Parenting Differently Than Your Parents Did

Student Story: Caleb

Being “relational” with your kid doesn’t mean you should become their best friend! This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston argues that there’s a way to connect more without sacrificing your authority as a parent. Learn how discipline and training can actually strengthen your relationship with your teen as they mature.

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The Difference Between Rule-making and Ruling

Some parents mix the idea of rule-making with ruling their home. Reasonable rulemaking and proper boundaries will help a teenager mature into a confident adult, while living under a “ruler” can lead to frustration, rebellion and eroded self-esteem. Which kind of home is yours? One that has rules or one that is ruled?

Rules for your home should fall into three main areas of concern, which are foundational to all other character and maturity issues. They are honesty, obedience, and respect. After all, isn’t the ultimate intent of creating and enforcing rules in your home that of keeping a child’s poor choices from consuming him and destroying his relationships with others?

So, when you think about the rules that govern your home, you might want to ask yourself two questions. The first is, “How much will this rule matter after I am gone or when the child is out on his own?” The second is, “Will this help build my child’s character and cause him to become more mature or responsible?” If the rules for your older teenagers are not centering on character, then you’re most likely ruling your home instead.

“Ruling” works and is necessary when kids are younger, but as your children reach the teenage years they naturally begin weighing decisions on their own. When they choose to break the household rules, they need to deal with the resulting consequences. Teenagers understand consequences. That’s how they learn, not from lecturing or parental anger.

When a teenager butts heads with a “ruler,” conflict and frustration will result. The only thing they’ll then learn is either how to better hide their improper actions or how to scream louder than the ruler does. Neither of these modes is productive and can also lead to a legacy of poor parenting.

Rule-making in Your Home

Rules need to make sense. We can all think about rules set down by our own parents that made no sense at all and others that were beneficial to us (even though we may not have liked them).

Rules also should be relevant, attainable and beneficial, not a source of shame, frustration, or failure.

And rules need to be communicated in advance, right along with the consequences for breaking those rules. Think of it this way. If no one knows the rules, then your teenager will have to learn them by trial and error and will constantly get into trouble. Likewise, if consequences for breaking the rules aren’t known, then a teenager has no way to weigh those consequences against whatever pleasure they find in breaking the rule. This balancing of actions versus consequences is a critical skill for adolescents to learn and exercise.

Finally, rules need to evolve over time, as lessons are learned, kept in line with the growing maturity of your teenager. I’m not talking about “giving in.” I’m saying that out-of-date, irrelevant or demeaning rules will lead to animosity, loss of respect and rebellion by your teenager. They can also lead to consequence confusion, since outdated rules are often not enforced. So, regularly update your rules and restate them to your teenager (before they break the rule, not after), awarding them with freedom and added privileges for the progress they make.

Rules Are Enforced Through Reasonable Consequences

Consequences for teenagers should never hurt physically (other than aching muscles from work assignments). They should never be demeaning or undermine the child’s self-esteem. For teenagers, the loss of a privilege is the most reasonable and powerful consequence. Sometimes they don’t realize how many privileges they enjoy — at least not until they lose them for a time.

Think about some reasonable consequences for your home. And keep in mind how important it is that they are communicated well in advance so the teenager doesn’t attribute the consequences they receive to your poor mood or a bad day. When they break a rule they should know exactly what the consequence will be. And just like laws in our society, parents need to build in progressively stronger consequences for rules that are broken again and again (since the initial consequence was obviously not enough of a deterrent).

Setting up rules and enforcing consequences — more than any other thing you manage as a parent — is the best way to help your child learn right from wrong and to change from selfish to unselfish thinking.

Don’t Cut Off Your Relationship When They Do Wrong

When you line out the rules, make it clear that they are developed in the context of longing for your child to do well in life, more than a selfish need for you to be in control or your home to be pristine. Above all, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is more important than their breaking any rule.

Don’t correlate your teen’s rule-keeping or rule-breaking to your love or acceptance of them. Regularly let them know that you will continue to love them, even when they mess up. Express your sorrow when your teen experiences consequences, but take care not to express your disappointment in them. There’s a big difference between those two sentiments. One is caring and the other is destructive of your relationship.

The Parent’s Admonition: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”

When your teenager breaks a rule (and they will!) show your deep love for them by refusing to let them off the hook. Teenagers mostly learn from consequences. So avoid taking the consequences away or lessening them. When consequences are known well in advance, it shouldn’t damage your relationship when they are handed out. Surely, your teenager weighed the consequences at the same time they chose to step over the line, and chose to do it anyway!

HOME ASSIGNMENT: If you have teenagers in your home, line out some rules for your home, and begin to think about what consequences to apply. Decide things like: who pays for what, what time frame is expected for certain things like curfew and chores, what you expect from them for school and grades, work, their spiritual life, their friends. Address issues like respect, honesty and obedience, with clear rules — no lying, no cheating, everyone gets respect. Call a family meeting and work on the rules and consequences together, so everyone is part of it. You’ll be surprised. Your teen will often suggest penalizing bad behavior with consequences more severe than you were thinking.

Remember, “ruling” your home is not a good measurement of the effectiveness of your rulemaking. 

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.


When Nothing is Working

What if nothing seems to be working to encourage your teenager to head in a better direction? Perhaps you’ve applied consequences to correct their inappropriate behavior, and have progressively taken away many or all of their privileges, but they still break your rules and they still defy you.

Having a child who is struggling will wear you out.  The parents who drop off their teenagers at our Heartlight residential counseling program are at their wit’s end, tired, and frazzled.  They’ve literally spent every ounce of emotional energy in a struggle that has taken place over many months. It’s not easy for any parent to leave their child in the hands of strangers, but at that point, they are desperate for solutions.

There is never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  Most parents describe the struggle as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg.”  It can either be a time of the whole 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 relationship 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.

One question I am often asked is, “What if my teen simply won’t talk to me?”  My response is for the parent to look inward in this case to determine if there is anything they are doing to spark this behavior.  Keep in mind that you can only change one person in this world — you.  You cannot force your child to talk. So, ask your spouse or other family members if they see something in the way you are relating to your teen that may be turning them off. Or, maybe you haven’t spent enough time building a relationship, so you really shouldn’t expect your teenager to relate well to you. Remember, in their growing drive for independence, you’ll simply become a babysitter in their eyes if you have no relationship.  You’re the one who keeps them from doing what they want to do, instead of the one who is helping them get to where they want to go in life.

To get teens to open up, I recommend you spend more time with them, as difficult as that can be.  And spend more time asking questions than talking.  In fact, I never share an opinion or my advice with a teenager unless it is asked for.  I find that teens won’t listen to or heed my advice if they don’t ask for it. They may even feel like I am trying to control or put them down when I force my opinion on them.  So, they put up their defenses; like a Texas Armadillo, those defenses can be formidable.  They’ll roll up in a ball and not let anything break through their tough armor.

I also tell parents to pace themselves when things are out of control. Give it a break. Like any other activity, burnout can happen if there aren’t rest periods.  Remember the timeouts you likely gave them when they were little? Well, maybe it is time for you to give yourself some timeouts, away from the stress.  Even a night away can be enough refreshment to break the tension for a week or two. If not, in your fatigue, you will become more emotional, you’ll respond defensively or overreact, and you’ll come across in a worse way than you intended.  You need some periodic rest.

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.  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.

Be sure to 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, as God loves us.

Is having a teen who is spinning out of control a serious threat to them, to your marriage and to your entire family?  You bet.  So approach it with the intensity and wisdom needed to move them to resolution.  Stick to your guns and get help from many sources.  If you simply cannot control your teen and you fear for their safety and their future, you might want to give our Heartlight residential program a call or visit the website at www.heartlightministries.org.  We’ve had over 25 years success in turning around thousands of teenagers. What you might save in the process is your child’s life and your family’s future.

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.