Navigating Your Teen’s Universe

Navigating Your Teen’s UniverseIt’s been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  And teens?  Well, they seem to be from a completely different universe!  Sure, teenagers look human, but the way they speak, the way they dress, and the things they value all seem to point to an origin in a galaxy far, far away.

But maybe I exaggerate.  Just because some elements of the new teen culture are alien to us, doesn’t mean our kids are from another dimension (even though it can seem that way).  Let’s face it; the world that our sons and daughters are growing up in is far different than the one in which we were raised.  When we wrote a school paper, we had to travel to a place called “the library.”  Students now have the all the information they need at their fingertips, just by visiting Google.  Our TVs carried three stations.  Today, teens have access to a thousand different programs, not only on TV, but also on their computers and phones.  I grew up respecting coaches, police, clergy, and those in authority.  Our teens live in a culture where the flaws and mistakes of those in charge have left them questioning their leaders.

You could likely come up with even more differences between your world and your teen’s world.  We could also spend considerable time beginning conversations with “I would have never done …” or “I couldn’t have imagined saying …” or “They didn’t have this when I was …” But I’ve come to realize that such nostalgic comparisons don’t accomplish much.  The homespun wisdom of how we navigated our world does little to help our teens survive theirs.  No doubt today’s culture is vastly different, and perhaps even more dangerous, than our own.  But instead of preaching the virtues of a bygone era, as moms and dads I would suggest we learn how to live in this culture, and guide our kids in the here and now.

In order to do that, let me offer a basic crash course on the universe your son or daughter currently inhabits.


The average teen today spends ten hours in front of a screen every single day.  Whether it’s the computer in the classroom, the TV in the living room, or the phone in their bedroom, kids spend a lot of time with eyeballs glued to monitors.  All that screen time is hurting our teens because it’s affecting their personal connections.  There is a lot more communication between teens these days, but a lot less interaction between them.  Kids are gaining tech skills, but losing social skills.  And it’s a loss that teens acutely feel.  That’s why social media is so important to young people.  They are hungry for meaningful connections, and so they gravitate towards Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, texting, and IM in order to interact with those around them.

But we know that nothing can replace the act of sitting down with another human being and conversing with them face-to-face.  Texts are fine.  But personal conversations are so much better.  Facebook friends are nice.  But real friends are valuable.  And more than peer-to-peer relationships, teens need a good relationship with mom and dad.  To help your son or daughter navigate this connection-starved world, shut off the phone, power down the computer, and turn off the TV.  Take them to coffee and talk with them.  Practice meaningful conversations around your house.  Show them how to communicate with a spouse and how to interact with friends.  The ability to maintain and develop personal connections is an invaluable tool teens need in order to survive this culture.


As I mentioned earlier, respect for authority has dwindled in today’s climate.  Authority figures don’t garner the same respect from teens anymore.  But it’s not only those in authority.  We live in a pessimistic society where no person or topic is off limits to derision.  The ability to mock, ridicule, and sarcastically put down others is considered a virtue.  Thrust into such a hostile and negative culture, it’s no wonder our kids have a tough time nurturing a sense of respect.

So how can you climb into their world and help your son or daughter navigate this problem?  First, know what music, movies, TV shows and websites your child is interacting with.  The purpose is two-fold.  First, you can monitor what your child is being exposed to.  And second, you’ll be able to actively engage in your teen’s life!  When you sit down with them, you can intelligently talk about the storylines of a TV drama.  You can discuss the antics of current musicians.  You can understand the draw of popular video games.  You may even surprise yourself and start to enjoy some of these things along with your child!  And if kids find out that you know what you are talking about, you’ll earn their respect.

But if you say, “That’s a bad movie!” or “Don’t listen to that song!” simply because you don’t like it, your teen is going to see right through you.  Then it’s no longer a discussion of the merits of media; it becomes a generational debate between Elvis and Lady Gaga.

If you want to teach your teenagers respect, begin by respecting them.  Listen to their thoughts.  Ask their opinion.  You don’t have to agree with them.  And you may still put your foot down about certain movies, music, or video games.  But if you engage your children with respect, they will be more likely to listen to your rules.  And then, model what it looks like to respect others.  Speak respectfully of government leaders, even if you don’t agree with them.  And don’t lob negative character assaults against people.  I hear parents disparage celebrities all the time, then wonder why their teens turn around and mock and ridicule other people, as well!  To gain and teach respect in this culture, you have to model it well yourself.


Here’s the truth; teens love themselves.  A lot.  We have given birth to a “me-first,” narcissistic generation.  Many teens walk around believing that the universe revolves around their needs, wants and expectations.  They think, “Success doesn’t come because we earn it; success should come because we deserve it!”

Moms and Dads, correcting this narcissistic mindset begins at home.  We may have to change our own behaviors and attitudes towards our kids in order for them to change.  Does your life revolve around your teen?  If so, put an end to that today!  Stop doing everything for your child, and let them start figuring some things out for themselves.  Let your son make his lunch for school each day.  Put your daughter in charge of managing her clothing budget.  Give your kids chores and responsibilities around the house.  Don’t drop everything to chauffer them to the mall, or help them with an over-due school project, or fix a problem they got themselves into.  Parenting a teenager should feel more like coaching, and less like being a butler.

And then, as a family, volunteer to help others.  If your daughter thinks the world revolves around her, take her to the rescue mission to help out.  If your son thinks he is the center of the universe, encourage him to use some of his hard-earned cash to support local missionaries.  When you model this kind of service as a parent, and then ask your teens to get involved, they’re more likely to join you with a willing attitude.  And by serving others on a regular basis, they’ll soon sweat out any remnant of that narcissism that remains.

Teens may be from another universe.  But that’s simply because they are trying to live in a culture that is vastly different than the one we used to know.  As moms and dads, if we step into the culture with them, instead of standing on the sidelines shaking our heads, we’ll find that we not only understand our kids more, but we help them become better people.  Remember; change starts at home. With you.

You might wonder, why is this whole topic of “Navigating Your Teen’s Universe” so important?  It’s because in a world where “connections” and “respect” are missing, and “self” moves to the forefront, you, as a parent, might just be the last hope for your child.  I’ve always thought that it’s not my job to pass judgment on a world that seems to be a mess, but to help teens navigate through the challenges it presents in their life.  And, I’ve found that my navigation in their world happens best when I make a “connection” with them, “respect” them for the challenges they face, and become “selfless”, with the intent of helping them, not just forcing what I think they need to do.  Remember, kids change because of relationship, not because of my forcing a lifestyle upon them.

May the Word in you become flesh and dwell among your kids in such a way that you offer help, and hope, and light in the darkness of this teen culture that is far different from the one in which you and I grew up.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

Honesty and Respect


Every parent will eventually come face-to-face with two big issues in today’s teen culture: dishonesty and disrespect.  So on Parenting Today’s Teens Mark Gregston shares practical ways to deal with these behaviors in your child and provides tools to help your teen embrace honesty and respect.  A helpful conversation for every parent … on Parenting Today’s Teens.

Special Guest: Tim Kimmel

The Honest Truth About Teen Dishonesty

Merry Christmas from Parenting Today's TeensAlways tell the truth.  If you can’t always tell the truth, don’t lie. –Author Unknown

Have you ever told a little white lie?  Ever crossed your fingers behind your back when you did it?  One of the legends regarding that little act originated with Roman persecution of Christians. It was said that to escape death, those who lied about their faith in Christ, just as Peter did, made the sign of the cross behind their back to ask God’s forgiveness.  It seems that somehow, sign language would nullify the deceit!

The legend of crossing your fingers seems like a myth to me.  But what is not a myth is the fact that many teenagers today are making a habit of “crossing their fingers behind their backs.”  A recent Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, shows that 61% of teens admit to lying to a teacher about something important, and a whopping 76% admitted to lying to their parents last year.  Another study, this one conducted in Britain, indicates that an overwhelming 84% of teens said they’ve regularly copied information from the Internet and pasted it right into their homework.

But it wasn’t necessarily those numbers that shocked me.  What really rocked me back on my heels was that this recent study of American teenagers reported that while over 50% of teenagers admitted lying, cheating, or stealing within that last year, 93% of those same kids said they are “satisfied with their personal ethics and character.” In addition, 81% of those teenagers said that “when it comes to doing what’s right, they are better than most people they know.”

It would seem, sadly, that while dishonesty is taking a hold of more and more teenagers, they are blind to the fact that it is morally wrong. While it is in no way an excuse, we cannot overlook the way our culture glorifies all forms of dishonesty. I think we’d all be hard-pressed to name five unimpeachably honest public figures today.  Who hasn’t turned on the TV or read the news in which a politician, business leader, sports figure, police officer, teacher or even a judge — those people we look up to as role models — has been caught in a lie, or has had a scandal exposed?  And let’s not forget the explosion of popular, so-called, “reality” TV shows, whose strategy is usually based on deception and lying in order to gain a monetary prize or fame.  While we should stress to our kids that we are all accountable for our own decisions, it’s difficult to reinforce the standards of honesty in a society that seems to broadcast that dishonesty is the far better road to travel.

So how can we reverse those statistics, and help our kids embrace truth over the lies?

Monitor the Media

Due to its anonymity and ease, the Internet is often a place where dishonesty abounds.  Within the safety of the web, teens can speak or act out anything they desire, regardless if it’s the truth.  Parents should be realize that such web-based deception can spill over and fuel an attitude of dishonesty in other areas of a teen’s life, as well.

When it comes to the Internet, or other forms of media, I tell parents to follow their instincts. Even if there is no obvious cause for concern, they should keep a wary eye on their child’s online surfing and make it a policy to know all of their teenager’s web passwords.  In fact, I recommend parents install good monitoring software to track all of their teen’s Internet activity.  Knowing that mom and dad are monitoring will go a long way toward keeping the teen honest in what they see, do and say on the Internet.

Make it a point to discuss with your teen the values they see in movies, television, or music.  Though we cannot control all the input that our kids receive on a daily basis, we can use media opportunities to have discussions about life, morality and values.  After a watching a television program or movie, ask your child afterward, Why did that character act that way?  What do you think they were trying to gain?  Do you think they will ultimately achieve something by acting dishonestly?  What would you do differently? These types of questions can steer your child into interpreting what they see and hear in more honest ways.

Reduce the Pressure to Perform

Lofty academic expectations can put a lot of pressure on a teen to cheat. Holding kids to unnecessarily high achievement standards can often spur kids to achieve good grades at any cost. These looming stresses at school are more troubling for kids than many parents realize.  In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the stress to perform well in school keeps 68% of students awake at night.  With a lack of sleep, students have a reduced ability to think clearly and handle stress, so it becomes a vicious cycle.  As they fall farther behind, overwhelmed students may be tempted to cheat and lie their way to academic success.

If your child has been caught cheating at school, perhaps it’s time to bring the expectations down to a serviceable level for your teen.  Of course, we want our kids to do well in school, but we’d all agree that we want them to do so honestly.  It’s far better to have “C” student who came by their grades fairly, than an “A” student who was compelled to cheat because of unrealistic pressure at home.  By your words and actions, tell your children that grades and academic achievement don’t matter as much as honesty.

Don’t Avoid or Ignore the Problem

While dishonesty may seem like a minor issue in comparison to other problems like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and eating disorders, it is a vice that parents should not ignore. Dishonesty is rooted in an attitude of disrespect—disrespect for others, authority, possessions, family’s values, and disrespect for oneself.  If you ignore your teen’s dishonest actions today, you may have to deal with bigger problems later.  Deceit won’t go away with the mere passage of time.  It will reappear at significant stress points later in your child’s life—when they go off to college, get a job, or get married.  Getting away with lying, cheating or theft today can lead to a lifetime of dishonesty, and that can land them in real heartache in the future.

If you’ve seen dishonesty creeping into how your teen talks or acts, or if you’ve learned they have cheated or stolen something, today is the day to expose it.  Here’s how to deal with the problem properly.  First, briefly describe the dishonest behavior, so you both know what happened.  Second, tell your child how you feel about it and how it that action is neither wise nor moral.  Then, most importantly, affirm that you know they can do better.  Let your teen know that you believe they can change their behavior.  Give them the confidence to do what’s right.  After your discussion, have your teen right their wrong, including confessing to whomever was wronged from the dishonesty, cheating or theft.  Finally, enforce appropriate consequences and make sure they know that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future.

Also, be sure to model honesty yourself, and make it a habit to be truthful.  If you think you’ve hidden dishonesty from them in the past, think again. Teens are extremely intuitive and they can spot hypocrisy a mile away.  If you know you’ve been dishonest in front of your teen, ask their forgiveness, and give yourself some consequences for the bad behavior, so your teen knows how important it is to be honest.  Teens need some good role models in regard to honesty.  Live out Proverbs 8:7, and your teen will follow suit; I always speak the truth and refuse to tell a lie.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.