Relationship Destroyers


Moms and dads may have good intentions when they give constructive criticism and advice.  But if it’s offered at the wrong time or in the wrong way, teens are likely to shut down.  This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston identifies four detrimental attitudes that are guaranteed to suffocate a parent-child relationship.

The Radio Program this weekend is “Four Teen Relationship Destroyers” with special guest, Sean Meade, who is the middle school pastor at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California.  Sean and Mark will discuss their thoughts about equipping you to be the person the your child desperately needs you to be in their life.  To find a station near you, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

An Exercise in Self-Reflection

Thank You“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.”  Psalms 139:23-24

I have never heard a mom express to me out loud, “I want perfect kids.”  And I have never heard a dad actually say, “I want to force my authority on my family.”  Yet, somewhere between our intention and our execution, these sentiments can come through loud and clear in our parenting styles.  Then we wonder why our teenagers don’t listen to what we say!  Though we might not verbally demand perfection, our habits and patterns may prove otherwise.  If we run up against consistent patterns of disregard and disobedience in our kids, it could be time to ask ourselves a tough question: Is there something I’m doing to keep my kids from hearing me?

I would like to point out five problematic parenting styles that can slowly work their way into our homes.  These habits are guaranteed to wound relationships and push your children away.  A little honesty and self-examination can go a long way as we do our part to reach our teen’s heart.

#1: Perfection Parents

The first parenting style to avoid is one that demands perfection from our kids.  Sure, we may not say, “I want you to be perfect,” but if the majority of our conversations with our teenager revolves around what they should do, what they should have done, and how they can do better, those are verbal cues that shout, “Be perfect!”  When kids get overwhelmed with these types of expectations they will eventually start to shut down.  Faced with the constant stress of living up to their parent’s ideals, teens will either give up altogether or burn themselves out trying to meet unreal goals.  I’ve had teens tell me that if they don’t make A’s in school, then their parents will not love them as much.  These parents are shocked to hear their burdened teen voice this perception, because they never explicitly said that grades determine their love.  They had no intention of relaying that message to their teens, but their actions and conversation said otherwise.

If you’re unsure whether your child feels this expectation from you, tonight around the dinner table ask your family point blank, “Do you feel that I demand perfection from you guys?”  But if you ask that question, be prepared for their response.  Be humble enough to listen to your child’s opinions and feelings and work towards adjusting your parenting style.

#2: Irresponsible Parents

While perfection parents are always telling their kids what to do, “irresponsible parents” do everything for their kids!  Well-meaning, responsible parents can many times create irresponsible teens.  It happens when mom and dad take it upon themselves to solve every problem, meet every need, and work to make sure their child never feels sad or angry.  But this type of parenting style robs a teen of valuable life lessons in how to manage their own life.  Upset with the lack of any control, a teen may lose all motivation to accomplish anything on their own.  Or worse, a child may try to escape the home and engage in dangerous behavior just to prove to their parents that they can make their own decisions.

If there are hints of the “irresponsible parent” in you, then it’s time to back off!  Start small by giving your teen control over decisions like clothes, music, homework, friends, or other issues.  As they display responsibility, hand over more control each year.  Allow your teen the opportunities to learn, grow, and develop the disciplines that will make for a responsible adult.

#3: Overprotective Parents

When I encounter parents who want to shelter their teenagers from the outside world, I always say, “Train your kids to survive in the jungle, not live in a zoo.”  I agree that our culture is scary place with influences and beliefs that run counter to our own.  But we do no service to our kids by cloistering our teens and shutting down all access to anything negative.  I know of many parents who work so hard to monitor TV, computers, phones, friends, school, and life that it resulted in domesticated children who would have a difficult time surviving in the world.  We all know of an over-sheltered teen who became a wild child once they reached college and eventually crashed and burned.

No parent wants that for a son or daughter.  So ease off the restraints.  When your child encounters bullies, instruct them how to respond appropriately.  When they hear offensive language in movies or music, take time to discuss why it’s inappropriate and why they should avoid it.  Be open about the sexual temptations that they will experience out in the world, or inform them of the dangers of drugs and your concerns.  Instead of putting blinders on your children, turn those negative influences around and use them as teaching opportunities to train your child for the wild!

#4: Negative Parents

If you haven’t found your parenting style in our list so far, try this little exercise this week.  Start counting the times you say no (or phrases like it) to your teen.  You may be surprised how many times that word comes out of your mouth.  A foolproof method to get your kids to shut down is to speak more negatives than positives into their lives.  If you spend more time criticizing than encouraging, judging than training, condemning than approving, it’s time to reassess your parenting style.  Be intentional about finding positive behaviors, actions, and attitudes for which you can praise your child.

Now, you might say, “Mark, you don’t live with my son.  I don’t think I could find one positive thing to commend him for!”  But I have found that even in the most difficult teen, there is always something worth being proud of, even if it’s how your teenager ties his shoes!  No one wants to spend time with people who are consistently negative, let alone heed their advice.  Don’t get me wrong—kids need constructive guidance.  But they also need consistent love and support.  Stress the positive about your child, and watch your relationship grow.

#5: Judgmental Parent

This final dangerous habit is related to the negative parenting style, but it goes a few steps further.  I’ve witnessed parents using their voice inflection, body language, and even Bible verses in a judgmental attitude towards their teenager, only to push their children further away.  Have you rolled your eyes when your daughter came out wearing a certain outfit?  Do you use Scripture as a way to enforce rules and requirements in the house?  Have you withheld hugs or signs of affection when your son disappointed you?  We’ve all done similar actions 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.

I know that kids make mistakes and are prone to do some stupid things.  But that’s all part of growing up and learning.  It’s okay to voice your concern or disappointment, but be careful that your actions don’t belittle your kids or make them feel like they are unworthy of your love.  In every way that we interact with them, our message should be “Nothing you do could make me love you more, and nothing you do could make me love you less.”  It’s that freedom that allows our family to feel safe, secure, and protected.  It makes for great relationships with our kids.

I realize that these are tough words to handle.  It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids.  But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat.  There’s always room for growth as moms and dads.  Great relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness 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.”



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Perfection is Impossible

Have you ever taken a drive through a planned community and gawked at the homes in an upscale neighborhood?  Whether grand or understated, there’s a sense of perfection.  Lawns are manicured.  Picket fences line the streets.  You might see a European SUV in the driveway with 2.5 kids getting out after soccer practice.  The golden retriever runs up to the family and greets them.  It’s considered the “American Dream.”  A painting right off the canvas of Norman Rockwell.  Life as it should be.  Perfection.

You don’t have to watch this scene for long to see what’s simmering right beneath the surface.  Perfection is an illusion.  The kids begin bickering.  The dog digs up the newly-planted flower bed.  The parents take verbal shots at each other.

We long for heaven on earth, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  So, how do we create an environment in which our teens and parents know they are accepted regardless of their flaws?

As parents, we want great things for our kids.  Our goal is to ensure their life is much better than the one we grew up with.  That’s why we try so hard to push them toward excellence.  It’s often not enough that your teen 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?  It doesn’t take more than one or two instances like this until your teen begins wondering whether he or she did something wrong.  There’s a fine line between encouraging excellence and creating unreasonable expectations.  When we place unattainable standards before kids, we always risk moving the expectation so far that the kids give up.

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

Teens rarely need to be told they aren’t living up to a standard.  Be sure that you communicate in advance the risks and rewards of pushing for the top, and make it clear that you love them irrespective of their accomplishments.  Once you have the conversation to let your teen know what is expected and what the consequences are if they don’t meet that expectation, they will understand when those consequences begin happening.  They might not like it, but it won’t come as a shock to them.  Even more important, they won’t feel like they are being pushed away.  Kids hear criticism from every area of their lives:  teachers at school, peers online, celebrities and advertisements on television … they don’t need one more voice telling them that they aren’t living up to the standard.  What they need is for their parents to approach the symptoms in a way that doesn’t damage them or make them move away from you relationally.

When kids turn 12 or 13, they realize that the world isn’t perfect.  The awe and reverence they once held for their parents begins to fade.  Most kids who turn away from their parents do so because they feel like their parents can’t understand why life is so hard for them.  This illusive pursuit of perfection has a lot to do with their spirit of resignation.

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 relationship with you as well.

There’s nothing you can do to make me love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less.  This concept will allow your teens to be themselves around you.  As soon as your teen thinks they aren’t measuring up to your expectations, they will become frustrated.  And with that frustration, your teen will move farther away from you.  Instead of increasing this sense of shame, you have an opportunity to affirm your relationship with your teen.  Now, don’t take these principles to an extreme!  Just because you accept your teen always doesn’t mean that everything is acceptable.  There needs to be appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Parents often desire to create the highest standard for their kids in order to raise the bar to its highest level so their teens accomplish great things.  On its face, this isn’t a bad concept.  However, when reality sets in and teens are unable to reach this goal, they can fall into self-protective behavior and, sometimes, self-destructive behavior.

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, Marriage and Family Therapist Melanie Rhode will explain how perfectionism is complicated by some of the social networking tools that teens use today.  These technological toys allow teens to engage in self-protection by presenting themselves in a way that filters their errors and imperfections.  Self-protection stunts a person’s ability to grow and learn from the realities of life that beset us all.

If you’re a mom or dad of a teen, don’t wait until your kids are adults to unveil your flaws, mistakes and inadequacies.  Get real … now.  It will draw them to you and it will 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.

Yes, there are consequences for our behavior.  Yes, you need to set standards for your kids.  But when you allow them the opportunity to see into your own life and recognize that perfection is impossible, you will give them the hope they need to keep striving for the best.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.