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Getting the School Year Started Right

Like New Year’s resolutions, the start of the school year is a perfect time for parents and teenagers to make resolutions in regard to goals, responsibilities, and expectations.  It is an opportunity to think about what you and your teen hope to accomplish this year, but it is also a time to think about your household rules, making sure they are still age-appropriate (or appropriate according to the maturity of your teen).

Consider the environment your teen is about to enter.  What precautions and advice can you give them?  What should they avoid, and what should they strive for this year?  How will this year affect their future, their college choices or their future career?  Will this be an especially difficult transition year, such as moving to a new school or from junior high to high school?  At such times, it is especially important to help make the transition as smooth as possible.  I recommend visiting the school with an older student who is already familiar with the school as your tour guide, so your child can learn the ropes and understand what to expect, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Get the Relationship Right

It is also a time to shore up your relationship with your teen.  Be diligent in making one of your goals this school year to meet with them regularly, at least once a week.  It can become more difficult as their schedule gets busier, but don’t allow their activities or friends to come between you.  Make it a requirement to get together weekly at a restaurant or coffee shop; or better yet, go have some mutual fun together.

You’ll find that every time you meet with your teen you’ll learn something new about them, and your relationship will blossom.  If your teen is a boy, keep in mind that boys will clam up if a parent expects them to look them in the eye when they talk.  My friend Bill Ziegler, a middle school principal and frequent guest on our weekly radio program, says, “Boys communicate better when we’re side by side, versus face to face.”  I find that boys also seem to process life while they are involved in an activity of some sort.  So you’ll be most successful if you can find something fun to do together, all the while interjecting thought-provoking questions to keep the conversation going.

For girls, too, conversation naturally comes out of having fun together.  Talking less during these activity times may be difficult for a parent, but when it comes to getting teenagers to open up to you, you can’t shut up too much.  And be sure to prevent distractions during your time together. Don’t bring along friends or siblings.  Don’t go to their regular hangout, where they’ll likely run into their friends.  Don’t allow iPods or cell phones.  And by all means, don’t announce the activity is for the purpose of having a talk. Just leave the space open and available while you are with them, to see what happens next. Then zip your lip, be quiet, and practice listening.

Your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may just be the “instant message” version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you’ll have to do some reading between the lines. Repeat back what you think they said, or ask a few quick questions to clarify what they meant.  This will signify that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.

A number of things happen in the first few weeks of school.  So it is no time for parents to back off after a long hot summer with their teen.  In fact, I recommend that you double up your one on one meetings during the first month.  Listen to what your teen has to say about their new teachers, their schedule and their peers.  Perhaps they are already being bullied by someone, so it could be that they need to be quickly moved or the school officials told about the bullying.  Getting it right in the first few weeks is critical, since you can still make changes in their schedule or classes before they get too far into the semester, and before they become discouraged.

School Is More Stressful Today

School has become a much more demanding environment for our kids these days.  The pressures are significant to perform for others; socially, academically or athletically.  So, take care in reviewing your teenager’s schedule.  Don’t allow them to over-commit their time to school or other extra-curricular activities, including those at church.  Adults will recruit them to commit to every spare second in their day to sports, clubs, music, or youth group, if you allow them.  It’s up to you to help your teen prioritize their schedule, while giving them permission to cut out some things if it appears they are taking on too much.  If they are unwilling to confront the people who are pushing them into a state of being over-committed, ask your teen’s permission to speak to them yourself.

Other kids will under-commit and avoid involvement in anything but what’s required.  So you may need to help them by asking them to at least try out for a sport or a club or other activity that will broaden their horizons, give them a new skill, or put them in the company of a positive peer group.  Remember, in the teen years one of the most important things you can do for your child is to help them find a positive peer group – so do whatever it takes.

Is Your Home a Place of Rest?

Finally, but no less important, be sure to take a close look at the environment in your home.  Is it a place of rest for your teen, or does it just add to their stress?  Having reasonable rules and chores won’t cause stress; it is when there is poor communication, excessive lecturing, bickering, and fighting.  So, pick your battles wisely and major on the majors.  Set aside the minor issues, especially during the first few weeks of school.  When your teen gets home after school, allow them some time to kick back and find some rest, even if it is just playing a video game or going for a walk.  They need to unwind, just like you do when you’ve had a stressful day.

I hope you use this time at the beginning of a new school year to recharge and regroup.  Watch for signs of problems with your teen, especially during these first few weeks.  If they get off course, it will likely be now as they are dealing with new teachers, new or suddenly “grown-up” peers, new pressures, and possibly a transition to a new school.

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.

 


Marital Jeopardy Sparked by Teen Crisis

The separation or divorce of parents can deeply affect teenagers and cause them to lose their footing in life, but have you ever thought how hard the crisis you’re having with a difficult teenager is on your marriage? Really hard! It can even lead to divorce.

So, let’s discuss some proactive steps to take to fight against this tendency, since it needs to be something you are aware of even as you are dealing with your struggling teen.  After all, the failure of your marriage in the midst of the turmoil can lead to even more dire consequences for your teenager, and of course, for you.

Steps for Preventing Marital Jeopardy for Parents of Troubled Teens

Identify how your teenager’s out of control behavior could be hurting your marital relationship, and express your feelings openly to your spouse.  Protect your spouse’s feelings and don’t share them with others.

Don’t expect your spouse to fill the void left by your teen’s wrong choices or absence.

Make decisions together as much as possible in regard to your teen, but don’t undermine your spouse’s decisions even if they are not discussed in advance. Recognize that there are things your spouse will do differently, and let it become a strength. Try to support their style of parenting, even if it’s not always what you would do, or how you would do it.

Don’t blame each other for the trouble you are experiencing with your teen. Blame will help no one at this point and in fact will feed your teen’s problems.

See the experience as something you must manage together. Attend couples counseling (even as your teen is getting individual counseling). Get outside help specifically for managing your stress. If one of you tends to choose isolation from the problem, or expresses anger inappropriately, address it with a professional. If you’ve never had reason or motivation to improve your relationship, keep in mind that saving your teen is a really good reason.

Begin to share your feelings about what’s happening in your family. Hiding your feelings from your spouse, or not talking about your fears, anxieties, or worries only isolates you from the problem.

Present a united front to your teen, and one that insists your child treat both of you respectfully. This is a time when parenting comes from a love that is tough and remains strong, like that of a warrior ready to fight to keep a child from self-destruction. Treating each other respectfully is a first step.

Don’t expect your spouse to change. Instead, focus on changes you may need to make yourself.

Don’t vent your frustrations on anyone else in the family, especially your spouse. Find other ways to vent that don’t include relationship-bashing.

Find other parents who are experiencing similar issues with their teen, and spend time with them. Relate your struggles and give them the chance to do the same. It may be difficult to find others who are willing to engage in such a private discussion, so you be willing to start the discussion, if needed. Attend conferences, like our Families in Crisis or Turbulence Ahead conferences, to help you gain insight and understand that you are not alone in this struggle.

Respond, instead of reacting to what comes your way. Take time to think it through before you make a decision, and make certain the decision is one you both support. Ask God’s help in finding the right answers, and strength to do what’s necessary.

Don’t avoid the pain – if you avoid dealing with the pain, you avoid finding a solution. Examine the feelings of loss, betrayal, sorrow, or anger, and ask God to come alongside to bear your burdens.

Keep looking to the other side of the struggle. Be patient. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is God. Find hope in your relationship with God, and move in the direction He leads, knowing the struggle with your child will eventually end and the teen who gives you the hardest time is often the one you’ll end up relating to best down the road.

Above all, know this: teens in crisis are experts at pitting one parent against the other, creating a wedge in order to deflect attention away from their own bad behavior. At a time like this, be aware that you will be challenged with more stress and the natural result can be more marital problems. So, keep in mind where those stressors are coming from and also take to heart the steps I have outlined above.  It could save your marriage while you are also fighting to save your teen.

 

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.


Remodeling the Family Home

 

Parents with a rebellious teenager tell me that their house seems to be falling apart at the seams.  The whole family is in a constant state of turmoil and walking on eggshells.  But I tell them that their house can again become whole; in fact, with some hard work, it can become their dream home.

Do you live in your dream home, or has it fallen into disrepair?  Sometimes my life gets so busy that I simply dream of being home once in awhile, but that’s not exactly what I mean here.  Most people think of their dream home in terms of a house on the lake, a mansion on a hilltop, a quiet cabin in the woods.  But many parents I work with would rather live in a mud hut than a beautiful mansion, if they could just have some peace in the family and good relationships with their children.

When I talk to parents about the dreams they have for their home and family, they say what they most long for is a place of close-knit relationships; where siblings truly care for one another, and where children show their parents respect.

And what about your teen?  What kind of a home does she want?  It may seem like she would like a home where she is totally in control and where she can do whatever she wants, but that’s usually not the case. In spite of her disrespect or disobedience, she still wants a good relationship with you; she’s just lost sight of how to get there.  Somewhere along the line she has lost a connection with you and cannot find her way back.

If your dream home has fallen into disrepair, a little remodeling will get it back to where you (and your teen) want it to be.  Remember, parenting isn’t for the weak and timid; it is not a spectator sport, it is something for which you must become proactive in order to get different results. So, don your overalls and strap on your tool belt.  It’s time to get to work!

Here are a few remodeling suggestions – things you can do right now to begin to make a change in your family, and work toward making your house the home of your dreams.

  1.  Give your child a responsibility or freedom they’ve never had before.

Sometimes parents stir up the rebellious side of a child because they provoke them without meaning to.  For example, if you believe curfew for your 16-year-old needs to be at 9 o’clock on Saturday night, and they want it to be 10:30, you may need to look at that again.  Your rules need to be age-appropriate and, of course, appropriate to the maturity of your teen.  Most parents need to loosen the reins just a little, but hold their teen responsible for everything that happens with their newfound freedom.  If you’re worried, make it a requirement for them to check in periodically.  A small change that forces your child to behave more responsibly can make a big difference.  And if they make a mistake, back their curfew down to an earlier hour for a time. Giving them a little more freedom also gives you more leverage to take away that freedom as a consequence.

  1. Ask a trustworthy friend to offer advice and let you know if you are on the right track.

In business, I answer to my board of directors.  I may not always agree with them, but I trust them to tell me when I might be doing something wrong.  They’ve frankly helped me see the forest for the trees sometimes and have kept me from making some business mistakes.  You need friends around you like that; wise and trustworthy friends who can give you the same kind of feedback. Tell them what you’d like to see happen in your family and the struggles you are having.  Ask them to be completely honest with you.  You might be surprised what they say.  If they give wise advice, don’t ignore it.  Perhaps God has provided them in your life to expose your blind spots, which may be the reason your home is not yet your dream home.

  1. Believe that change is possible.

Sometimes the hardest thing in dealing with troubled families is for the parents to come to believe that all is not lost. They simply don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Many are like a leopard that never grows a new spot; they find it hard to believe things will ever change.  But, scripture teaches us that God is a God of change and second chances.  People are capable of changing at any time – both you and your teenager.  When the pain of your current situation forces you and your teen to look to God and others around you for help, only then will things begin to change.

  1. Begin with your mouth and your ears.

You’re probably sick of hearing me say this, but the one way I tell parents to bring about dramatic difference is to simply be quiet. Don’t engage in negative battles. Get in the habit of asking questions more than offering advice or lecturing.  Close your mouth and open your ears.  Maybe your teen doesn’t talk to you like you hoped because you spend too much time talking or responding and too little time listing. Even if you don’t agree with what they say, you don’t always have to react. Sometimes they are just thinking out loud and don’t even believe what they are saying. But if you react harshly, they could quickly “own” that statement and square off to defend it.

  1. Take parenting to the next step.

I encourage you to evaluate your methods and expectations — again, making them age-appropriate.   For example, does our child lack responsibility because you still make his lunch for him, do his laundry, run his homework to school, and fold his socks? Take the next step and force your child to care more for his own needs.  By the time he moves out of your dream home, he should be well-trained and able to take care of things on his own.

  1. Focus on relationship.

There is no replacement or substitute for you taking the time to sit down with your teenager at least once a week to build your relationship. No matter how many times I say this, it still bears repeating.  Take the time, and make it happen every week!  Just listen.  Have fun.  Don’t be serious or confrontational.  Don’t lecture.  Relationship is built on mutual interest and joy.  So find the one thing you can do together that you both enjoy, and do it every week.

 Can your house again be the home of your dreams? You bet!  It may need some refurbishing right now, and it may look worse until it gets better, but with a lot of hard work you can surely get there.  Keep in mind that continuing doing what you’ve been doing has gotten you nowhere – the plaster is peeling and the roof is about to collapse – so start by realizing that drastic change needs to happen.  Begin by taking practical steps toward refining the way you engage with your teenager, helping them feel honored and respected in your home.  Work on your relationship and give your teen more freedoms, coupled with responsibility and consequences. When you honor your child with your time, your relationship, and your respect, they will honor and respect you and your rules in return; eventually, once they get past the “shock and awe.”

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.org.  You 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.