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What Your Teen Wants From You

Years ago, I listened to a man on the radio that I’ve been a fan of all my life, Chuck Swindoll.  He stated in so many words, “What I want written on my epitaph is that ‘Dad was fun!'”  Does that surprise you?  It did me.  I thought what every good Christian parent was supposed to want written on their epitaph was something to the affect of how godly or spiritual a person they were, or some thought about how they provided for the family.  And here was one of the most godly men that I ever listened to sharing about how he wanted to be known forever as a “Dad of fun.”

So, what kind of parent do you want to be?  Here are some good suggestions…

 An Imperfect Parent and an Imperfect Person 

When a parent admits their imperfection, it makes a teen feel a little more human, and not so messed up. There are times when parents share their imperfections a couple of things happen. First, teens are glad that you finally admit where you fall short, because they’ve seen it, and are just waiting for it to be acknowledged. Secondly, your admission gives them permission to not always have it together.

A young lady once told me that she sinfully felt pretty good when she heard of the divorce of two parents that we knew. Everyone thought this was a perfect family, with perfect kids, in a perfect home. She told me that when she heard that this particular mom and dad had gotten a divorce, that she felt a little better about her parent’s divorce, and didn’t feel as much as an outcast. I believe it is a message that scripture has been telling us for quite some time. “For all have sinned and fallen short…” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

As your child nears their teen years, begin to share with them some of your downfalls, hurts, losses, and mistakes. When they do the same, they will feel a sense that it is normal and they’re not weird, more sinful than others, or more of a mess than other people say they are.

A Loving Parent Who Doesn’t Have to Be Liked 

Parenting adolescents is tough. It’s a time when you are challenged, confronted with your own inadequacies, and get worn out defending what and why you desire good things for your teens. And part of the toughness of parenting is knowing that some things you say, some opinions you share, rules you enforce, and consequences you enact, won’t be taken by your teen with a smile on their face and a warm “thank you”. But your teen, whether they admit it or not, like the fact that you’re thinking of their best interest when they would just as soon wish you wouldn’t.

Drill sergeants aren’t the most loved people in the world, but they’re the people you want next to you when your life is on the line. A coach is not always a friendly person, but teens are sure appreciative when they help capture a win. A counselor who shares some hard things with your teen isn’t very appreciated, until the teen realizes down the road that there was some wisdom in what that idiot said. A judge isn’t very appreciated until the “judged” gets on the other side of their sentence. A true friend goes through much hurt when they have to say some pretty truthful things to your teen, but faithful are those wounds. If you mix all these people together, you’ll get a parent of an adolescent who has pushed, pulled, counseled, administered justice, and told the truth. And chances are, they aren’t too liked during this time. But when teens realize the bigger picture, they’ll appreciate the role that these parents have played.

A Parent Who is Willing to Say “No” 

Our generation of parents want so hard to say yes to everything a teen requests, that the foolishness of teens is determining the roles of mom and dad. On the heals of not having to be liked, I would tell you that it’s okay to say “No” a little more often than you do. When you say “No,” a teen learns that it’s okay to say the word “No.” They learn that it’s okay to stand up for what they believe. You’ll be thanked numerous times.

A Parent First, Then a Friend 

Be a parent that is willing to exert some authority, and not be afraid to “put your foot down” when needed. Your teen needs a parent. And if you’re not going to be that parent, and just remain a friend, they’ll look for that role model elsewhere. And greater chances are that they’ll outgrow your friendship and move on to other friends. Anybody can have many friends, but everyone can only have one set of parents.

There seems to be a shift by many parents to a parenting style that accommodates a teen’s immaturity, and even enabling its furtherance at times. Many times, parents who are struggling with their teens look for ways to be their teen’s savior, rescuer, or lifeline, that come alongside their teen in hopes of showing them how much they love them, when in reality, it’s not love at all. Love would want the best for the teen, and many parent’s actions are far from the “best.” These parents usually accommodate a teen’s inappropriate behavior and thinking. While they may enjoy a facade of a relationship, most times it is only temporary because teens really want one who will do what’s best, not what just fills the time with accommodating recklessness.

A Parent Who Won’t Bend the Rules of Integrity and Deep in Character

This is the parent that won’t lie, won’t cheat, and will keep his word. It’s called integrity. And it’s this type of parent that most teens will cling to in their time of need. It is a parent of integrity that can be trusted because they have watching your actions and interactions with others.

The honor your teens give you is directly proportional to the integrity that you display in everyday life. This is the type of parent who teens lean on during tough times. And it is this parent that beckons to their children a message of “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and you will not find judgment, condemnation, ridicule, shame; you will find “rest.” Rest because they know that you can be trusted, that you’ll do right, and that you’ll keep your promises.

A Parent Who is Fun 

Oh, and one more thing. Like Chuck Swindoll recommends, have some fun! Loosen up a little. Laugh a little more. Be a little more impetuous and impulsive. Tell a joke. You might just connect with your teen on a deeper level than you would have ever guessed.

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.


The Parent Your Teen Needs You To Be

As parents, we put a lot of expectations on ourselves. Before kids, we might have been content to be average Joes and Janes. But the moment that little bundle of joy was first placed in our arms, we felt the need to put on a cape and transform into “Super Parent”! And that’s a hard role to play. But good news mom and dad—your teen doesn’t need you to be a superhero. You don’t need to have your face on the Mount Rushmore of parents, or make it into the parenting Hall of Fame. In my 40 years of working with teens, I’ve discovered that our kids don’t need parents who are perfect saints or super human. Teens simply need parents who are willing to make some necessary changes.

Parents Who Are Willing To Be Imperfect

First, let’s debunk the fairytale that families can attain perfection. Where exactly did that myth come from? No family is perfect. So quit trying. It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family. Relax. Deal with failures as opportunities to learn. 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! Let me offer you this challenge—tonight around the dinner table, share one thing about you that isn’t as perfect as you’d like it to be. 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 relationship with you as well. Teens need parents who are willing to be imperfect.

Parents Who Are Willing to Be Disliked

Parents who want to “rescue” their children from pain or suffering are actually hurting their kids more then they know. It usually happens for three reasons:

  • Parents want to be friends with their kids
  • Parents can’t handle the constant nagging of their teen during punishment
  • Parents are afraid that if they punish their child, he or she will rebel

Mom and Dad, your child doesn’t need another friend. During these tough adolescent years they need you to be a parent—to correct them when they make a mistake and love them regardless of their behavior. Teens need parents who are willing to love their kids, even if it means their kids dislike them. So if your daughter gets a speeding ticket, don’t pay for it yourself. If your son is failing a class, don’t do his homework for him. Yes, we should extend grace to our teens. But showing grace doesn’t mean swooping in and saving the day when your kid messes up. That’s caving in. Setting aside time to help with homework is loving. Writing their book report–because you read it and they didn’t–is rescuing. Teens learn independence and maturity when they face hard times more than when everything is going smooth. Handing out discipline isn’t for the faint of heart. I know it can be hard, draining, and exhausting. But if we want to follow God’s plan for character growth, we need to let natural consequences shape our kids into mature adults. Hebrews 12:6 says, Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. No matter what your kids might think in the moment, punishment isn’t a cruel action. When done in the right way, it can be an expression of love. And it’s what your kids need from you.

Parents Who Are Willing to Say “No”

Some parents relish being needed by their teenager. They dote on them and take care of their every need. They ask “How high?” when their teens says, “Jump!” They may even take abuse and disrespect from their teen when it is directed their way, thinking, “Oh, they’re just having a bad day.” These parents need to step back and understand that teens need to hear “no” sometimes. If not, it will lead to selfish, bossy, and entitled adolescents who don’t understand when life doesn’t go their way. It’s okay to say “no” as long as you provide a good reason. When your son demands the latest iPhone, you are allowed to say “no” and explain why. When your daughter asks to go to a certain party, you have the freedom to say “no” and provide your reasons. Life doesn’t always say “yes” to our requests. And parents shouldn’t either.

Parents Who Are Willing to Let Go

Very few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when young people announce their desire to “fly the coop” and become independent. Those words are tough to hear because in the minds of most parents there is a voice shouting, “We can’t let this happen!” Some parents might think, “What will they do without me?” Other parents wonder, “What will I do without them?” Change is hard, but the desire for independence is actually a very normal and healthy desire in teens.

So Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and go to college, move out, or make smaller steps towards independence, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking. This may be the opportunity to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter. Instead of thinking about all the reasons your teen shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on an ultimately very necessary transition. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity. Teens need parents who are willing to let go. They need parents who believe in them and can even encourage them to become increasingly independent. Isn’t that the goal of raising kids to become adults?

Now, I’m not saying that as parents you should throw caution to the wind and go with anything your kid suggests. But I am saying that because your 12 year old will one day become that 18 or 19-year-old young adult, you need to train to let go, and foster independence more and more each year. Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child. In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!” Trust what you have taught, and are teaching.  And even enjoy watching them launch into the adulthood.

Your teen doesn’t need you to be a superhero or a saint. But your teen does need a parent who is willing to be imperfect, willing to be disliked, willing to say “no,” and willing to let go. It’s the type of parent all of us can learn to be.

 

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.

 


When to Share Your Past with Your Teen

I’ve never heard parents ever state, “We want our kids to be perfect!” Yet, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard adolescents say, “My parents expect me to be perfect!” I’d be a rich man. For many parents, the intended message gets lost in interpretation because their teen is having a hard time embracing the authenticity of the messenger.

As a child moves into their teen years, it’s crucial for Mom and Dad to shift their parenting style from a teaching model to a training model; helping teens take what they know to be true and apply it to the life they live in the culture they belong. In a performance and appearance teen culture where “posers” and ‘wanna-be’s” are a dime a dozen, teens are crying out for connections in relationships that are authentic. Never before have parents had the opportunity as the one before them now to be that genuine and trustworthy connection when their kids transition into their adolescent years.

A parent’s first move from a teaching to a training model is to begin sharing about his or her own imperfections. This in an intentional action that might begin when a child is anywhere between the ages of 12 and 14; the age when they’re beginning to learn from their social circles that they and their parents aren’t as perfect as they have been led to or allowed to believe.   This shift in parenting models authenticates not only the teaching that has happened the first 12 years of their child’s life, but creates a genuine and “real” relationship of training for the years ahead.

This “new” relationship moves a parent into a bond with their teen that can now share what Paul shared with the Philippians when he said, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.” (Philippians 4:9 -The Message). Paul is saying, “Okay guys, you’ve learned a lot… now let’s put it all into practice.”

To allow pre-teens and teens to continue the belief that their parents are perfect and the expectation is for them to be perfect, will build conflict into the parent-teen relationship for obvious reasons. First of all, it’s hard to live with perfect people. And secondly, the lifelong teachings of the younger years will become invalidated in the minds of a teen, because they lack genuineness and realness as they shift their cognitive process from concrete to abstract thinking.

For parents who have never debunked or deflated their child’s perceived perfection of them, or allowed their teens to continue living out their belief of their necessity for perfection, the sharing of their “own story” becomes crucial and necessary to help a pre-teen make a healthy transition into adolescence. When parents share their past relational hurts, their shortcomings and struggles, and their “own issues”, they open the door for a deeper and more meaningful relationship.

Parents always ask me if they should share their “past” with their kids. My answer is a resounding, “Absolutely, YES!” I would add that parents should also be engaged in sharing their current struggles. This type of conversation authenticates not only the parent, but brings to life the necessity of a relationship with Christ as they see the message of the Gospel fleshed out in the life of Mom and Dad.

To those parents that say the sharing of their sinful and hurtful past might give license for their child to do the same, I would tell you that is not what I see in the current of today’s teen culture. Teens aren’t looking for justification of inappropriate behavior; they’re looking for authenticity in relationships around them that undergird the values and principles they have been taught and really know to be true.

Moms and Dads are those people that can offer what their teen is looking for in making a transition from childhood to adulthood. And it begins with authenticity.

Now, of course, all that’s shared should be timely, age appropriate, and for the benefit of the child’s development. The determined action to share imperfections, thus validating the need for embracing the biblical principles taught in a child’s early years, should be unleashed.   Details that border on TMI (Too Much Information) should be bridled. Make sure that what is shared is communicated for the benefit of your emerging teen. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians stated it well when he said, Do not let any unwholesome (distasteful, my addition) talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

As a point of action today, text your teen and ask them, “Do you think I want you to be perfect?” Text them, don’t call them. They may be more open in their thoughts writing to you than talking to you face-to-face. You might just be surprised at your teen’s response. But I guarantee you this, they will be even more surprised at your new style of engagement, a style that will open new pathways into the heart of your teen at a time in life that they need you the most. Whatever their response, use it as an opportunity to break the “perfectionist image” they have of you, or as a springboard to engage in a new type of conversation with your emerging teen.

And as you begin your intentional effort to “put feet to the lessons they have learned”, be just as committed in your goal to help them become more authentic. Talk less, listen more. Stop the lectures and have more discussions. Quit correcting all the time, and begin providing a place of rest for their hearts. Quit being perfect, and begin showing your imperfections. Share more of your failures and less of your successes.

Paul, the greatest teacher of how to communicate with your teens, tells Timothy, Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth……” (2 Timothy 2:22-26 The Message)

It’s a move toward authenticity.  And more importantly, it’s perhaps the first steps to helping your child understand what it’s like to be a real follower of Christ in a broken world.

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.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.