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Possibly the Greatest Teen Parenting Mistake

Well-intentioned parents, doing as they have always done to protect their children when they were young, often circle the wagons and marshal control when their teenager makes a mistake in judgment. Others keep their wagons circled all the time, never giving up any control to the teenager in the first place. Such parents then wonder why their teenager rebels against them or lacks maturity.

It’s natural for parents to believe that trouble can be avoided by keeping their teenager always in sight, by fixing their every problem, and by generally keeping them under their control.  But I’ve learned that teens mature quicker when parents take steps in the early teen years to give up some of the control they have over their teen’s life.

Learn to Let Go!

Do you have the habit of picking up the slack, covering all the bases, answering all the questions, solving all the problems, and making everything easy for your teen? If so, you might not be doing your teenager any favors. Instead, you may just be keeping your teenager immature, dependent and powerless.

If you want your child to grow up, and he’s reached the teen years, you may have to learn to let go. You may have to get out of the way. It boils down to one very simple concept — the best way to empower your teenager is to share the power you’ve always had over him, allowing him more and more power and responsibility for making his own decisions.

Hold Them Accountable

Responsibility becomes an internal life force when parents empower a child to make decisions, line out their options, define the consequences, and then let them choose.

If your teenager is fully capable of doing well, communicate that belief to him by giving him more freedoms. Fortunately, most teens want to take control of things in their life — so let them. As you back off, let your teenager know they will be given even more freedoms if they handle the first steps well. And make it clear that you will remain in the role of the enforcer of consequences, should they break the rules. Such consequences could include losing some of their newfound freedoms and losing some of your trust.

Then, let them make their own choices, and also let them bear the full responsibility for those choices. Line out their options, define the consequences for bad decisions, and then let them choose. Don’t rescue them by not enforcing consequences for their poor choices. And equally as important, don’t forget to congratulate and reward them for making good choices!

The Power of Empowerment

As you learn to let go, your teen’s expectations will shift away from leaning on you to run their life and fix everything for them (including their mistakes), to the understanding that they are the ones responsible for how things turn out. They’ll surely make many mistakes before they begin to understand what good decision-making looks like. And they may even try every trick in the book to get you to rescue them out of their poor choices. But don’t do it!  Hold them responsible, just as they will some day be held accountable as an adult.

Give Them Something to Be Responsible For

Teenagers don’t become responsible or learn to think more maturely by accident. They learn from being in situations where responsibility and maturity is expected and modeled. That’s why I highly recommend to parents that they get their child into a part-time job throughout the teen years, and particularly one that is service-oriented. Probably the biggest mistake of schools today is when they keep kids so busy with after school activities, that there is no time for a job in which teens can learn responsibility. Outside of what Mom and Dad are expecting of them, nothing can teach a teenager about life and making a livelihood than a job can, whether they need the money or not.  Kids who get their first job after they graduate from high school are at a disadvantage and have a lot of catch-up to do in the area of maturity.

The right job for just a few hours each week can be a perfect training ground for a teenager, teaching people-skills, money-management, time-management, and even helping the teenager determine what she does or doesn’t want to do after high school. Skills learned on a part-time job can also help the teen appreciate their education and encourage them to seek more education after high school so they won’t have to continue serving hamburgers, washing cars, or being a lifeguard their entire life.

When to Take Back Full Parental Power

Now, let me address the family dealing with a teen who is already spinning out of control or is addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or other harmful substances or behaviors. This situation is entirely different. In this day and age, a child choosing to self-destruct or to live a dangerous lifestyle could end up in serious trouble, or could even die. In this case, empowerment shifts back to the parent, who must intervene and retake decisive control, since the teen’s lifestyle is actually controlling the teenager at this point.

An old Jewish proverb says, “Don’t meet troubles half-way.” Give it all your attention now, or it could take more than you can give later. And you’ll be powerless when they become an adult.  Take whatever measures are necessary to ensure his safety and do it now. It is up to you to create a solution, such as counseling or substance abuse treatment. And you, too, will need to surround yourself with good counsel and a group of godly friends who are willing to pray with you and encourage you.

Then, with a plan in hand and with all the power you can muster, communicate this message: “Honey – we love you.  Nothing you do or say will make us love you any less, and nothing you do or say will make us love you any more.  But we are not going to live like this anymore. Since you are not making the right choices on your own, here is what will change in your life, as of today…” And then stick to your plan.  There’s nothing that will ruin your future ability to get such a teen back on track than to not follow through the first time.

Small Bumps Are Temporary

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things — I Corinthians 13:11 (KJV).

Maybe you are just having some small bumps in the road with your teenager. Let me assure you, most immature behavior is just that — immaturity.  They will grow out of it as they mature and as they come up against the consequences for wrong decisions.  And they’ll mature more quickly if you empower them to take on more responsibility for their own life.  Give them ample opportunity to make errors in judgment early on, when you still have some control over them in your home.

Letting go doesn’t mean backing off completely.  It simply means allowing the teenager to make more and more decisions on their own, and to have more and more freedoms.  When they make mistakes, or overstep your household boundaries, it is still a parent’s responsibility to dole out the consequences as a means of discipline, which will prevent them from making the same mistake again and again.  For that is how teenagers learn.

So, what have you done today to encourage and empower your teenager to put away their childish immaturity?

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.


Getting Teens to Grow Up

Remember Alice in Wonderland?  There’s one part of the story that finds a diminutive Alice trapped in a room where everything is bigger and taller than she is.  But there, at her feet, she finds a piece of cake labeled “Eat Me.”  After one bite from that questionable dessert, Alice grows exponentially, transforming into a full-fledged adult in the space of a few seconds.

I know many parents who would love to feed a bit of that kind of “maturity cake” to their own kids!  It seems that more and more teenagers in this generation are becoming stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence.  Instead of growing into healthy adults, a rising number of young people are prolonging their childhood.  In fact, the American Medical Association has recently increased the age of adolescence to 27.  That means we have a bunch of twenty-somethings running around behaving like kids!

No parent wants his or her child stuck.  Our desire is to see our kids develop into mature, responsible, and independent adults.  So how can we get young people to grow up?

Causes

Before we work to fix the problem, we first have to identify the cause.  Now, we could blame society for this generation of childish teens.  But here’s the honest truth—parents, the fault lies with us.  Young people will remain kids as long as we allow them to be kids.  When we entertain their every desire, cater to their every need, protect them from every threat, and fund their every activity, why would they ever feel the need to be mature or responsible?

Another cause for stunted growth could be related to how we communicate with our teens.  When we constantly criticize their behavior, we stop their decision-making processes and send a clear message that they can’t function on their own.  As they move through the process of maturity, remember to transition from lectures to discussions.  Parents; stop the constant correction of your kids!  I realize that sometimes they need it, but communication made up entirely of criticism can stunt a child’s growth.  If you want your child to grow into an adult, begin to treat him like one.  If your son or daughter makes a mistake and doesn’t always listen to your advice, that’s okay.  The consequences of bad decisions are often better than any correction you could give.

Solutions

When your child shows no desire to hold a job, move out of the house, pursue goals, or further her life, it’s time to ask some tough questions.  Are you giving too much and expecting too little?  Are you nurturing a child’s inner adult or catering to an adult’s inner child?  Though on the outside it looks like a maturity problem with your child, a teen stuck as a kid is really a family problem.  And it needs to be corrected!

Zookeepers know that you can turn a ferocious grizzly bear into a non-threatening stuffed animal by providing for their every need and limiting their freedom.  But don’t make that mistake with your teens.  Allow them opportunities to reach, grow, and mature, even if that means they make mistakes along the way.  We want our teens to survive in the jungle, not a controlled habitat at home.

Start by making a detailed plan of moving your child through maturity.  It could look something like this:

  • Age 13: Start washing his or her own clothes
  • Age 14: Pick up more chores around the house
  • Age 15: Get involved in helping others at church or in the community
  • Age 16: Get a summer job
  • Age 17: Be responsible for his or her own school career, including homework, tests, and activities
  • Age 18: Manage personal money, including clothes budget or gas

These are simply examples, but you can see that the goal is to slowly nudge your children to deeper levels of maturity and growth, and lovingly train them to stand on their own two feet.  Mom and Dad, start taking the emotional training wheels off your child’s bike early and often.  This doesn’t mean we can’t help him steer or balance the bike from time to time.  But we don’t allow our eighteen year-old to keep riding around on a tricycle!

No teen is past the age where you can teach maturity.  Maybe you have a 19-year-old living in your basement, playing video games and contributing nothing.  Now’s the time to take action and give him a big push in the right direction.  Announce that you’ll be charging rent next month.  However, maybe the first month you’ll cover half the payment, the second month you’ll cover a quarter, and by the third month you’ll expect a full rent payment.  The ramp-up will give him time to get on his feet.  Or make the decision that gas money, insurance, and clothing allowances are contingent on going to college or holding down a job.  Set the rules, then don’t give in!  Stick to your guns.  If you don’t do anything now, two years down the road, instead of a 19-year-old living in your basement, you’ll have a 21-year-old living there!  Make a decision to help your teen move forward right now, and put it at the top of the priority list.

Though the American Medical Association says that 27 is the new 18, we don’t want that to be the case for our kids.  It starts with us as parents.  Let’s take the initiative and begin offering our teens opportunities to nibble the cake that will help them grow up.  Stop the constant correction, take off the training wheels, and make a yearly maturity plan for your teen.  Use these tools to get your teen moving forward into adulthood.

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.


Ten Steps to Maturity for Teenage Boys

Fifteen is the age when a boy moves into manhood while still holding on to the boyish ways of childhood. It is a time when parents need to be extra vigilant to help him make it through the transition smoothly, and therefore not get stuck at this stage for several years.

Age 15 is when the your son’s thoughts and his expectations crash like ocean waves amidst a sea of change. It’s the end of one tide and the beginning of another.  At the very least, it’s an awkward season. Increased hormones, growth spurts, voice changes, muscles, and moving from concrete to abstract thinking all tend to make a young man feel a jumble of both invincibility and vulnerability.  And as a first step toward making up his own mind about life, everything you’ve taught him will be questioned.

This is a “convenient” time for a mom and dad to detach and drift alongside their teen as he is busier with extra-curricular activities at school and spends more time away from home. But this is no time for parents to back off. It is a critical and pivotal point of time where a parent can steer a son away from childish thinking and move him toward more mature thinking.

Your son needs to learn from you how to be respectful during a conflict, to be honest in the face of confusion, and to remain obedient in times of disagreement. It’s a time for some serious character-building. Sailing these waters can be a tough time for parents… but more than ever it is the right time to be available and to be firm.

So how do you go about making a smooth transition?

First, determine the “state of your child.” If things are already getting strained in your relationship, move toward them out of compassion, not frustration.  Approach the harshest situations with humility, but carry a big stick.  I don’t mean a big stick in relation to punishment, but I’m referring to your authority as a parent to set the agenda and to say “No” when you need to.

Parents today strive to be a friend of their children more than a parent. But as most soon find out at about age 15 when conflict erupts, they’ll wish that they had more of a “parent role” than a “friend role.” I’m here to tell you from years of experience that it is never too late to jump into the parental role, and trust me; there will never be a better time for boys than at age 15.

If you’re seeing behavioral problems, it is important for your son to know that you will stop at nothing to change the inappropriate direction he is headed. If you don’t know what to do, find help from others who have been there.  You can also contact our Families in Crisis Coaching Program where you can speak directly with one of our crisis coaches. For more information about that service, check out our website at www.heartlightministries.org/crisiscoaching/.

A parent will do well to start with the following list to-do’s beginning on your son’s 15th birthday:

  1. Ask your son to begin making more of his own decisions. “Where should we go to eat tonight? What would be good for us to do on our vacation?  What movie should we get this Friday? What charities do you think would be good to support?”
  1. Ask for his input or point of view.  How would you respond in this situation?  How would you discipline differently?  What you do think about what’s happening at school?
  1. Give him an opportunity to respond correctly. He may not respond to your giving him more responsibility appropriately at first. So give him another opportunity to get it right. Display empathy rather than judgment. The way you go about it is sometimes more important than the message itself. Remember, a gentle answer turns away wrath. How you respond to him will determine how he will respond to you. Be slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen, gentle, and humble, and give him another chance to respond correctly.
  1. Set clear boundaries. In times of trouble, don’t move away from your child, move toward him. Immaturity demands that you place boundaries around his inappropriate behavior. You may be thinking, “Well, you don’t know my kid and how he mistreats me.” I admit, I don’t. However, I do know that if you do nothing to rein in the bad behavior you see in your 15-year-old son, it’s only going to get worse, not better.
  1. Help your son learn how to say “No” by honoring it when he says “No.” This is another boundary issue. Honoring his boundaries will help him learn to honor others’ boundaries.
  1. Admit when you are wrong. Admitting when you are wrong will help your son understand that everyone makes mistakes, and models how to behave when mistakes happen.
  1. Shift control before you think he is ready for it. Yes, he will blow it, but he will also learn some valuable lessons from doing so, but only when you…..(see number 8).
  1. Force him to take responsibility for his decisions. Don’t say, “I told you so,” or, “I should have made that decision instead.” Allow him to figure out what he should have done instead, and force him to own up to the consequences of his choices.
  1. Encourage him in his good decisions. Point your comments toward his successes, not his failures.
  1. When your son responds with maturity and responsibility, then move him up to the next level. Expand the limit and expectations and expect him to meet new requirements. For instance: “Honey, I think it’s great that you have a job now. If you are willing to save your money, I will match it and help you buy your first car.”

I encourage you to take advantage of this time to help your son make a strong transition to the smoother waters of responsible adulthood.  Age fifteen is a great time to sail alongside him through the rough and tumble waters of adolescence. Thankfully, he won’t be 15 forever.

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.