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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.

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 Dream Teen

When we first hold our newborns, their whole life, all the possibilities, flash through our minds.

Will she be a dancer?  Will he be a jock?  I want her to do this.  He needs to be like this.  As our children grow, we are able to live out those dreams for our children with them for a while.  Young children are only too happy to do what Mommy and Daddy ask.  Life is good.  Your family is just like you have always imagined.  Everybody has his or her script and is following along perfectly.

Then in the teen years, something happens…

All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, everything changes.  Someone is no longer following the script!  Instead of a perfect princess, I now have an alien from outer space at the breakfast table.  How did this happen?

When you wake up and discover that your teenager is not as you have always dreamed, the first question should be, “Is this a bad thing?”  Seriously, just because it is not how you want it to be, is this the worst thing that could be happening?  Is your teen making decisions that are having a negative impact on her life and future, or are they just not the decisions you want her to make?

If you are honest and the answer to this question is that your teen is making decisions appropriate for an immature adolescent to make – maybe not the ones you would like – then you need to relax.  An intense desire to control a teen and mold them into your dream for them could provoke them to anger and full blown rebellion if you don’t lighten up a bit.  That is not where you want to go nor will it accomplish what you intended. Instead of pulling them, find ways to encourage them in the right direction.

On the other hand, if your teen is spinning out of control and making self-destructive choices, that is a different situation altogether.  It is time to take decisive action on their behalf.  The first step should be to identify a specific situation that was the turning point in your teen’s behavior, like the death of a parent or a divorce or even an inappropriate sexual encounter in childhood. This is where you need to start with a counselor.  The emotions wrapped up in such an event, exploding to the surface in the years of emotional adolescence, could be triggering your teen’s current inappropriate behavior.

Divorce, illness, job transfer, death, abuse, bullying — just about anything can trigger a change in your teen’s behavior, even the transition into adolescence itself.

But don’t assume that you know what the triggering event is.  Only a professional counselor can bring that to the surface.  It may not be what’s obvious. In fact, the obvious may just be a cover-up and a fallback position for your teen to hide behind.  It could actually be something that your teen is keeping hidden. Something done by her or to her that is so personal that she would never dream of telling anyone about it, not even you.

Teens have not learned the skills to appropriately deal with all their emotions (especially the really intense emotions of anger, pain and loss).  They’ll do whatever pops into their heads (or whatever their peers encourage them to do).  They’ll take advantage of anything that is available to help dull their pain — including alcohol, drugs, cutting, eating disorders, and sex.  Of course, this is not dealing with their pain. This is stuffing it into a box that will explode and take them even deeper when it does.

When parents try to eliminate the outward indicators of pain — drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity — they are just taking away their teen’s coping mechanisms.  That’s why intervention for these outward indicators, along with therapy relating to the deeper inward issues of loss and pain, is often necessary. The counselor will have to determine which is dealt with first, the cart or the horse.

Parent, I know you are crushed by your own emotions from this turn of events.  But don’t let that ruin your other relationships. Don’t let it change the way you are parenting your other children (unless the change is good) nor let it strain your marriage.  Find a friend to talk to and seek ways to reduce your stress, so the problem doesn’t spread through the family like a flu virus. It may be a good idea to get some counseling yourself. You’ll be no help to your teenager or could even make matters worse if you are always on pins and needles yourself.

When something devastating occurs within a family or to the teenager herself, or if there is some perceived or hidden loss that could affect your teenager in the future, I strongly recommend seeking professional help to work through the pain and anger that may come.  Refusing to deal with these emotions in a healthy way will lead to more pain and anger and a full blown spin-out.  It’s never too late to get help, but getting it sooner rather than later can save a lot of heartache for everyone.

 

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.


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.