What Makes Boys Different

Teenagers Using DrugsAfter numerous, harrowing experiences babysitting little boys, a friend recalled saying to God, “You know Lord, I don’t think I want kids.  And I especially don’t want boys!”  But as you may know, God has a sense of humor, and this young lady not only had seven kids, but six of them were male!

Being a mother to six boys, my friend became well acquainted with messy rooms, muddy shoes, smelly clothes, wrestling tournaments in the house, stupid pranks, dumber stunts, holes in the drywall, fiery tempers, and stubborn wills.  In the process of raising a pack of wild boys into mature and responsible men, this mom discovered that God had changed her heart considerably.  Where once she could not imagine coping with a house full of adolescent men, she found that she loved being a mother to these boys, despite the challenges.  Watching them develop, she had a front row seat to the unique challenges and obstacles that men face in today’s world.  Over the years, my friend gained a deep appreciation for the work that goes into training a boy to be a man.

Maybe you’ve got your own wild son at home, and you can relate to the trials and tests that come with being a parent for that particular gender.  Obviously, the goal of every mom and dad is to take that wild and willful boy and teach him to be a caring and courageous man.  To get to that point, parents have to understand the qualities and characteristics that make boys special.

Boys Are Different

Boys are different than girls, and I’m not just talking about the physical plumbing.  Each gender learns and grows differently.  The best way to talk with a girl is eyeball-to-eyeball, using words, attitudes and tones to convey information.  But boys learn best shoulder-to-shoulder.  You have to come alongside them in order to instruct them.  Boys process information in the course of living life.  Ever been talking directly to your son, looking him right in the eye, and it’s clear the words are washing right over him?  That’s because boys are wired that way.  Sure, it’s important that our kids pay attention when we speak and learn how to communicate properly with others.  But the best way to reach a boy’s mind is through action.  Spend time engaged in an activity with your son, and you’ll discover you’re training and teaching him as you participate together.  He’ll learn the value of taking care of property when you show him how to replace the oil in his car.  Your son can learn to make his own decisions when you take him shopping for school clothes.  If you feel like you’re banging up against a teen boy who is just not listening, switch your approach and teach him through doing.

Boys Are Independent

Here is the truth.  Boys from an early age want to be independent.  So they often challenge you on what you say, or question your actions and motives.  It’s why dads and sons can engage in some heated discussions.  Having two independent men butting heads in the same house can be difficult.  But if your son is showing signs of independence, it may just be part of the natural growth process.  As teenagers mature they begin to separate themselves from their parents as they test their capabilities in the outside world.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Look, it’s not always comfortable when your son starts pushing away from mom and dad.  You might feel some grinding in your relationship with him, and that’s when the sparks start flying.  But in reality, he is sharpening the beliefs, convictions, and attitudes you’ve worked hard to instill in him.  As moms and dads, we want our teenagers to have some independence.  We want them to learn how to think and make decisions for themselves.  So when your son starts questioning or seems to be testing your authority, don’t take it personally.  He’s flexing his muscles of independence.  Don’t allow disrespect, but don’t dampen the healthy independence in your teen.  Instead, give him more responsibility.  Feed your boy’s desire for self-reliance.  It will give him the needed experience to become a responsible adult.

Boys Are Macho

I’ve been around enough teen boys to know that a bravado attitude begins to enter the picture around twelve years old and sometimes doesn’t leave!  When the voice starts to drop, that’s when the swagger starts.  This need to prove their manliness, to display their tough guy attitude, is what leads boys to perform idiotic stunts, grow wispy tufts of hair on their chin, and pursue girls with reckless abandon.

Dealing with an arrogant teen is frustrating.  Parents often feel the urge to take them down a notch or two.  But try and look past your son’s macho behavior and respond to his heart.  Dig deep and find that inner softie in your son.  Once you get past the tough guy act and connect with your son’s heart, you’ll have a devoted friend for life.

Also, give your macho teen a model of strength under control.  Point them to Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2:6).  Jesus could have easily walked around, thumping His chest, and using His power and might to beat people into submission.  But instead, Jesus showed His great strength by being a servant.  And as He did so, people followed Him.  Dads, be an example of humility and quiet courage your sons can follow.  Show your boys that inner confidence and strength of character means more than how much you can bench press, or how many girlfriends you have.  You don’t have to be macho to be manly.

Boys Are Relational

What would make a teenage boy ditch school to hang out with a cute girl?  Hormones would be one answer, for sure.  But really it’s because teen boys are relational creatures.  Adolescence is the time when they are yearning for connections outside the home.  That’s why they spend so much time on Facebook, or texting, or hanging out with friends and girlfriends.  Boys crave relationships where they are valued, respected, and needed.  It’s a natural and important part of becoming a man.  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” (Genesis 2:24)  Boys want to form bonds outside the parental borders.  That’s why they’ll walk backwards in the snow for sixty miles to hang out with their friends, or stand outside a girl’s window with love songs blaring on the stereo.  Boys are on the hunt for relationships.  This means parents need to be careful that a teenage boy is building relationships appropriately and with the right people.  Also, the predilection to pursue these connections also means boys get stuck emotionally very easily.  Teenagers longing for relationships may get frustrated and turn to drugs or pornography and get caught in a damaging cycle that is not easily broken.

If you’re a single mom struggling to play the part of both parents, encourage your son not only to maintain healthy relationships with peers, but more importantly, to build friendships with a group of godly men.  It’s within a group of mature and responsible guys that your son will be initiated into manhood and find mentors that can help him make the transition into adult life.

Boys Are Fighters

Why is every stick in the hands of a boy magically transformed into a sword?  Why do boys crave the competition of sports, the challenges of video games?  It’s because boys are fighters.  It’s why they grow up to be boxers, soldiers, football players, firemen, or policemen.  In his book, Wild at Heart, author John Elridge writes, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”  This inner warrior in your son is a good thing.  A healthy, fighting spirit is what gives men perseverance, strength of will, and the ability to tackle life’s obstacles in their path.

But like all good qualities, being a fighter can get a boy in trouble.  And I’m not talking about getting in skirmishes at school or wrestling with siblings.  Many parents are struggling to understand why their sons are addicted to violent video games.  Left to their own devices, some teenage boys will spend hours and hours in front of a screen, lost in a world of adventure.  For them, it might be an outlet for that daring spirit, the need to do battle and feel accomplished.  So rather than ban your son from video games, channel that desire into more worthy hobbies.  Get him a membership to a rock-climbing gym.  Assign a section of the garage for him to paint or make pottery.  Sign him up for karate classes.  Buy a second-hand guitar, and take him out to dinner when he finally plays “Smoke on the Water.”  Boys go to battle to accomplish something.  So fuel that good desire for ambition by giving them opportunities to succeed at projects, quests, and activities that are worthwhile.

Boys are different than girls.  Parents must develop an entirely new skill set to get their teenage boys to the next phase of adulthood.  Though training a boy into a man is challenging, it’s also rewarding.  This world needs more men who are strong and humble, who lead and serve, who stand for what’s right and fight against what’s wrong.  Mom and dad; you have the awesome privilege of training and teaching the next generation of men.  And when you understand how boys are built, you can better raise a godly man.


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.

Helping a Boomerang Child

Merry Christmas from Parenting Today's TeensLet me share a desperate e-mail I once received from a father who was struggling with his 25-year old stepson, who was still living at home.  Here’s what he wrote:

“I have asked my stepson to leave our home six times now because of his disrespect for my authority (since we have two other teen children in the home).  He lacks respect for his mother, and fails to follow the rules of our house.  He never finished high school, was in the military, and also spent time in the Job Corps.  We had hoped that these experiences would help mature him … they didn’t.

Each time I’ve asked him to leave the home, he moves in with friends, only to take advantage of their hospitality.  He then eventually calls to tell his mom that he has no place to stay, and she repeatedly talks me into letting him back into our house.  He makes her feel guilty because of her earlier failures, and she feels horrible for not showing “grace” when he is in need.

He promises to do what is expected every time we sit down and discuss the expectations of him staying in our home.  In a matter of days, he goes right back to his old behaviors and the cycle starts all over.  He’s never really been repentant or ever turned from his ways.  We’re at our wit’s end!  Any thoughts?”

The problem this father is having is not uncommon in our culture.  According to the Pew Research Center, more than 21 percent of adult children ages 25 to 34 are currently living in their parents, or grandparent’s, homes.  We’re experiencing a generation of “boomerang” kids, that no matter how far away they fly, they always end up coming back to roost.  But that is not to say that sometimes kids have a very good reason to come back home.  They may have medical issues, and need time for recovery.  Or, they may need your support to get their feet back on the ground after a traumatic event or financial loss.  It could be they may be there to help you take care of sickly parents, or siblings, or need transition time between college semesters.  These are all good reasons to allow an adult son or daughter to remain in your home.

However, often these “boomerang” kids resemble “boarders,” like this 25- year old young man, who doesn’t have a pressing need to stay in the parental abode, but finds it easier to do so.  And in these cases there is lack of mutual respect, an unwillingness to engage in life rather than escape from it, and an absence of healthy relationships where people are communicating and understanding how the home will operate.  It takes a change in attitudes and principles to help permanent “boomerangers” to become “temporary guests” and successfully launch them into the next stage of life.

Developing Respect

The key to any healthy home is respect.  Everyone in the family, whether they’re eight or eighteen, needs to adhere to the rules of the house.  If an adult child either ignores or is unwilling to adhere to level of respect for your home or the people in it, then it’s time to issue a choice.  Either the child will work toward offering more respect or leave home.

This ultimatum may seem harsh to you and your adult child in the home.  But there must be respect in the house.  You can’t have one person undermining the rules and authority of the home.  It sets a bad precedent for the other members of the family, and can cause stress and turmoil in many relationships.  Of course, there could be any number of reasons why a child is acting out of disrespect.  But at some point, a young man or a young woman must realize that regardless of any wrongdoing in the past, they have to grow up, move on, and quit being controlled by something that might have happened years ago.  No matter what, mistakes from the past never give license to disrespect a parent.

Setting a Good Example

Just as children pick up patterns and behaviors from watching their parents, they also learn by watching older siblings in how they interact within the home.  So when a “boomerang” kid starts running amuck in their parent’s home, other members of the family are learning by observation, and soaking up ideas that manipulation works, respect is not necessary, and that Mom and Dad will bail them out when they get into trouble.  Parents have enough inherent issues to deal with without adding to the confusion of another adult at home who’s offering a bad example.  Even if this was the only reason not to have the older son or daughter at home, then it’s justified – especially when coupled with a lack of repentance and unwillingness to turn from his or her old ways.

Working Towards the Future

The young man mentioned in the e-mail had an unfinished high school education.  What could this be about?  Does he have some learning disabilities?  Perhaps high school graduation or a GED should be made a higher priority so that he can take better care of himself in the future.

I recommend asking that boomerang son or daughter what they want from their parents—where they want to end up, what type of help would they like to see, and how they’d like to see Mom and Dad involved.  If they are responsible enough to drive, vote, and rent a car, then those adult children are capable of answering some of these tough questions.  And if they can’t, then they need something to shock them into coming up with one.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15, the reckless youth came to his senses only when people stopped giving him things.  Change happened when he needed to stand on his own and be responsible for his future.

An out-of-control boomerang kid will never grow up if mom and dad always provide a place for him to fall back on, even when he shows no motivation to improve his life or make changes.  And because that young adult always has a place, he’ll never have to learn how to solve those life problems or work towards something better in the future.  They’ll continue in that foolish thinking until someone gives them the opportunity to think differently.  Proverbs 19:19 states that if an angry man is rescued once, he’ll have to be rescued again.

Resisting the Manipulation

Within the stepfather’s e-mail, I also noticed a trap that many parents find themselves in—getting manipulated by their adult children.  This 25- year- old man is not only playing with his mom.  He’s shaming her.  And Mom is falling for it hook, line, and sinker.  She may think that because of some mistake in her past she’s been the cause of all the trouble in her son’s life.  Thus she rescues him continually, justifies it with scripture, and is hurting herself and her son in the process.

To moms who have feelings of regret like this woman (and I’ve talked to hundreds) I want you to know that no matter what mistakes you have made in your life by your actions or lack of actions, your child is capable of growing through them.  If a child is using your past failures as a manipulative tool to meet his own needs, take action!  One of the best messages for your son to hear is that this manipulation is no longer going to be effective with you.

When parents allow their older children to become dependent on them as young adults, they aren’t doing themselves or their adult children any favors.  When a son or daughter chooses a lifestyle of escape, or continues in unacceptable behavior, the refining heat needs to be turned up in that child’s life.  It doesn’t have so much to do with the living arrangement as much as the bad attitudes and unwillingness to take on responsibility.

I often share with parents that the definition of lunacy is to continue doing the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome.  It’s unrealistic for Mom or Dad to think that they’ll get different results if they continue along the same path that they have been taking with their adult child.

If you are the struggling parent of an adult child still living at home, let me offer you some hope.  The situation and conflict can change for the better.  With the proper actions and attitudes you can turn that boomerang child into a high-flying arrow.

A special message from Mark

I do hope and pray that this holiday season is a wonderful time of celebration and reflection for you and your family.  It’s a special time for all of us at Parenting Today’s Teens, and the only time that we ask folks to partner with us financially to help support our work with teens and families.  If these newsletters, or any of the Parenting Today’s Teens resources have been beneficial to you, would you consider a gift to our ministry in your year-end giving?  You can do so by clicking here.

Give Your Gift Today


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.

Parable for Dads

prodigalHave you ever considered the father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal to be the focus of that story, not the wayward son?  After all, the word “father” is mentioned many more times than the word “son.”

A “prodigal” is defined as one who “spends extravagantly.”  While the son spent his inheritance; it was the father who was the most extravagant, both with his money and with his love.  It was the father who was the prodigal.

Whether or not Jesus’ parable was taken from a real life example, I imagine it wouldn’t be easy for any father to see his son live a sinful lifestyle and waste his inheritance.  But there is no mention of the father bringing brute force or threats to bear to hold back his son or to bring him home, any more than God forces Himself on us.

Oh, how much would he have liked to pull (him) back with fatherly authority and hold (him) close to himself so that (he) would not get hurt.  But his love is too great to do any of that. It cannot force, constrain, push, or pull.  It offers the freedom to reject that love or to love in return.  It is precisely the immensity of the divine love that is the source of the divine suffering. God, creator of heavens and earth, has chosen to be, first and foremost, a Father.” – Henri J.W. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

When the son came to his senses, the father again showed his prodigal nature by extravagantly welcoming him back into the family with fanfare and rejoicing.  There was no demand for repayment, no warnings, no threats, and no expressions of disappointment … just love and grace.  He threw a party and lavished all the same rights and privileges on the son as if he had never left the fold.

It’s the kind of prodigal grace and attention fathers need to lavish on their teens every day today.  In our counseling of teens at Heartlight, the most often mentioned desire of teen girls is, “I want more time with my Dad.”  They want time together, even if they don’t act like they do.

If you are a dad, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, find things you can do together, and communicate with them online.  Send daily text messages to say “Hi” or, “I love you.”  Make sure your teen knows your desire to continue to be involved in his or her life even if there is a split in the family.  Do it, or they’ll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.

The Missing Dad

I asked one young girl in our counseling program how she was doing.  It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple “doing okay” answer.  Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba.  She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do.  She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, and a volleyball queen.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen and the “most likely to succeed” in her class.  She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be.  She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her.  She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue.  Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?”  Her chattering stopped, her eyes welled up with tears, and she replied, “When my dad left, I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug.  She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey … you don’t need to say anything.”  Finally, a real connection was made.

When dads are missing, problems will usually follow.  Why?  Because moms are the ones who instill a sense of value, and dads are the ones who validate it.  All children need their father’s blessing.  When dad’s stamp of approval is not there, the child will look for validation somewhere else.

This is especially true of teenage girls.  They need their dad to meet that need for validation – something only he can really fulfill.  And with 12- to 14-year-old girls, this need is greater than ever.  But sadly, many dads get too busy or otherwise emotionally move away from their daughters at this time in their life.

Learn to Listen Extravagantly

Dads are usually weak at listening.  They’re made that way.  They aren’t easily distracted from their focus on whatever they are doing and they’re always doing something.  It’s a great asset to have in the business world, but it’s a liability at home.  Many times dads are concentrating on something else when their teen attempts to talk to them; or they are only thinking one way and anything different fails to get through their filter.

You don’t have to work so hard to listen to your children when they’re little, but when they enter the teen years, you have to work at it.  If you are willing to just listen, you might touch the heart of your teen and convey a sense of value.  Don’t try to fix their problems like when they were young – not unless they ask for your help.  And don’t worry about what your answer is going to be; we can’t all come up with the scripted responses of TV dad’s like Ward Cleaver, Ben Cartwright, or Heathcliff Huxtable.  Focus on your teen and offer your attention as a wordless message of support.

Have Fun Extravagantly

“Life isn’t about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain.”  Author Unknown

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 godliest men that I ever listened to sharing how he wanted to be known forever as a “Dad of fun.”

I agree with that philosophy, balanced with everything else that it means to be a good father.  You may be pretty good at maintaining parental authority and discipline in the home, but are you making a connection with your teen in a way that is fun – fun for them?  Sometimes it’s okay just to sit and watch a movie together.  You could go fishing somewhere or take blankets and go out and see the stars in the middle of the night.  You may see a meteor shower.  These connections are manufactured times and they just don’t happen automatically.  Come up with a list of ideas that you’ve got to make happen for that special time with your child — even when they don’t want to do it.  Build up to it, “Tomorrow, we’re going to do this,” and then make sure you do it, without fail.

Right the Wrong

Dads can be great at checking out or avoiding issues.  They can boil, stew, hold a grudge, and allow unresolved issues to destroy their relationship with their child; or, avoid conflict by compromising their standards.  Then there are those who cover up problems by overindulging their kids … deflecting the problem temporarily and causing even more problems in the future.

But dads can also be pretty good at correcting their own errors if they put their attention to it.  If you’ve not been the dad you know you should have been, will you take responsibility for steering your home in the right direction, fostering positive emotions and mutual respect?  Start by identifying where you have been wrong, and seek forgiveness from those you have offended.

I recently witnessed an entire family break down and sob when the father asked each member to forgive him for his failures.  He repeated his request with intensity and emotion.  It was a humble, sincere apology, and a good step toward healing the resentment of his children.  Every heart in the room melted and it was a new beginning for that family.

Dad, let me urge you to not despair and certainly not to quit.  Instead, choose to have an honest conversation with God about your struggle, just as your teen should be able to have with you.  Ask Him your questions, and tell Him how you feel.  He, too, is a Father.  Ask Him what you are supposed to learn and what you should do to make things better.  Be okay with life not always making sense.  Celebrate being needful of God’s care.  Our Heavenly Father shines best when our life is a mess, and I hope you’ll be your best when your teen needs you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.