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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.