#219 – How To Repair a Broken Relationship With Your Teen

How’s your relationship with your teen? Do feel there is a distance between you and your child, and the space is only increasing everyday? Has your once happy relationship with your kid turned into open animosity with your teen? Maybe it feels like your sweet baby went upstairs one day, and came down a totally different person – someone who seems like a total stranger to you?

You’re not alone. I get calls every day from parents just like you who say, “My relationship with my teen is disintegrating before my eyes. What can I do?” If that sounds like a call you could make right now, let me share some ways you can start mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether. Consider implementing some of these relationship repairs:

Take Stock of the Relationship

Like going into your closet and getting rid of all the clothes that don’t fit us anymore or have simply gone out of style (are you ever going to wear anything with shoulder pads again?), we need to go into our parenting closet and take inventory. This requires an honest evaluation of the actions, beliefs, styles, and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong or doesn’t work. What are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent?  How can you accommodate the growing needs of your teenager?  How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world?  Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those corduroy bell-bottoms you haven’t worn since high school, take regular time to examine the ways you are connecting to your teen. See what is out of style, what needs to change and what keeps you stuck in the past. I realize that these are tough words to handle. It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids.  But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. There’s always room for growth as moms and dads. As our children grow, so should we. Rebuilding relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness to pray what the Psalmist prayed; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23)

Start Asking Questions

Want to get your relationship with your teen back on track? Start asking the right kind of questions. What do you mean by that? Ask the kind of questions that make them think about things, not just “yes” or “no” questions. Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why. When a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen, take advantage of the moment to reinforce their insights. Talk about controversial subjects as you would with a friend or co-worker for whom you have great respect. Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?

Then, ask some more personal questions. “What could I do to improve our relationship?” or “What things would you like to see change in our family?” Let me warn you–if you ask these types of questions, you may not like what you hear. But don’t run from the answers. Hearing honest feedback from your child may open your eyes to areas that need to change. You’ll also be communicating to your child that you desire to do everything you can to restore and maintain a loving relationship.

Take Ownership for Mistakes

The statement “I was wrong” (when said by a parent) can do wonders for a broken relationship. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you made a mistake. Never will your child respect you more than when you admit your faults and ask for forgiveness. Humble parents who admit their mistakes and apologize are building healthy, happy families. Rebuilding your relationship with your child is always a higher calling than saving face. Learn phrases that specifically communicate your offense and build a bridge:

  • “I was wrong in the way I approached you. Will you forgive me for that and allow us to talk about it further?”
  • “I made some comments that were out of line. I was wrong, and I’d like to start our discussion over. Can we do that?”
  • “I think what I said came out wrong.  I never meant to hurt you.  Would you give me a second chance to tell you what I was thinking?”

Create the Proper Environment

Don’t let your family get emotionally stuck in the mistakes and tension of the past. Create an environment that welcomes and invites change.  If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here–me included. It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old.  Let’s work together as a family to move forward.” I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times.  And afterwards, I always have parents and teens come up to me and say, “Thank You!  We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made.  Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!

Act On It

Once you decide to make some changes towards restoring broken relationships, it’s time to act!  Maybe you’ve realized that as a mom or dad you have been too overprotective in certain areas.  Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control. Perhaps you’ve seen that much of your conversation with your children comes off as judgmental. Express to your family your desire to change, and work towards infusing your conversations with grace. Or maybe you’ve realized that you just haven’t spent the time you need with your teen. Drop that weekend golf game, or forgo that daily run, in order to spend time with your teen. Those visible actions convey your willingness to work towards a better relationship.

Stay With the Plan

We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, or perfect home.  Those relationships take time and effort. So if your connection with your teen is in trouble, and you are working towards making positive changes, don’t give up!  Stay with the plan.  In difficult transitions, your teen may push back.  They may dig in their heels as you try to rebuild the relationship. But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.” Even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep up your weekly time together, week after week. Eventually they’ll come around. Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond. He or she may secretly be testing your commitment!

I want to challenge you today to commit to rebuilding a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. No matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always hope. It may take time and persistence, but keep at it. You can have a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with 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.  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.


Recognizing and Preventing “Mean Girls”

These dangerous creatures tend to run in tight packs.  Using finely tuned senses, they are able to spot vulnerable prey, and once they have their sights set on a target, it is tough to refocus their attention.  With swift ferociousness, they can easily rip their prey apart, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

I’m not talking about animals on the African plain.  I’m talking about “mean girls.”  These are the young ladies that are more than just “not nice.”  They can be downright cruel and vindictive towards others they deem weaker or those they see as a threat.  Their weapons of choice are emotional pain, put downs, degradation, and intentional humiliation.

Before you write off mean girls as myth, there’s a significant amount of evidence for their existence.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that one in four adolescent girls has been the perpetrator of or has participated in a violent act in the past year.  Another recent national survey revealed that 33 percent of female students reported being bullied at school.  And simply catch the national news, or read about teen suicides brought about by relentless teasing and emotional violence by other kids.  Mean girls do exist, and the pain they cause can be devastating.

So how do you know if your teenage daughter is one of these mean girls?  And what can you do to change her ways?

Stay Watchful

Today’s culture is tough on girls.  We live in a performance-driven society where worth is determined by how you look, what you do, or what you have.  Add to that the violence and sexuality portrayed in the media and the lack of solid female role models, and we have an environment ripe for mean girls.  The drive to compete for attention, popularity, or individuality, pushes these girls to be more sexual, more violent, or to devalue themselves based on the performance treadmill.

Though I don’t excuse their behavior, every mean girl I’ve met is really an insecure child, trying to live up to unreal expectations.  Generally, the meanness is a coping mechanism to survive in a performance-driven environment.  So these girls try to bring up their own self-esteem by insulting or putting other girls down.  If they can make another person look bad, perhaps they’ll look better.  This can also happen when a new girl arrives at school, or another girl gets more attention from guys, teachers and parents, making the other girls feel threatened.  Desperate for attention, the “mean girls” go out of their way to tear that person down.

As parents, we cannot shy away from the issue.  It does no good to stick our heads in the sand and say, “Well, that’s girls for you,” and leave it at that.  We need to look for the warning signs of a mean girl attitude, and nip them in the bud.  If you see your daughter developing habits of mocking other people, dressing more provocatively, picking fights with siblings or parents or growing an angry or spiteful demeanor, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Stay Involved

Through my years counseling with parents and teens, I have seen how loving parents can be blindsided by a child who becomes a “mean girl.”  Mom and dad sit in my office, shocked to hear how their little girl is terrorizing someone else.  “We had no idea!” they tell me.  It can be difficult to see our children as capable of abusing or hurting other people.  But to prevent your daughter from becoming a mean girl, or to stop your daughter from a habit of bullying, it is critical that parents stay active and involved.

This may result in having all the passwords to your teen’s online accounts.  With the anonymity of the Internet, kids are finding what I call “digital courage,” and using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to say things that they wouldn’t say in person.  Cyber bullying is a growing problem as teens and adults lob emotional bombs while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet.  So keep tabs on your child’s online activity.  If you discover any cyber bullying, deal with it as soon as possible.  Be sure to stress the damage that such abuse can cause, then enact stiff consequences for such behavior.

Stay involved with friends as well.  Ask questions about the people your daughter hangs out with, and what they do together.  If your child is hanging out with girls who are sarcastic or hurtful to others, talk honestly about the concerns you have.  Let her know that you don’t want her to be a mean girl, and character is more important than fitting in.

Staying involved with your child may also mean enlisting the help of pastors, teachers, mentors, or professionals to help your daughter work through some tough issues.  Many times the mean girls are the ones who were bullied before, and they are simply repeating what they have experienced.  Stay engaged with your child, and dig into the cause for their behavior.  Maintaining a relationship with your daughter goes a long way in overcoming a mean girl attitude.

Stay Proactive

I don’t think it’s enough to simply stop girls from bullying other girls.  To really make a change in the heart of a mean girl we have to be proactive!  And that can start in the home. Make a point to stop mocking others in your family.  If you find yourself participating in insulting others, or tearing people down, swallow your pride and admit your mistake in front of your daughter.  Let her know you are willing to change and become more positive with your family and others.

Another way to be proactive is to challenge your daughter to place herself in someone else’s shoes.  One of my favorite quotes is from the book To Kill a Mockingbird, in which a courageous lawyer tells his young daughter, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  This is the best advice for dealing with a mean girl.  Show them how their actions are affecting others.  Tell them how destructive bullying can be.  Ask them to see things from another person’s view.

Even if you don’t have a mean girl, you can still be proactive in preventing bullying, and that’s by encouraging the bystanders.  Too many times, others watch as kids are picked on, abused, or treated poorly.  The passivity of bystanders allows bullying to continue without consequences.  But if we model and teach our teens the importance of standing up for the little guy and protecting those who are being victimized, we can make a serious dent in the bullying problem.

A recent news story illustrates this idea.  A teenage girl, who had been the target of abuse from other girls, was nominated for the homecoming dance queen as a cruel joke.  Humiliated and distraught, the young lady had thoughts of suicide.  But once word got around about the mistreatment, the entire town rallied behind this young girl, offering her free haircuts, prom dresses, dinners, and limos.  They started a Facebook page, where caring individuals from all over showed their support and scolded the bullies.  And many of the kids from the school stood behind her and supported the joke nomination as a reality.  The day of the dance, this teenage girl went to homecoming with her head held high, and was crowned the dance queen.  The positive actions of the people in the town stopped the bullies dead in their tracks.  We need more people like that.  Let’s teach our kids to be brave and bold, and stand up for those who need assistance and help.

Mean girls don’t have to be a fact of life.  There are positive steps you can take to prevent it.  With a little proactive effort, we can transform that carnivorous lioness into a gentle kitten.

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.