Preventing Damaging Parental Habits

I have never heard a mom publicly announce, “I want my daughter to be perfect,” and I have never heard a dad audibly declare, “I want to force my authority on my son.” And, I’ve never heard parents say, “We want to be judgmental parents.” For I’ve heard hundreds of daughters say, “My mom wants me to be perfect.” And I’ve heard an equal number of sons say, “My dad rules our home with an iron fist.” And I’ve heard thousands of kids say, “My parents are the most judgmental people I know.” Somewhere between our intent and our execution, those can be the very desires we communicate to our kids.

Though we may say we don’t demand perfection, don’t rule with an iron fist, and that we won’t judge our kids, our actions might just be saying otherwise. If we run up against consistent patterns of disregard and disobedience from our teens, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves a tough question: Am I doing something that pushes my kids further away from me?

Practice #1: The demand for PERFECTION

As parents, we want great things for our kids. Our goal is to ensure that our children’s lives are better than our own. That’s why we try so hard to push them towards excellence. Often, it’s not enough that our son made the football team. We want him to be the quarterback and captain! And your daughter’s science fair project received an honorable mention, but what could she have done better to get first place? There’s a fine line between encouraging excellence and creating unreasonable expectations. When we place unattainable standards before our kids, we always risk raising expectations so high that our kids just give up.

Your teenager might show that he has given up in a few different ways. Some kids will begin to rebel to prove they are in control of their own lives. Others will become hyper-aware of the high standards and turn to drastic measures in order to achieve them (like the ballerina who becomes anorexic to increase her chances of being cast in the leading role).

We both know that perfect people simply don’t exist. But if you have never shared your personal flaws with your kids, they haven’t had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live with imperfection. Instead, they think that faultlessness is normal. The first time they sprout a pimple they’re ready to freak out! By sharing your inadequacies, you allow your teen to connect with you in a different way. It will reaffirm your teen’s understanding and acceptance of himself, while drawing him into a relationship with you as well.

As soon as your teens think they aren’t measuring up to your expectations, they will become frustrated. And with that frustration, your teen will move farther away from you. So use these opportunities to affirm your relationship with your teen. If you’re the parent of a teen, don’t wait until your kids are adults to unveil your flaws, mistakes and inadequacies. Get real with them now. It will draw your kids to you and cause them to relax. Plus, they will see your successes and understand that it’s possible to have a good life even when they’ve messed up.

Practice #2: The role of the AUTHORITARIAN

I remember watching a classic episode of The Cosby Show (It’s was a great show that has now been somewhat clouded by accusations that break my heart). There was a scene where Dr. Huxtable looked over at his wayward son and delivered his famous line: I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it! That missive from Bill Cosby was funny because we’ve all heard something like that growing up. Stuff like, Do it because I told you to do it! Or this one; If you live in my house, you will obey my rules. Or one I still chuckle about: Don’t ask why… just do it!

Mom and Dad, those emotional calls to blindly obey authority are not working anymore. When you and I grew up, police officers, teachers, coaches, and yes, parents, were treated with a greater level of respect. By their very position and seniority, their words carried some weight. Authority was seen as something you could trust, admire and respect.

For today’s teen, however, those nostalgic times are in the rearview mirror. Kids don’t listen to authority like we did. Can you blame them? How many times have you turned on the news to hear about a scandal with a politician, or teachers abusing students, or priests committing harmful acts against children? These stories are not lost upon teenagers. They’re looking around and watching these travesties and wondering, Why should I listen to people in power?

We can sit and ruminate on the good ol’ days when teens respected their elders, or we can start to develop new ways to teach our kids the value of respect and its proper place.

If we look at the example of Christ, we can find a fantastic role model for those of us in positions of authority. Jesus would have every right to demand blind obedience from us. He certainly has the power to do so! But in Philippians 2:6-7, Paul says that we need to have the same attitude as Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

As parents, God has given us a place of leadership over our teens. We should take that seriously, and so should our kids. Our position should come with a level of respect. But if we are going to mirror Christ to our kids, then we cannot use our authority as a weapon. We can’t use our position to strike fear in teens. We need to win the right to be heard by modeling a lifestyle of service and respect.

During World War II, when the Japanese army received a new group of prisoners of war, the commanders of the camp would randomly pick one prisoner to kill in front of the other detainees as a way of showing authority. In our battles with our teens, are we willing to sacrifice our relationship simply to prove we are in control? In the struggle to teach our teenagers honor and respect, we have to demonstrate respect in tangible ways. We cannot use the old methods of teaching respect any longer. God has given us authority over our teens for a reason, and it’s our job to model proper respect for our kids. We have to show our teens the value of respect by respecting those in authority over us! We can’t say because I told you so! We have to give teens a reason for respect.

Practice #3: Parents who become JUDGMENTAL

This dangerous practice is sneaky. I’ve witnessed parents using voice inflection, body language, and even Bible verses to make a valid point to their son or daughter—but the child only hears a harsh judgment being given. When you take a stand on issues like marijuana, homosexuality, religion, or even movies, your child may interpret your words as unfair criticism. Now it might sound like your teen is putting words in your mouth. I mean, you’re not a judgmental person!

But let me ask you; have you rolled your eyes when your daughter came out wearing certain outfits? Do you use Scripture as a way to enforce rules and requirements in the house? Have you withheld hugs or signs of affection when you son disappointed you? We’ve all done actions similar to these 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. It’s okay to voice your concern or disappointment, but be careful that you don’t belittle your kids or look down on their friends when you do so. Display grace in your actions and attitudes. That will allow your family to feel safe, secure, and protected, and makes for better relationships.

I realize that these words are tough to take. It’s not easy to hear that something we are doing as parents may be hurting our kids. But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. We can always do a little better, and grow as moms and dads. To build great relationships with our kids, we have to be willing 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.”

            If you want to know what your kids think about your desire for them to be perfect, ask them. Right now, text them and ask “Do you think I want you to be perfect?” Tonight at the dinner table, ask them if they think you are a judgmental parent. And somewhere in your conversation over the next few days, ask them “Do you think I throw my authority around?” You might be surprised at the response. No matter what they say, spend more time listening than defending. Their perceptions are important, because your relationship with them is important. Focus on their heart, and they’ll focus on yours. And commit to them that you want something different in the way you “engage” with them. This is the part of the scripture that reminds us to look at the “log” before we focus on the “speck”.

Give these discussions a try; you might be surprised at the response and excited to learn new ways to develop deeper and longer standing relationships with your kids.


            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.

10 Ways to Deal with an Entitled Teen

Student Story: Isaac

As parents, it’s only natural to want to give our children all the things we never had as kids. But what happens when they transform from grateful receivers to spoiled takers? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston outlines ten tips for dealing with an entitled teen.

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.

The Internet, Teens & Privacy

Teens and Internet

I don’t have to spin tales about how things in the modern world are far different from when we were teenagers; we already know they are. But what some parents don’t know is how to effectively balance their teen’s privacy and protection. Do you have a tough time balancing “need to know” with providing your teen “some private space?”

Some parents feel unease, as if they are being sneaky or are in violation of their child’s trust, to investigate their child’s activities on the internet.  As one who daily sees the outcome of some of these cultural influences, let me set your mind at ease about monitoring your teen’s activities, on or off the internet.

First and foremost, I believe that a child needs and deserves privacy, but he also needs to know that you as a parent will go to no end to find out what he’s into if it begins affecting his attitudes and behaviors. After all, what he’s into, or the hold an outsider may have on your teen through the internet, may ultimately harm both him and your family. He may be too embarrassed to reveal it, or he could actually be afraid or feel threatened.

Follow your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong, there probably is. If you sense there are secrets abounding around you, there probably are. If something tells you your child is hiding something, you’re probably right. But when it comes to the internet, more care must be taken even if there is no outright cause for concern.

Get a Handle on the Internet…Even if Your Teen Shows No Signs of Trouble

The internet is one of the top dangers facing kids today. More rotten stuff happens on the internet than any place on earth, and you don’t have to cooperate with it or allow any of that to come into your home. Here are some tips for parents to get the internet under control:

1. Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed.  Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make their profile private, so that only approved “friends” can communicate with them.  A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect or don’t pay for their internet access.

2. Put a high-quality internet screening/blocking software on the computer. Maintain appropriate blocking levels on the browser software (blocking access to certain web content, links or photos) and don’t back down on that.

3. Periodically view their internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You’ll be amazed. Software is available to secretly record their every move, if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the internet overnight or when you aren’t home.

4. If you feel there is a good reason to do so, read their email.  And find out who it is they are chatting with.

This is not a license to be over-controlling to the point where it pushes your child away. I’m encouraging you to be proactive and not have to face the regrets that come with “not knowing.” The fact is, kids are actively being stalked on the internet today and in their typical daring way they welcome the excitement of it all and they love role-playing in chat rooms.

I often say to teens, “Violation of my policy means violation of your privacy.” If they violate my set house rules, including internet usage rules, it should also change their expectation of privacy. If they are dishonest and lie to me, I will seek, search, and look in areas I don’t normally look in order to find answers. If they are deceptive, I will investigate. If they lie, I will pry. If they hide something, I will seek relevant information. Why? Because, as a parent, I am concerned about the life of my child, and I am responsible maintaining a sound and safe environment in the home until my child becomes an adult.

If your children are young, implement rules now to help keep you “in the know.” As your kids approach the teen years, update or add some new rules. Unless something in your teen’s life is out of control or there has been a recent change in the behavior, mood, or school grades, then a parent should keep in the know by just “looking around” and keeping an eye on things.

Tell Them You Are Watching

All parents must “keep a vigilant eye” on teenagers today.  Call it an “alert mom or dad,”  or an “involved parent,” if you will.  Be a parent who says, “I will continue to be someone who has your back, even when you don’t realize the serious nature of what you’re getting in to.” Let your teens know it is your job as a parent to keep your eyes wide open to look for anything going wrong.  Not so you can “catch them doing wrong,” but so that you can help them from falling into that trap.

If things are really spinning out of control, then it is time to have a “change of rules” discussion with your child.  This means you’ll be even more vigilant about monitoring.  The teen’s response will be, “YOU JUST DON’T TRUST ME!”  And your response can be, “It’s not that I don’t trust you…It’s that I hope to trust you more.” This statement tells your child, “I don’t want to control you, I want to be able to trust you, so use this opportunity to show me that I can trust you more than I ever have.”

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought out into the open, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them.  I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life.