Teenagers Seeking Purpose

You want your kids to fulfill every bit of their unique purpose in life. When you first hold your newborn, the future and its possibilities flash through your mind. Will she be a doctor? Will he be a lawyer? I want her to do well. I hope he is like his dad.

As your children grow, you are able to direct their dreams for a while. Life is good. Then something happens. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, everything changes. The once amiable child is now a teenager and is no longer following your road map! He seems to have developed his own direction, forsaking what you had imagined for him. How did this happen?

As kids mature in the teen years, they begin searching on their own for meaning in life, a purpose for living, something that makes their life worth living. And that may not at all match what Mommy and Daddy thought it should be.

Why Am I Here?

One of the most important life questions your teen will begin asking and wrestling with is, “Why am I here?” or “What’s my purpose on this Earth?”  Without a purpose, life becomes motion without meaning; trivial, petty, pointless, and founded upon whatever the culture offers up as the latest “must have” material thing or “must do” activity.

“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder—a waif, a nothing, a no man.” –Thomas Carlyle

Pastor Rick Warren calls this pursuit for meaning the drive for purpose. In his blockbuster book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” Warren offers the answer; “You were made for a mission. You aren’t here just to wander around lost. And you aren’t here simply to live for yourself.”

I grew up in a time and home where people believed that God had a plan for each of our lives. I was taught that each person is as unique as the fingerprints stamped on their digits, and that God wanted a personal relationship with me.  I learned that I was uniquely created, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that Christ died for “me.” I was told that I was precious in God’s sight.

So, why are kids so lost today? Are parents no longer passing on these same values to their children? I am convinced that if more kids knew their purpose, they’d have fewer struggles in the teen years. They’d feel a sense of meaning; they’d know where they are headed and concentrate on getting there.

When I look back at my own life, my work, and my happiness about fulfilling God’s purpose for my life, I get excited all over again. It all started from a point in my life when I felt hopeless, lost, and not knowing where to turn. At that point I started asking questions about my own purpose in life, and I started listening to the answers God was giving me.

Showing Your Teen How to Find Their Life Purpose

A good place to begin the search for purpose is to understand that purpose is woven into every strand of the fabric of our lives. It has to do with God-given talents, the experiences in our life, and those things which give a person “goose bumps” or a tear to their eye when they think about them. Moreover, purpose has to do with using those talents to serve God and others, not one’s self.

“Between this day and the next you will give your life to something. The decision on what that will be will shape your destiny.” –Rick Warren

So, has your teen ever taken stock of their talents and gifts? Are they a great talker, or a great listener? Are they skilled at building things, or are they good with people? Is their talent more cerebral or more physical? I suggest they make a list of the things and activities that interest them and those in which they excel. There are a number of places on the Web that they can take online Spiritual Gifts Tests. They can also ask themselves, “What’s the one thing that I do better than others?” This can clue them in to their God-given purpose.

The gifts God gives us need to be tested in fertile soil, so it’s important for a teen to get a wide variety of experiences.  As they do so, certain talents will sprout and blossom, others will wilt and die. Through these new experiences, God will reveal more about who they are and how God has called them to serve Him and others. One experience can literally change their life.

Unlike the Field of Dreams premise “If you build it they will come,” teenagers shouldn’t get stuck on developing just one purpose, even if for the moment they are convinced it is their true purpose in life.  It is far better that they continue to experience new things. So, a better plan for finding life purpose is, “As they experience it, it will come to them.”  And keep in mind that they may have difficulty finding their purpose in the classroom or from books. So a parent should provide plenty of “field experiences” for their teenager.

Take a Simple Life Purpose Exercise

For teens (or parents) who have already had many experiences in life, and are still confused about their purpose, here’s a good exercise. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write at the top, “What is My Life Purpose?” Then, have them begin writing answers. They should write any answer that pops into their head. It could be a word or two, or a sentence. Repeat until they write the answer that makes them cry – obviously not a sad cry, but a joyful one. Yup, if it makes a tear come to their eye, then it’s a sure bet that this is their purpose, or at least associated with their purpose. They should do it in private and without any accompanying music or other distractions. It may take 100 or even 200 lines of potential “purposes” to hit the one that makes a tear come to their eye, but encourage them to keep at it until they do.

Helen Keller said it best, “Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

When God begins revealing their purpose, remind your teen that it may not be reached tomorrow, next month or even in logical steps. Instead, they may need to take some initial steps to get there and there may be detours along the way. But knowing the destination will help them build strength and courage to get there – often much more than we might expect they’ll have.

It’s a Lifelong Journey

Finding purpose is a lifelong journey. God doesn’t give all the details at once, nor does He promise it will be a smooth ride. Instead, He often provides just enough information to help us move another mile down the road. It helps us to trust Him as our Navigator. As you progress along the road of your life’s purpose, pay attention to the road signs He provides along the way and listen to Him speak to you.

Nothing matters more than your teen knowing God’s purpose for their life, and nothing can compensate for not knowing it. Knowing their purpose gives meaning to their life and each step along the way. It motivates them to prepare for their purpose, to save themselves for that purpose, and to avoid anything that might get in the way. Knowing their purpose simplifies their life and removes confusion.

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” –Robert Byrne

On the other hand, without a clear purpose, they have no foundation on which to base decisions, allocate their time, and use their resources. Without a clear purpose, they’ll keep changing directions, jobs, relationships, churches, or other externals—hoping each change will settle the confusion or fill the emptiness in their heart.

The Comfort of Knowing God’s Purpose

Isn’t it comforting to know that God has a bigger purpose for each of us? If you believe it, then step in front of a mirror and look for areas in your own life that need to grow. Perhaps you’re not following your own heart in finding God’s purpose in your life.  Aim this year to make some changes – with God’s help.

“A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.” –Proverbs 11:28 (The Message)

As for me, I stand on His promises, I’m assured of His presence, I love His involvement, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am living in the center of His purpose for my life.

“What’s my purpose?” is probably the most important and empowering question you or your teenager will ever ask in this lifetime. So help them uncover their talents, their strengths, their values, and their passion. Help them experience new things and develop a plan – any plan, even if it is just a first step. Find ways for them to live life with intent. This year is a great time to help your teen – and maybe even you – begin a quest for purpose.


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.


Five Skills Every Parent Needs to Have

Five Skills Every Parent NeedsWhether it’s Gilligan and the Skipper fashioning canoes out of coconuts or tales of explorers in the jungles of South America fighting off panthers, stories of survival are extremely fascinating.  And let me tell you something; watch enough survival stories and you’ll start to pick up some handy tips.  For instance, I now know how to make a workable compass out of a metal button, a blade of grass, and a pool of water.  I also know how to deliver a baby in a taxicab (hopefully, I will never have to put that skill into practice).  But it’s survival skills like these that make the difference between life and being eaten by a bear.  If you have these tools and know how to wield them, you can survive any challenge that comes your way.

Parenting a teenager can feel like you’re stuck in a survival story.  There are sand traps, pitfalls, and ferocious animals, and the farther you travel through the trial, the more lost you can feel.  That’s why every mom and dad needs to load up on five skills that will not only help them endure the perils of adolescence, but make their family thrive in the process.  These abilities are by no means an exhaustive list. But after decades of working with and ministering to teens and parents, I’ve pinpointed five key abilities that spell the difference between a family that survives and thrives, and one that is barely hanging on and looking for the rescue copter.

Know What You Believe

Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders in history, once said, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  To survive the perils of the teenage years, mom and dad need to know what they believe and plan accordingly.  You can’t wait till your daughter is standing at the door with her boyfriend to decide what the dating guidelines will be for your home.  Why wait until your teenage son sleeps in on a Sunday, to tell him that he has to attend church?  A primary skill in parenting is sitting down, discussing, and developing your beliefs about the various issues you’ll encounter with your teenagers.  Sooner or later you’ll have to deal with concerns about music, dating, schoolwork and finances, to name a few.  Planning ahead allows you to communicate guidelines to your kids early and often.  Then, when the issue comes up, everyone knows the rules and expectations for the home.

Know How to Communicate

Every parent of a teenager needs to be equipped with the skills of communication.  Now, some moms and dads may argue and say, “Well Mark, I am just not a very talkative person.” But here’s the reality—There’s no excuse for not communicating with your child.  Talking and conversation is necessary in reaching, teaching, and training your teenager.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re not a chatterbox, because it’s the quality, not the number of words that counts.

So how do you know if you are really communicating effectively with your teenager? Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are you conversing with your teen more, and lecturing less?
  • Are you asking good questions, instead of supplying your own answers?
  • Are you giving your teenager a chance to speak, or are you dominating the conversations?

If you answered “yes” to the first half of each question, congratulations!  You have, and are using, the skill of good communication.  But if you answered “yes” to the second half of these questions, that’s all right.  You just need to develop your communication with your child.

You can start by asking thoughtful questions like, “What is one thing about you that you wish I understood?” Or “If you could change one thing about me, what would it be?”  It may be difficult to listen to your teenager offer an honest opinion of your parenting, but hear them out.  Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to grow into the parent your child needs, instead of being a parent your child eventually tunes out?  Listen to what they are saying, engage them in conversation often, and give them a chance to speak.  This skill will strengthen your relationship with your child and help you avoid many of the pitfalls of adolescence.

Allow Mistakes

Here’s a guarantee; your child will make mistakes.  If they don’t, you either don’t know about their slipups, or they may not be human!  That’s because we all mess up, especially teens.  But a necessary skill for every parent is grace.  It’s allowing your child to make a mistake and learn from it, while still supporting and encouraging him.

When a teenager screws up badly, it’s tempting to toss them in their room, throw away the key, and only let them re-enter to society when they turn 35.  But look at it this way: Often, the consequences of a mistake make a better teacher than any lecture or advice we can give.  And if we don’t allow our children to make mistakes, we are essentially telling them that perfection is required in our house.  And who can live up to that standard?  So allow for slipups, errors, and mistakes in your child’s life.  When they happen, don’t rub it in or say, “I told you so” and pack on the guilt.  Give your teens the chance to pick themselves up, dust off, and try again.

Have Fun

Parenting is hard.  There’s no way around it.  But just because your family might be going through a rough spell, doesn’t mean you have to turn your home into a funeral parlor!  Mom and dad; you need to the skill of humor to make it through adolescence.  I’m sure the gaping hole in the drywall from that living room wrestling match didn’t look so funny when it happened.  But develop the ability to laugh, make jokes, and see the fun in parenting.  The wall can be repaired, but the emotional damage of an uneasy or tense home is not easily fixed.  The atmosphere you create in your home is a magnet for your kids that can either draw them in or push them out the door.  So make your home a place where laughter is encouraged, joy is found, and fun is had regardless of the circumstances.  Use humor to sidestep some of the pains, hurts and disappointments of parenting, and you and your teen will be happier for it.

Vocalize Love

This skill can be especially hard for dads.  We show our love through our actions and in how we care for our families.  But teens need to hear how much we care for them.  They need the words of love to come directly from our mouths.

There’s a saying that I repeat to my kids often, whether they are in my home or at Heartlight; There’s nothing you could do to make me love you more, and there’s nothing you could do to make me love you less.  Go ahead a make that a motto in your home, as well.  I don’t mind.  This kind of safety net of love is an absolutely essential parenting skill.  It’s amazing what you can survive when unconditional love is the foundation in your home.

Maybe you don’t have all five of these skills fully developed yet.  That’s okay.  It means you’re normal!  We’re all in the process of growing and maturing right alongside our teens.  So allow yourself some grace in these areas.  Parenting is an ongoing process, but the steady practice of these skills will have you surviving the pitfalls and snares of adolescence and coming out the other side in one piece.



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

Skills Every Parent Needs


What are the essential skills every parent needs to raise healthy and happy kids?  Listen to Parenting Today’s Teens this week, when Mark Gregston shares a realistic list of tools that should be in every parent’s toolbox!

Special Guest:  Dr. Robert Epstein