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Peace in Parenting At-Risk Teens

When your teen is spinning out of control it is frightening to think about the damage he may be doing to his future. But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity). The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute.

Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle…

We can learn much from the philosophy of a man struggling with terminal cancer. Talk about a hopeless situation! He said, “I try not to stand too long on the mountain, and I don’t sit too long in the valley. I live one day at a time, and try to keep my attitude somewhere near the middle.”

He continued, “I really enjoy the mountaintop days, when the cancer or the chemotherapy don’t bother me too much. On bad days God gives me peace, and I learn dependence on Him I probably wouldn’t learn any other way. The days in between, I pray for strength, and my hope in Him keeps me going.”

Life can be nearly as traumatic for parents watching helplessly as their child spins out of control. There are good days and there are terrible days. They try this and they try that, and each time they think they’ve got it figured it out, their teen throws a curve ball and they sink to a new low.

I’ve found that those who are successful seek God’s peace in both the highs and the lows of life, as well as the muddle in the middle. They survive by keeping their faith strong and they spend more time on their knees. They let each day bring what it will, realizing that tomorrow may or may not look anything like today and that in most cases their teenager will eventually come around.

Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more

wonderful than the human mind can understand.

–Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Most parents describe the struggle with a teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart. With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationships strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.

You’ll have those “valley” days. Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes. Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear. One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt. It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.

And, celebrate the good days. They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay. Let them prop you up. Enjoy each victory. Laugh with your teen. Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

I’ve said a million times that consequences are the best tool a parent can use to teach maturity? I mention it because God, your heavenly parent, may be using this situation with your teenager to also teach you a thing or two. If so, take heed. Take a close look at your life to see if there is anything that needs changing. Most parents I deal with in our Heartlight residential program say that they, too, had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen.

The bottom line is that parents can do no good for their teenager if they are caught up in despair and are constantly on edge. Learn early from others who have gotten to the other side of this struggle and actually survived! Give the reins to God and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life. And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, even as God also loves us.

 

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.


Could You Be the Prodigal?

Could You Be the Prodigal?In a world where parents indulge their kids with everything they want, it would seem that these kids would be especially grateful.  Instead, a generation has become selfish, self-centered, and unprepared for real life.

A dictionary definition of a “prodigal” is “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.”  You may think your teenager is acting like a prodigal these days, but have you considered that according to this definition, you may be the prodigal yourself?

Many parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their kids. Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that.  The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids.  Unbridled spending on kids can lead to selfish attitudes and feelings of entitlement on the part of the teen.  And such kids are in for a rude awakening when real life comes calling.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m giving my child what I lacked as a child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager.  In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity.  It can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults. In other words, spoiled kids later become spoiled adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give.  But they may want to keep it in check to prevent the kind of damage that I see every day in some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program.  For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

The biblical story of the Prodigal in Luke 15 wonderfully illustrates such a turnabout in thinking for a pampered, selfish child who suddenly faced the realities of life.

In Luke 15:12 the son in the story says, ”Father, give me my share of the estate.”  For whatever reason, this young man had a “give me” sense of entitlement that was pretty demanding. It was probably because he never had a need for anything for as long as he had lived. The family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away.  But he had soon spent his entire inheritance, all of it, on riotous living.  What a great lesson in finance!  Though he was given so much, he lost it all in a very short period of time.

Then, half-starved and thinking that his gold-digger friends would help him out in his time of need, he found out differently.  In Luke 15:16 it says, ”…but no one gave him anything.” Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or just fed up with him, their denials told him that he needed to do something different from now on, or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…”  He saw the light.  When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he faced some pretty important decisions in his life.  It helped him realize his predicament and he quickly discovered what life is all about, perhaps for the very first time.

The point is…it took a very traumatic experience for him to come to his senses.  Before he could get past his prodigal mindset, he had to hit rock bottom.  Then he finally began thinking more clearly about finances and about the basic necessities of life.

Could you be the one responsible for your own teen becoming a prodigal?  Moreover, could you be the one acting like a prodigal yourself?  You are if you are catering to your teen’s every financial want or need without teaching them the value of work and how to wisely manage their own money.  Perhaps it’s time to take a look at your finances and begin to limit your giving to your teen, before it contributes to them becoming a prodigal.

By the way, a good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need.  Take them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line.  Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week.  Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing.  When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves), how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, you may want to shift gears to lavish upon your kids every good thing they need in life, not everything they want.  One good thing they desperately need is to learn how to make money and manage finances on their own.  They’ll have to go without all the goodies you’ve financed in the past, but it’s a lesson they’ll thank you for one day.

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.


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.