead, patiently allow them the opportunity to make the right choice.  When you see your child respond with maturity and responsibility, congratulate them right then and there.  Instant feedback is always best.  Let them know you’re proud of them and that you’re going to give them even more freedom in the future.
  • Offer your teen specific examples of good decisions you have made.  While it’s possible your teenager will make a crack about your life in the dark ages, revealing the decisions you made in complex situations provides a solid role model.  When they find themselves in the same situation that you once faced, they will have a framework from which to work and a concrete illustration for decision-making.  Develop a portfolio of good decisions you and other people your teen admires have made, and randomly inject them into conversations (not to make a point when the teen does something wrong).  It’s a great way to put a spotlight on the benefits of self- control.

Someday soon your teen will face a very important test.  My advice for parents is to begin preparing your children right now to embrace their independence and face the world equipped with all the tools they need.  Give them the opportunity to practice maturity, and don’t bail them out or condemn them if they fail.  When we provide our teenagers with increasing levels of independence, coupled with proper limits and parental guidance, it’s likely we’ll have the thrilling opportunity to watch them spread their wings and fly!

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

 


Creating a Thankful Home

When was the last time you heard, “Hey, thanks Mom for helping me with this school project. That meant a lot!” Or, “Thanks so much for dinner, Dad. It was delicious!” We’re not parenting for the kudos, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear “thanks” once in a while?

It’s not impossible to train our kids to be grateful. But it does mean pushing back on an entitled generation. Many teenagers today are growing up with the belief that the world owes them everything–from college to cars to jobs and a comfortable, trouble-free lifestyle. No wonder our kids aren’t developing a sense of gratitude! As parents, we know that few things are handed to us on silver platters. We can’t allow our children to grow up believing that they automatically deserve all the good things of life. But above and beyond a sense of entitlement, we know that grateful people are happy people. We want our kids to appreciate all the blessings of life and find contentment with what they have, and not complain about what they don’t have. For the health and maturity of our kids, we need to create a thankful home.

Be a Model

When I advocate for an attitude of gratitude in the home, I don’t exclude myself from the conversation. As parents, thankfulness is a characteristic that we, too, can grow in. So instead of demanding gratitude from my family, I first work towards modeling it. Let’s face it; parenting can be a thankless job. No one is running up to give you a pat on the back every day. But if you can show a thankful heart, your kids will recognize it and eventually pick it up as well.

Instead, of complaining about your job, let your family know how grateful you are to be working. After dinner, thank your spouse for their work in the kitchen. When your teen does a nice job washing the car, sincerely thank them for their hard work. When family comes over, be intentional about appreciating aunts and uncles, rather than talking about the ways family annoys you. When out in public, demonstrate appreciation and gratitude for your restaurant server, grocery store clerk, and others. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to genuinely model gratitude.

Be Sacrificial

If we’re serious about creating a thankful home, we may have to make some sacrifices along the way. It may start with cutting down on watching TV all the time. Have you noticed that a lot of stuff on television is designed to tell you what you don’t have and why you should go out and buy it? Good marketing is built on dissatisfaction. From vacuum cleaners to fast food burgers, television wants to tell us about all the things we’re missing out on. So building a sense of gratitude in your home may require sacrificing time around the tube, and doing something else with the family. It also may mean scaling back on social media use. A recent study found that social media is making us unhappy. Researchers saw that people who use Facebook frequently are less happy and their overall satisfaction with life declined consistently over time. They also discovered heavy social media use makes us more envious. The more time people spent browsing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites, the more envious they felt. Researchers said it’s the result of social comparison. Learning about the achievements and possessions of others makes us discontent with ourselves.

Are you constantly hopping online or turning on the TV to kill time? Well, gratitude is not likely to happen if we never pause to think—if we never pull the plug. It takes discipline to take a break from technology and to help our teens to do the same. But the more we limit the things that make us jealous, envious or unhappy with our lives, the more thankfulness has a chance to grow in our home.

Be Creative

Expressing our thanks can happen in a lot of different ways. We can swap stories with our kids about times we were grateful for something or someone in our lives. We can ask our teens, “Do you think I’m thankful for you?” and let that spark a bigger conversation. Sometimes on cold nights out here in Texas, I’ll go out and cut the power to the house, and the grandkids and I will grab candles, make a fire, build a fort, play games, cook some food, and talk about how great it is to have electricity. I tell you that those times with my grandkids have been some of the best moments I’ve had with them. Makes me wish I cut the power to the house more when my own kids were growing up!

You could take your teen on a trip and let them see how people in other countries live. Seeing first hand the impoverished places of the world will definitely grow a sense of thankfulness in your child for what they have in life. There are a million creative ways to get a child to feel gratitude. You don’t have to make them write “thank you” cards or say five things they are thankful for, but start exploring different ways to grow a heart of gratitude in your child. You may hit on a great family tradition of your own!

Be Consistent

If the only time we stop to say “thanks” is around the table at Thanksgiving, then our teens will never make gratitude a habit. As parents, we have to be intentional and consistent about thankfulness in our home. It’s time to realize that our privileged kids may be creations of our own making. I know with my own children, I crossed that dangerous line many times and gave them things that I shouldn’t. I thought I was loving them, but those extravagant gifts only reinforced their perception that I was obligated to fulfill every one of their desires. While I saw these good things as gifts, they saw them as rights. This might sound harsh, but as parents, you do not owe your children anything! I have a principle I’ve shared with many other kids and their parents. I will often tell kids, “I want to give you everything, but I owe you nothing.

Of course, if we love our children, we will meet their needs of housing, clothes, food and basic necessities. But you are not obligated to buy your teen a car, fund their college, or pay their phone bills. By providing for every one of their needs and wants, we are actually robbing our kids of gratitude and the ability to take care of themselves. Plus, why would a child ever leave the nest if every craving and desire has been met? A bald eagle will intentionally make her nest more and more uncomfortable as time goes by, to encourage her baby birds to fly the coop. With our teens, we should be making their responsibilities a little tougher every year to foster independence and a sense of thankfulness for what they have and what they’ve accomplished.

Our society doesn’t owe us a career, a home, a car, or a family. These are things that we have to work for and earn. That’s why developing a sense of gratitude starts with instilling a good work ethic in our teens. Don’t shy away from assigning chores and responsibilities for your kids. At the Heartlight campus I even make up work for my kids to accomplish. Whether it’s raking pine needles, walking the horses, or cleaning up the rooms, I want to give our students the gift of work. Using their hands and minds to achieve routine tasks provides them with a feeling of responsibility, independence, and community. They get a feeling of contributing to the group and accomplishing something for themselves. And when I pay them for the chores they do, it reinforces the idea that work equals reward.

Mom and Dad, don’t feel that giving your teen work will hurt them or make you a bad parent. It’s really the best gift you can give your kids, and one day, they will be grateful for it. By modeling thankfulness, sacrificing those things that steal gratitude away, being creative with how we show appreciation, and refraining from meeting every one of their needs, you can make sure that your a teen has a long list of reasons to be thankful.

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.


Teens, Dating, and Sex

Guest: Andy Braner

Back in the day, a typical date consisted of going out for food, seeing a movie, and maybe getting a good-night kiss. But today’s generation is living in a totally different world! This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston helps parents set up healthy boundaries for their teens’ relationships.

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.