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The Battle for Control

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a fight with your teen, thinking:  how can we be seeing this so differently?  Why can’t my teen understand that I’m doing this to protect him?  

Often, when we argue with our teens, we are fighting for two different things.  Parents fight for protection.  Teens fight for control.

As a parent, we have a tendency to control our kids to protect them.  It makes sense.  We want to ensure that our kids have the best opportunities for life.  But in that protection, our high-control techniques keep them from exercising muscle that will actually strengthen their character in the long run.

It’s like getting a new car.  When you pull your new wheels into the driveway, it looks gorgeous.  It’s clean, sleek, and perfect.  And then, you drive it.  After you put on a couple thousand miles, it gets dings in the door and scratches in the paint.  The shine wears off.  You have the choice to keep the car in perfect condition, but you would need to keep it in the garage to do so.

The way we control our kids is similar.  If you keep them away from the world, they won’t experience the pain and hurt that normally comes with everyday life.  But keeping your kids isolated in the garage has an inherent problem:  someday they will be forced to drive out into the world.  Do you really want the first time your child gets hurt or makes a mistake to be when they are away from you?  Whether that’s away at college, or when their primary relationship is with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the mistakes they make will be a lot more costly if they aren’t in relationship with you.

Adolescence is about the transition teens make from childhood to adulthood.  In order to allow this to happen, they need to have opportunities to make choices in their lives.  Teens really want three things:  to make decisions about themselves, to feel like they’re in control, and to have opportunities to prove their maturity and to show you that they can do it.  It’s not a surprise that they want these things.  When your kids were young, they learned about growing up.  They used you as their model and formed their own hopes and expectations for adulthood on what they saw in you.  Now that they are teens, they are breaking away from having their identity tied so tightly to you as their parent, and because of this, they encounter this struggle for control.

As a parent, when you don’t allow your teens to have opportunities for control, they can respond with rebellious behavior.  Sometimes, they withdraw from opportunities.  They may become aloof or lazy and will just coast through life.  Other times, teens can fight for control through making choices without your counsel, or will intentionally rebel against how you have counseled them.  At some point, you aren’t going to be able to influence your teen.  Whether your teen is out of the area for college, the military, or a job, your ability to speak into your child’s life will decrease.  When this happens, what you have done up until that point will be the primary source of guidance that your teen will have to reflect on – so it’s wise to make the most of the time you have with them right now.

If you aren’t sure whether you are controlling your teen’s life, ask them!  Hey, I’m sure your son or daughter will be brutally honest when you simply ask the question.  And an open line of communication is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your teen.  Whether or not your teen thinks you are controlling, give them more things to be responsible for.  Think about chores around the house, and responsibilities they have in school or extracurricular activities.  Every piece of life is an opportunity to give your child a chance to grow his own ability to apply the lessons you have taught them.  If you are controlling every aspect of your child’s life, later on, they will not know how to respond to the things that life throws at them.

As you give your child more opportunities for responsibility, be ready to support them in both success and in failure.  Having your teen become more responsible may be exciting to you in the beginning, but if you don’t build that sense of trust between you and your teen that you will be there when they fail, the responsibility you give them will end up demoralizing and frustrating them.

With the right balance of responsibility and opportunity, your child can begin to build a sense of independence and character needed to transition from adolescence to adulthood.  On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we will talk to pastor and father of four, Joey O’Connor.  Joey shares his perspective on this matter and I’m confident you will appreciate his insight.

It’s hard to think about your teen growing up.  We like the young and innocent phase, and it’s a little threatening when our children begin to emerge as young adults.  At times, when your teen makes goofy choices or makes stupid mistakes, you will be tempted to seize control so that you can protect them.  The secret is finding a healthy balance to allowing freedom while building trust with your teen.

As parents, let’s do our best to stop controlling and start inviting our teens to greater levels of responsibility.  The rewards will be rich as we watch them develop into responsible and independent adults.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

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.


Modeling Kindness in an Unkind World

Our world is confusing place for kids.  Nearly every day, our sons and daughters are confronted by some form of bullying, disrespect and a complete disregard for authority.  These conflicting elements create an environment that makes it tough for teens to be kind.  It’s hard to be gentle and meek when you’re constantly fighting against cultural trends and peer pressure.

If you’re like me, you can still remember bad stuff that happened from your teen years.  I was bullied by a group of guys, and whenever the projector of my memory rolls the film on those ugly encounters, I still get emotionally wrapped up with anger.

As a parent, you might be the only authority in your child’s life to model how to engage in kindness.

Good parenting requires weaning our kids away from their childish dependence on us.  It’s a long process of gradually taking away the creature comforts we once provided in order to force our teen to begin operating independently from us.  Whether it’s drawing boundaries for them or coming to their rescue when something goes wrong, as they grow older, we need to employ an intentional plan for creating autonomy.

But when it comes to bullying, we need to take an active role of both protecting our teens and helping them understand the power of kindness and respect.

People in today’s society respond differently to failure than people have in previous generations.  One reason is because we have greater access to information now than ever before.  Technological advancement can be a good thing, but in this regard, it tends to be used for bad things.  When someone fails, whether that’s a friend, a politician, an actor, or someone else, failure is instantaneously broadcasted over the World Wide Web.  Any misstep, miscue, or hiccup can go viral in just a matter of seconds.  Facebook alone allows for one negative comment to be shared with pretty much everyone in your social circle.  This can be devastating for teens, and can cause them to lash out in a similar manner.

The benefit of these methods of communication, though, is that the same can happen with positive comments.  As parents, we have the power to teach our teens how to show kindness in all of their interactions – both online and in person.  The best place to start with this is in our home.  Mom, dad, are you treating one another with love and respect?  How are you showing kindness to the neighbors and others in your community?  How are you treating your kids when they come home from school?

When your teen comes home from school and lashes out at you, it’s generally not disrespect.  It’s spillover from their awful day because our kids don’t have a coping mechanism for what they experience on campus.  When they show frustration, the best way to respond is with respect.  Instead of shooting them down and correcting their actions, ask them to put words to their feelings.  The biggest mistake we can make as a parent is to somehow telegraph to our teen some form of shame for the way they feel.  We cannot change their feelings.  Feelings are feelings.

If your teen rolls his eyes at you, ask him if you did something that caused frustration.  Start a dialogue.  Find out what motivated your child to do something disrespectful, and in doing so, you will accomplish two things.  First, you will identify the root of the frustration, and second, you will model how to deal with conflict and frustration.

This doesn’t mean you are okay with your child showing you disrespect.  I’m not saying you need to become a doormat for your child’s vitriol.  I’m suggesting that you take a deep breath and try to drill down to the root of the problem without letting your own emotions escalate to a point where you cannot have a meaningful exchange with your child.

By showing genuine interest in the cause of their angst, you are surprising your teen with kindness and modeling how to have an adult conversation.  Teens won’t expect you to move closer to them when they act disrespectful to you.  They will expect your relationship to weaken.  But when you engage them in relationship by talking calmly with them, you continue the opportunities to teach them kindness by showing them kindness.

Be prepared.  When your teen finally opens up to you in a safe place, it won’t be easy to hear.  Parenting teens is rarely a tidy process and usually a messy one.

If they blew up and showed disrespect to you, all that pent up emotion came from somewhere.  When you successfully open up the lines of communication, your teen will take advantage of that open door in the future and they will begin to put words to their frustration.  Once they get these emotions off their chest, you can objectively talk about the root cause of their disrespect, and this gives you an occasion to describe appropriate ways to show their feelings to you.

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we’ll talk with Sam and Melody.  Sam’s experience with bullying throughout high school and middle school followed him as he moved from school to school many times.  Melody works at Heartlight, a residential treatment program, and she’s helped numerous teens work through their experience with bullying.  Melody will help us understand how to engage with our teens when they are angry and inconsolable, in order to model kindness and respect with our kids.

Remember, raising a child who is gentle and kind doesn’t mean we are creating a generation of wimps.  Real men show respect.  Real women are kind.  And a mature teen should never be the recipient, nor the perpetrator, of bullying.

Our teens are heavily influenced by the culture that surrounds them every day.  As parents, we have the golden opportunity to build a culture of kindness and respect in our home that will serve our teens for years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

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.


Setting Aside Traditional Parenting

Ever catch yourself using the same phrases your parents did?  In the heat of the moment, when your son or daughter is giving you fits, you find yourself mimicking the same stuff your parents used with you?  It sounds like this …

It’s my way or the highway!” … or …

Read my lips!  Are you listening to me?” … or …

As long as you’re livin’ under my roof, you’ll obey my rules!”

Oh, man, you can hardly believe it when these clichés spill out of your mouth!

There’s a reason why these parental edicts have become clichés.  Parents have used them for decades.  But in today’s culture, forced authority doesn’t get the results we want.  When we pull these tricks, our teens sometimes roll their eyes, sigh heavily and shrug us off.  Wielding our position of authority rarely impresses this generation.

And what’s true in the home is also true at church.  Tragically, statistics reveal that 85% of our kids are leaving church upon graduating high school.  They’re not engaging in structured relationships as we once did.  Something’s not working.  They’re not buying into our ideals and it hurts deeply when our sons and daughters walk away from the things we hold dear.

So, what’s the answer?  What are we to do?  Well, let me suggest that some of the traditional tools for parenting need to be retired.  We need to recalibrate our perspective and engage with our teens in a language, a tone, and a manner they can receive.

Perfection is Impossible

For starters, let’s resign some of our preconceived convictions and consider a new way.  For instance, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we employ certain tactics, our kids will emerge as responsible adults.  We can’t rely on that notion anymore.

The first thing that needs to be debunked is the fairytale that families can attain perfection.  Where did that come from?  No family is perfect.  So quit trying.  It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family.  Relax.  Deal with failures as opportunities to learn.  But don’t freak out every time your teenager makes a mistake.

When we set expectations in our home too high, it’s not long before our children figure out they can’t reach our standard.  Our good intentions for sinless perfection will surely backfire.  When things get tough or seem outside of their ability to attain, teens will eventually withdraw, rebel, or even run away.  They tap out.

Our pristine standards and our spirit of excellence may be genuine, but teens may see these ideals as an impossible goal.

If your child concludes they cannot possibly live up to your expectations, they have the option to turn to you as a resource and a source of relationship, or to turn away from you as a cause of their frustration.  This is the proverbial fork in the road.  They can turn toward you.  Or away from you.  The home can be a place of refuge or a place where impossible judgments are held against them.  If the latter is the case, they will turn to an arena that is less judgmental.  They usually take the road of least resistance.  Typically, this arena is the prevailing culture.  This could be their sympathetic friends, classmates, or even the input they get from the cynical media.  When our teens turn to these communities for relief, we lose the opportunity to speak into their lives.

In children’s early years, we create a perfect world for them.  Our kids respond to what we have to say.  We insulate them from consequences.  This would be okay, but then reality hits in middle school and high school when they realize that the world isn’t perfect.  Mom, dad, you won’t always be able to insulate your kids from pain, or even from the natural consequences of their actions.  Nor should you.  The role of a parent is to help your child grow up.  If their world is easy, they won’t need to grow up, and if they are perfect, then they don’t need a Savior.

Ultimately, it’s not what you do as a parent that counts.  It’s who you are that will help guide your teen.  At this critical juncture in a teen’s life, your relationship will be tested as never before.  Maybe you’re right at this crossroad today.  You feel like your teen is teetering on the brink of turning away or turning toward you.

Authority Can’t Be Forced

Today our teens have immediate access to information through television, social media sources and the Internet.  These avenues have unquestionably tainted their perspective on authority.  This is the game-changer in our culture, and parents need to accept the fact that we cannot control the barrage of influence coming from these sources into the hearts and minds of our teens.

Our teens have more information and faster ways of keeping up with what’s going on in the world than ever before, so they feel like there’s less for parents to teach them.  Their reality is entirely skewed and they react to this lopsided reality through their relationship with you.  Yes, you’re bearing the brunt of information overload from all these sources!  As a result, children think less of the authority figures in their lives, because they believe that they know better and that their understanding of the world through the media is truer than what their parent is saying.

Again, this is why it’s imperative to persist on developing an authentic relationship with our teens built on trust.  It requires time.  Patience.  Forbearance.

If you’re looking for creative ways to shift your parenting style toward a more productive outcome, or would just like to learn more about the changing culture and how it affects your teen, be sure to listen to a conversation we had with family coach, Tim Smith.  He’s one of our guests on the next edition of Parenting Today’s Teens.  The broadcast is a half-hour long, and you can find a station near you or simply download the podcast.  You can also find help by getting the Parent Survival Kit from Heartlight.  It’s a box that’s filled with time-tested resources for moms and dads, and it’s available at our web site:  www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

If you are in the Hershey, Pa come see us  at Milton Hershey School.  I will be speaking the evening of Feb 16th. The event is free. Go to www.paretningtodaysteens.org for more information or call 1-866-700-3264

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight Ministries, located in Hallsville, Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark at www.markgregston.com.