fbpx

Pull Out All the Stops to Help Your Teen

For parents, there is no worse feeling than watching your child spin out of control while nothing you do seems to make any difference.  If your teenager’s behavior is giving you feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear, I would like to offer you some suggestions.

First, stop what you are doing and start a new way of thinking in regard to how you are handling the situation.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If your home is feeling a little “insane” these days, perhaps you need to change how it operates.

Start in a new direction by first talking to others, like your friends, pastor, youth minister, your parents, your child’s teachers, and the rest of the family.  You need to gain wisdom and a sense of reality regarding the situation.  Are you blowing it out of proportion, or perhaps not even noticing how bad it has become?  Is your teenager just acting out at home, or are they behaving even worse when away from home? People around you will know, and they can help you gain perspective.

Accepting the reality of the problem is difficult for some parents. They won’t acknowledge it because to them it would be accepting responsibility for failure.  Others tend to see just the good and believe no wrong in their children.  They are blinded to what everyone around them can already see; that is, until it becomes a full blown crisis or tragedy.  So when you come to a right “realization,” don’t hesitate to begin your search for a resolution by validating your suspicions with those around you.  They know what’s going on and will be glad that you finally see the light.

WHAT IS AN “OUT OF CONTROL TEEN”? An out of control teenager is one who doesn’t appear to have the internal ability to function within established boundaries and rules of the home or society. Their behaviors, if allowed to continue, could have dangerous or grave consequences for them physically, for their future, or for your family.

When it is Time to Act

I’m sure you wish this situation wasn’t at your doorstep.  But it is, so you have to act on your child’s behalf.  And no matter how lonely it might be, or how difficult it might appear; no matter what your child’s response, you must act quickly.

STEP ONE:  INVESTIGATE

It is critical to ask questions to get to the root of what is causing your child’s change in behavior.  Is he depressed?  Is he being bullied, abused, or using drugs or alcohol?   Has a major loss happened in your family recently?  Most of the time, parents find out way too late about underlying causes of a child’s behavior.  Communication is key at this time.  If the lines of communication are down, then re-establish them—forcing communication if need be.  Require time from your child to discuss how they’re doing before you pay their next car insurance bill, give them gas money, or hand over the keys to the car.  Determine to establish the lines of communication and make sure you ask lots of questions.

Find out how your child is acting outside of the home.  Talk to your child’s teachers and coaches, kids at church, your own parents, your siblings, their siblings, your friends, their friends, their youth minister and just about anyone who has had contact with your child.  See if they have any insights into why your child’s behavior has changed.  In fact, if your teen’s friends show up at your home, don’t be afraid to ask them what’s going on.  Some will be honest, as they might be just as concerned as well.  Just make sure you ask questions, and ask everyone to be honest with you.

STEP TWO:  SET BOUNDARIES

Establish and communicate clear boundaries for behavior by all members of your family (not just your wayward teen). Determine what you hold to be true and the principles upon which you will base your rules for living.  Communicate and live by these boundaries, rather than “shooting from the hip” every time something comes up.  Make a policy and procedure manual for your home, so everyone knows what to expect.  Spend some time determining how you want to live and put some feet to it to ensure that all understand those boundaries.

STEP THREE:  ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE CONSEQUENCES

Once boundaries are in place, there must be reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, and they must be enforced, or your credibility goes right out the window.  And keep in mind that they must be enforced for all members of the family, not just your teen, so they don’t feel singled out.

Parents today tend to be so relational that they find it hard to send a strong message to “not go this way” for fear of losing their relationship.  But what most parents don’t understand is that kids do want direction, correction and help in moving through the transition to adulthood.  Tom Landry once said, “A coach makes people do things they don’t want to do so they can get to a place where they do want to be.”  Parents must do the same for their children.

STEP FOUR:  GET OUTSIDE HELP

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  — Chinese Proverb

Perhaps your child’s issues are deeper and they’ll need professional counseling or medication to get through it.  And maybe you’ll need counseling to get through it as well.  Find a good Christian counselor that specializes in teen behavior, and trust what they recommend. If you’re going to pick and choose the counsel you receive, then you’ll more than likely just continue to do what you want, and your child will continue to spin out of control.  Don’t let old beliefs about medicine control your new decisions that have to be made for your child.  If your child is depressed or anxious, has ADD, or OCD, can’t sleep at night, is bi-polar, or has a true mental condition that demands medication, don’t let your outdated boundaries prevent your child from getting help from something that is essential to their well being.

Hospitalization may even be needed if you feel that your child is a danger to himself or herself.  Extreme cutting, eating disorders, bizarre behavior, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, or excessive drug or alcohol abuse are just a few of the symptoms that might warrant hospitalization.  Don’t hesitate to hospitalize your child just because you don’t know what it is.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

When Nothing is Working

In the event that your teen is running away or otherwise hitting bottom, and counseling is going nowhere, you may need to place your teen in a therapeutic program outside of your home for a time.  This is not the time to spend mulling over where your parenting has gone wrong.  It’s time for action, when your child could damage his life and possibly make choices with grave consequences.  After you’ve had time to get good counsel (hopefully from quite a few people) and you’ve had some time to think it through, start to put an intervention plan into action.

A therapeutic program or facility away from home will get them away from their peers, drugs and other influences. It will give the whole family a time of rest and regrouping.  It will offer the teen a fresh perspective and a concentrated, focused way of dealing with their issues. Yes, it’s a “last ditch” effort, to be initiated when all other options and attempts to help your child have been exhausted, but for some kids, it can be a lifesaver. Over the past 20 years, some 3,000 kids have come to live with us at Heartlight (www.heartlightministries.org) for 9-12 months at a time.  We work with them daily in a relational way to change their thinking and ambitions to more positive pursuits.

All therapeutic programs are not the same, and there is very little regulation or standards in therapeutic care for youth.  So do your homework. Check out each program’s professional references. Call the local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.  Get a list and call the parents who have had their child in the program recently.  If the program won’t allow you to call parents, then that may be a sign to look elsewhere.  And make sure the list they supply is made up of real parents, not just people trained to convince you to enroll in that program.

A therapeutic program isn’t an easy or inexpensive option for parents.  It can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  No doubt, it will be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make.  But one statement I hear from kids and from their parents over and over is this:  “If I (they) didn’t come to Heartlight, I think I (they) would have been dead or in prison by now.”

It’s a harsh reality to send a child off to be cared for elsewhere.  But that reality pales when you consider the possibilities or outcomes of your child’s current behavior and how such behavior could ruin his or her life.  What you are giving him or her is something that can’t be found in the current home setting.  You are loving them in a way that perhaps you haven’t loved them before.  It’s tough to think that they’ll have to miss some of their time in the local high school, and may never graduate there.  But it’s a good decision if it will save your child.

Don’t ignore what is happening in your family. Though you undoubtedly hope it will just go away, it won’t likely do so without a major change in the way your home operates, or placement of the teen in a therapeutic program away from home, especially if the behavior has already been going on for many months.  And if you think the problem will disappear when your child turns 18, think again.  It won’t disappear; it will likely get worse and linger well into adulthood if it is not dealt with earlier. Just envision the chaos in your home from having your teenager still living with you at age 35, either because they continue to be addicted to drugs or they can’t find a job because they were arrested and have a record. That’s a reality in more homes today than you might imagine.

Consider this…If God’s timing is perfect, and I believe it is, these issues are happening at this time in your life for a reason.  So take advantage of it, and do what you need to do. And know that this time of trouble will one day be over.  II Corinthians 4:17 states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  I would put an emphasis on “momentary.”  This struggle may last awhile, but it won’t last long – not if you take the necessary steps to correct it now.

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.


The Amazing Power of Grace

There was a young man staying at the Heartlight campus a few years back. He was generally a sweet kid—funny, well spoken and kind. But he didn’t deal with emotions well at all, especially anger. One day after coming back from school, he got so mad that he took a baseball bat and started beating on my truck! Then, when one of my dogs, Copper, came out to see what all the commotion was about, this teenager turned around and kicked my dog. I was furious. But I took some time to calm down before I spoke or dealt with the situation. I realized what this young man needed wasn’t a heavy hand, but a generous dose of grace.

Of course, he had to pay for the repairs to my truck and the vet bills for my dog. Or so I told him at the time… but gave in later. I let him know that I forgave him. I made a conscious effort to move towards this angry, young man, not away from him. It was not easy. Matter of fact, when I think about it I still get a little perturbed. And everything in me, in all honesty wanted to place my boot where he wouldn’t want it, and make him pay for every bit of damage to my truck. But grace made all the difference in his life that day. And it made a difference in mine that day as well. What fueled his outburst was that he had just learned that a sign was put in the front yard at his home stating “A Sexual Perpetrator Lives Here” because of his dad’s stupid and foolish behavior.   You know, that would have made me want to beat something and kick something. My truck and dog just happened to be the target of his frustration. I understood.

Grace has the power to change the direction of any teen who is struggling. Grace can bring healing and restoration to a home and redirect your teen’s path. A good definition of grace is undeserved, unmerited and unearned favor. In other words, grace is an act of kindness, love, and forgiveness in the face of bad behavior or poor choices. It’s not, “If you do this or that, then I will love you.” Grace is “I will love you, regardless of whatever you do.

But showing grace can be one of the toughest assignments for parents as it was for me that day, especially as kids reach the teenager years. How can a mom or dad discipline and enforce the rules of the home, while at the same time doling out hearty portions of grace? Let me give you some helpful tips.

Ditch Legalistic Behaviors

If you have ever said anything like:

  • “It’s my way or the highway!”
  • “You’ll do it because I said so!”
  • “As long as you live in this house, it will be done this way!”
  • “You will respect me; I’m your father!”

You may be a “rule-enforcer” rather than a “grace-giver.” If these phrases sound familiar, then it’s time to re-evaluate your speech and actions to incorporate more grace into your home. Ditch the legalistic jargon that frustrates rather than trains or guides your children. To give grace means communicating with teens why a rule is in place, what the consequence of breaking that rule is beforehand, and then allowing freedom in the areas that aren’t worth the battle.

Here’s a good example: When your teen received the golden ticket that is a driver’s license, you probably enacted a few rules regarding curfews, who can ride with them, and who is responsible for gas and insurance.  But did you take the time to explain why the 11:00 p.m. curfew is in place, or why everyone in the car has to wear seatbelts?  Just saying, “Do it, because I said so!” only tells your teenager that it’s the rules you’re concerned with, not their health or well-being. Rigid adherence to authority doesn’t teach or change kids. Grace does. Grace demonstrates you care more about them than you do about the letter of the law. Grace speaks volumes to the heart of a struggling child.

Stick to the Consequences

If there is one guarantee in all of parenting it’s this — teenagers will break the rules during their adolescence. In fact, if your child hasn’t broken a rule yet, check their pulse!  When lines have been crossed, teenagers need discipline. Giving grace in parenting doesn’t mean we allow bad behavior to continue unchecked. That’s not grace. That’s enabling or emboldening our children to keep up their bad behavior without fear of consequences. If we look at the example of Jesus, His offer of grace didn’t negate the law or the penalties of sin. Parental grace works the same way. Discipline and rules apply, but we don’t move away from our kids during that time.  We must move closer to them.

Let’s say your teen does break one of the car rules you have put into place. They roll into the driveway around midnight and try to sneak in, only to get busted by a creaky door or a barking dog. So you take away the license for a week (or a similar consequence). Now, showing grace towards your child doesn’t mean giving back the car privileges after a couple of days. But it does mean you go to them during their time of restriction and say, “Let’s go grab some coffee. I’ll drive!” or, “Want to go watch a movie, just the two of us?” It’s an intentional and consistent move toward the relationship, while upholding the penalties for breaking the rules. One of my favorite authors, Josh McDowell, once wrote, “Rules without relationships leads to rebellion.”  If I was to tweak this, I would say, “Rules without grace leads to frustration!

Give Grace, Even When It Hurts

I know that for some parents with struggling kids, showing grace is a monumental task. You’ve been hurt and wounded by your child, and though you still love them, you have a difficult time showing them grace. I understand. Grace isn’t easy. It’s extremely tough to give certain people something they don’t deserve.  It took a lot of willpower to extend grace about my smashed-in truck. But let’s face it — none of us deserve grace. If kindness was handed out on the basis of merit we’d all be in a heap of trouble! But Colossians 3:13 tells us to “be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else.  You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.

I know that grace is tough. But think back on all the grace you have received in your life, and pour that back into your child. In the midst of disappointment or even anger, let them know that your relationship is still important, and there’s nothing they could do that would you push you away from them. We are never more like Christ than when we give our teen grace in the face of a struggle. Yes, grace hurts to give sometimes. Yes, grace is costly. But in the end, it’s always worth it.

 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.

 


Confronting Inappropriate Teen Relationships

PARENT QUESTION: I suspect my teen is involved in inappropriate sexual activity.  Should I pry and spy into my teen’s privacy to find out for sure?

MARK’S ANSWER:  My answer is the same here as it is for any parent suspecting inappropriate behavior and poor decision-making in their teen – an unequivocal “Yes!”  And here’s how to deal with it…

Remember, for teens, violation of your family policies means automatic invasion of their privacy, until you are sure you know the whole truth.  While it is important to trust your teen, if you suspect something is happening and the warning signs are there, action is required.  Adolescents are capable of making poor choices, being deceived, and easily influenced in ways that could unravel your family forever.

Once you are sure of your child’s inappropriate involvement, let that truth sink in to your mind and heart for a few days before acting to deal with it. Don’t feel like you have to tackle the issue the minute you find out.   Pray and seek wise counsel in order to gain more understanding, and move into a mindset for dealing with the problem appropriately.   Patience will keep you from saying things you regret, or acting in ways that do more damage than good.  Take your time, and trust that God will give you His direction as you walk along the path of this conflict.  He’s doesn’t always give you an immediate answer, but He promises to not leave you while you are in the process.

Keep in mind that in today’s culture, teens see nothing wrong with all sorts of sexual behavior that parents would deem inappropriate or immoral.  And that includes kids in Christian schools.  You certainly don’t have to go along with it, but understanding why it might happen will help provide the right perspective during the correction process.  In other words, don’t automatically think your child has become a reprobate.  It may just be a phase she is going through, or it may be because of a loss in the teen’s life or her way of getting back at you for a breakdown in your relationship.

In any event, the issue needs to be confronted, and the sooner the better.  When you are ready and have the evidence you need, I suggest you set up a series of three meetings for the purpose of exposure, expression, and for discussion of your expectations.  Don’t talk about everything in one sitting.  These three meetings could take place over the course of a single day, or a few weeks. Whichever you choose, stick to the plan, and don’t let your child’s negative responses undermine the purposes for each meeting.

Meeting One: Exposure

The first meeting is to expose what you know, reveal what you have been told, and talk about what you believe is happening.  If both parents are present, then I’d encourage just one person to take the lead.   Some of the following statements might help give you some direction:

“Sarah, we have reason to believe that your relationship with a boy has moved into an unhealthy one.”

“Mark, we want to talk about the inappropriate sites you’ve been visiting on the internet and what you’ve posted on your MySpace page.”

“Kim, we’ve been told that your relationship with another girl has moved from friendship to a physical involvement.”

Exposing the fact that you know what is going on will hopefully engage her thinking in new ways.  It might be the wake-up call your teen needs, or it might open a Pandora’s Box full of problems.  Whatever the response, let your teen think about it and tell her that you want to get back together in a couple of days to talk again. Tell her “I want you to think about what’s going on, and we want to share what we feel and think.  But let’s do this in a couple of days.”

Revealing what you know begins the process of your teen realizing the truth is known and it won’t be ignored. Your child may respond in a number of ways.  She might get mad as she realizes that her scheme to keep you out of the loop isn’t working.  She might feel betrayed by friends or teachers.  She may get depressed, run out in embarrassment, act out in anger, or simply deny it all. She might hide in her room in shame.  Who knows?

Whatever the response, and whether she is yelling at you or sulking in her room, don’t be afraid to let her know of your love, your commitment, and your willingness to continue to be a part of her life.  That may be conveyed in words, whether written or spoken, a slip of a note under her door, a letter stuck in her notebook, a text message sent to her after a couple of hours.  There just needs to be some type of affirmation of your love for your boy or girl.

“Sweetheart, I want you to know that I love you just as much today as the day we brought you home into our family.”

“John, your dad and I are happy that we get to put things on the table and discuss where you are in your thinking.”

“Molly, we’re not going to stop loving you and want you to know that we will never allow anyone to take you to a place that you really don’t want to be.”

“Randy, we love you.”

Anytime a teen is caught, or their misbehavior is exposed; their greatest fear is that they will no longer be loved.   Saying these things, even if the response from the teen is negative, is an affirmation of your loving relationship.  At this point, your child needs reassurance, especially as you move through the process of helping them make healthier decisions.

Meeting Two: Expression

This meeting is the time to share how you feel about the inappropriate relationships.  Your comments might be similar to these comments:

“Suzie, we want you to know that we’re not in favor of this relationship and feel like it’s wrong.  And it’s wrong because it will take you to a place where you don’t want to end up.  Your future family will look so different than what we know that you want.”

“Joe, we can’t allow this to happen.  It is against what we believe for you, what we want for you, and what we think you want for yourself.”

“Amber, you know this isn’t right and we want to help you any way we know how, but there is no way that we can be supportive of this relationship.”

“Melissa, we love you, and love you enough to not allow you to walk down this path with our support.  We will have to stand for what we believe to be right; just as you are standing to believe what you think is right.”

This is the time to bring your feelings to the table, and hopefully, she’ll bring hers.  When you begin to share your heart with your child, I would encourage you not to preach or quote scripture.  She already knows it.  You raised her in it, and you live it. Scripture can be reflected in your comments without having to quote chapter and verse.  Your beliefs can be communicated without quizzing her with comments like, “You know what scripture says…”, or “What you are doing goes against God.”  While theses may be truthful, they may not be appropriate for this moment. Trust the Holy Spirit to impress these truths into your daughter’s thinking.  Try to draw your daughter into more discussion, without shaming or condemning. Be truthful and loving, and lead the conversation in a way that leads her to repentance and restoration; not in a way that drives her away feeling belittled.

Meeting Three: Expectations

Meet again for the purpose of sharing your expectations for this situation. I implore you to receive godly counsel before you enter this meeting, as the directives you give during this time carry great importance. This is a difficult discussion where you detail what you are going to do or not do, and how you are going to deal with the problem. You’ll notice the escalating intensity of your message:

“Alison, we can’t allow this relationship to continue, so we’re either going to ask you to control it and stay away from “x” or we’ll have to put some controls around you to protect you.  We want you to meet with a counselor to talk about all of this, and make sure you don’t head in a direction that is going to eventually hurt you.”

“Karl, your mom and I can’t allow you to go back to the same school because we feel you can’t break away from “x.”  It seems like he/she’s controlling you and you can’t think on your own.”

“Karen, we’ve tried counseling, taking things away from you, pleading with you, and hoping that things would turn, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening.  We’ve decided to have you go to a place where you can be protected and can also receive some help to get through this craziness.”

“Meg, you and I are going to get away for a while to talk, and spend some time thinking through all that’s been going on in your life.  I want you to plan on being gone a month.  This means no cell phones and no contact with anyone back home except Dad and your sisters.”

“Jimmy, we love you.  But we don’t support what you’re doing with “x” and if it continues, you’ll not longer be able to live at home.  We don’t allow living here and not adhering to our rules, beliefs, and principles.  You’re almost 18 and we can’t make you do what you don’t want to do.  But we won’t support this. As long as it continues, we will not support you at college, we won’t pay for tuition, and we won’t give you money for living expenses. You’ll be on your own.”  This isn’t our choice, but it is your choice by not supporting what we’re asking of you as long as you’re in our home.  We can’t support your lifestyle as your choices will only lead you to ruin, and we won’t have a part of them.”

This is the time to state exactly what you will and won’t do. You can tell from the volatility of the discussion why it is vital you seek counsel before implementing any new rules. I always suggest a strong response to this particular problem, as I truly believe that it demands one.

When you pose a strong response, be ready for a strong reaction.   Your refusal to support what your teen is doing means they won’t receive your full support while continuing to live a life that you disagree with. If they decide to leave home and live with a boyfriend or girlfriend, then still invite your child over for family dinner, birthdays, and holidays, outside the influence of unhealthy friends or inappropriate relationships.

During this difficult time, I also encourage you to surround yourself with like-minded parents, and engage your close family friends in this process.  Ask your teen’s friends to talk with him or her and share their concerns as well. The purpose in surrounding yourself with support and using friends to help carry the right message is to counterbalance the secrecy your teen has built into their life, and undermine the time spent with no healthy input. Parents in this situation also need fellowship with other believers who are willing to listen, and help carry the burden without judging.

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.