Could You Be the Prodigal?

Could You Be the Prodigal?In a world where parents indulge their kids with everything they want, it would seem that these kids would be especially grateful.  Instead, a generation has become selfish, self-centered, and unprepared for real life.

A dictionary definition of a “prodigal” is “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.”  You may think your teenager is acting like a prodigal these days, but have you considered that according to this definition, you may be the prodigal yourself?

Many parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their kids. Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that.  The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids.  Unbridled spending on kids can lead to selfish attitudes and feelings of entitlement on the part of the teen.  And such kids are in for a rude awakening when real life comes calling.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m giving my child what I lacked as a child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager.  In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity.  It can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults. In other words, spoiled kids later become spoiled adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give.  But they may want to keep it in check to prevent the kind of damage that I see every day in some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program.  For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

The biblical story of the Prodigal in Luke 15 wonderfully illustrates such a turnabout in thinking for a pampered, selfish child who suddenly faced the realities of life.

In Luke 15:12 the son in the story says, ”Father, give me my share of the estate.”  For whatever reason, this young man had a “give me” sense of entitlement that was pretty demanding. It was probably because he never had a need for anything for as long as he had lived. The family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away.  But he had soon spent his entire inheritance, all of it, on riotous living.  What a great lesson in finance!  Though he was given so much, he lost it all in a very short period of time.

Then, half-starved and thinking that his gold-digger friends would help him out in his time of need, he found out differently.  In Luke 15:16 it says, ”…but no one gave him anything.” Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or just fed up with him, their denials told him that he needed to do something different from now on, or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…”  He saw the light.  When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he faced some pretty important decisions in his life.  It helped him realize his predicament and he quickly discovered what life is all about, perhaps for the very first time.

The point is…it took a very traumatic experience for him to come to his senses.  Before he could get past his prodigal mindset, he had to hit rock bottom.  Then he finally began thinking more clearly about finances and about the basic necessities of life.

Could you be the one responsible for your own teen becoming a prodigal?  Moreover, could you be the one acting like a prodigal yourself?  You are if you are catering to your teen’s every financial want or need without teaching them the value of work and how to wisely manage their own money.  Perhaps it’s time to take a look at your finances and begin to limit your giving to your teen, before it contributes to them becoming a prodigal.

By the way, a good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need.  Take them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line.  Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week.  Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing.  When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves), how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, you may want to shift gears to lavish upon your kids every good thing they need in life, not everything they want.  One good thing they desperately need is to learn how to make money and manage finances on their own.  They’ll have to go without all the goodies you’ve financed in the past, but it’s a lesson they’ll thank you for one day.

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

Teaching Your Teenager How to Handle Money

Teens and Money“Make all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.” ~ John Wesley

In order to figure out the wisdom God really wants us to remember, a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to how many times that issue is mentioned in Scripture.  And when it comes to handling finances, there are 2,350 verses in the Bible on the topic!  Discussions about money and possessions comprised close to 15 percent of what Jesus taught.  Obviously, the proper handling of money is a big deal.

If dealing with money wisely is important to God, then it should be important to us, as well.  When I speak to parents, there are very few things I tell them that they need to do.  But teaching kids how to handle money is one of them.  In the face of a broken economy, an entitled generation, and fractured marriages as a result of financial troubles, teaching the next generation to make, save and give money is a crucial task we can’t afford to ignore.

So where do we start?  And what are the tools we can give our kids to help them handle their financial futures?  It starts with one of my favorite quotes from John Wesley:  “Make all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.

Make All You Can

You can’t teach your teenagers how to handle money simply by giving it to them.  Now I know that as parents, we naturally want our kids to have good things.  And since a teenager can’t always buy certain things on a part-time job’s wages, we’re ready to step in and open up our wallets.  Or maybe our teens are so tightly scheduled with extra-curricular activities, getting a job and earning money is out of the question.  So we hand over cash for everything they need, thinking that we are helping their future.  But the truth is, we’re not.

Let’s be honest.  Most kids will not turn out be soccer stars or world-class ballerinas.  But they will always be dealing with money in one way or another.  The extra sports and classes on the weekends may be great for teens, but if those activities get in the way of teaching them how to make and handle money, we are doing them a huge disservice.  Worse yet, when parents buy everything, teenagers can develop an entitled attitude and a stunted understanding of money.

So start teaching your kids how to make money early.  There’s nothing wrong with giving your child an allowance every month.  But let that money be tied to work, whether it’s regular chores around the house or small projects outside the home.  If you child asks for help funding a birthday gift or a trip with friends, assign extra duties and responsibilities so they can earn it.

When teens get older, decrease their allowance and encourage them to find a job to supplement their income.  Let them pay for the car insurance, gas and maybe even clothes.  It might be hard to see your child go without once in a while, but on the other hand, you are giving your teen a sense of control and responsibility over their lives.  And that is worth far more than anything you can buy for them.

Save All You Can

There is no doubt it is important to teach teens how to make money.  But it’s equally important to instruct them on how to save money, as well.  And this lesson on financial responsibility only comes by first modeling it yourself.

Someone once said, “I inherited my financial ability from both my parents; my mother’s ability for spending money, and my father’s ability for not making it.”  As a parent, you know that kids will watch and pick up on your habits—good or bad.  So teach them how to handle money wisely by demonstrating those principles in your home.  It might be something as simple as having a coin jar on top of the refrigerator where you collect all your loose change at the end of the day.  You can also set up a family vacation fund where family members contribute money each month.  As it grows, announce the totals to show how close you are to that trip to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon.

It’s also a good idea to show your teenager how you budget each month.  I know some parents who wanted to show their kids how a household budget is conducted, so one month they took their paychecks, cashed them, and dumped all the money onto the kitchen table.  Their kids’ eyes got huge as they gazed at that small pile of wealth sitting right in front of them.  Then my friends started counting out money toward the different bills for the month.  They took out the mortgage payment, the car payment, school tuition, the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill, insurance, church tithes.  The pile of cash on the table got smaller and smaller, and their kids could physically see how the family money was spent each month, and the amount of cash that was left over.  What a great illustration for a teen on the value of budgeting!  They were able to see where the family money went, and the importance of saving for a rainy day.

Give All You Can

Along with budgeting, show your kids how to give.  We can teach our sons and daughters how to make money and save money, but if they don’t learn to be generous, their character will suffer.  So start the process by letting them see you write a check and put it in the offering plate at church.  Ask their opinion on what charity or organization you are going to give to that month.  When teenagers have a hand in making decisions, not only will it teach the value of giving back, but it makes them care about that choice all the more.

If you give regularly, there is no reason your kids can’t do the same.  With pre-teens, tell them to set aside a fixed amount of money from their allowance each month to give to a charity of their choice (and it can’t be the “Buy-myself-a-new-iPod fund).  When teens get a job of their own, make it a requirement that they regularly contribute to a charity, whether it’s church, missions, children’s hunger fund, save the rainforests—any charity will do, just as long as they are learning how to be generous.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that handling money wisely is one of the most important principles we can teach our kids.  It’s something they will be dealing with their whole lives.  By giving our teens the tools they need to make money, save money, and give money, we are providing them with one of the very best resources for a successful and meaningful life.



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.