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Helping our Teens Make the Grade

I didn’t excel in academics while in high school.  Academics just didn’t mean anything to me because I was more preoccupied by social interacting and my sport of choice, swimming.  Posting good scores on my report card was for others to do; I was too busy.

After flunking out of a semester in college, I finally began to grow up and take school seriously.  In fact, I actually began to flourish in college.

Then I became a dad.  And when Jan and I had our two children, my whole perspective shifted.  We want nothing more than to see our kids excel in school.  We want them to succeed.  And when they’re in grade school, middle school and high school, the only gauge for objectively measuring their success is in academics.  We take their report cards very seriously, don’t we?

The Balancing Act

Our teens are faced with a balancing act every day.  Every day is a performance.  Not just in the classroom, but in the hallways, too.  Adolescence is the season when our kids learn to build healthy relationships.  Have you ever seen your son or daughter’s calendar or the number of “friends” they have on Facebook?  They are hard-wired for relationship.  But the balancing act gets difficult because as kids become more connected socially, they tend to become disconnected academically.

Parents, this is often where we make our biggest mistakes.  When relationships overpower a child’s focus on schoolwork, we sometimes see the grades begin to slip.  Incomplete assignments, poor exams, missed deadlines … these are all red flags.  And for some of us, we tend to overreact.

If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your teen, then stepping in and helping your teen get back on course can help.  But if the relationship has become weakened, or if it seems like your relationship with your teen is more about his academic performance than who he is—it’s a recipe for conflict.  Lots of kids find themselves pushed into this corner and they decide to push away from academics altogether.  The harder you push, the less your teen wants to have anything to do with you.

Once a teen loses ground in their studies, it gets harder and harder to catch up.  With every grade that goes down, the student loses the knowledge that they will need to raise those grades later on.  And at that point, it becomes a downward spiral.

Finding Connection

Parents, I understand that you want to engage with your teen.  When you feel like there isn’t a hobby or extracurricular activity that you can use to connect with your teen, many parents turn to academics.  But academics is a risky place to have as a sole connection.

Schools are designed to value academic achievement.  Families are designed to value people.  If these roles are switched, then we may see our teens looking to their peers to find their value as human beings.

Any encouragement for academic growth should be couched in the arena of relationship.  Parents, it’s healthy to allow your teen to assume responsibility for his or her grades.  It’s not up to you whether your teen graduates.  It’s up to your teen.  You can support them as much as you can, whether that’s through providing tutors, study materials, or just being available for questions when they come up.  But, if you put too much pressure on your teen to get good grades, they can respond by becoming an underachiever (ignoring school or just getting by), or an overachiever (spending too much time on schoolwork and overemphasizing their quest to get good grades).

Our teens are already facing a lot of pressure.  School puts pressure on our kids.  They face pressures to fit in with other kids.  They are transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  They are in a heavy season for defining their identity.  And they are continually assaulted with images of what our culture says is perfection.

It’s hard to be a teen right now.  And our kids want to take advantage of this time to discover who they are and to be guided and molded.  But sometimes, our encouragement and guidance may sound like just another pressure.  As a mom or dad of a teen, we need to be very careful on how much pressure we apply to their academic performance because it might be our pressure that pushes our kids right over the edge.

So, how should we cope with their failures?  This is the hard part.  We naturally want to step in and rescue a child from academic failure.

Try not to shame them or chastise them if they fail.  Instead, encourage them in the things they are doing well.  Our role as parents is to help our kids know their role in their own life and to help them become acquainted with their God-ordained personality.  We know that we have succeeded as parents if we have helped our children grow up and become independent.  As hard as that is, that means breaking away from us.

On the upcoming broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll be talking about this subject in-depth.  And from another perspective, I’ll talk to a high school guidance counselor, Wendy Mattner of Harvest Christian Academy, to hear her thoughts for moms and dads.

Healthy parents give their kids a chance to live, to succeed, to fail, in a safe environment.  We provide a safety net for our kids, so that they know that they can turn to us when they fear failing.  We can encourage them to do well, but if they fail we need to be ready to rely on the relationship we’ve built.  A relationship built not on scores, but on each person’s inherent value.

 

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


When Christmas Joy is Overshadowed by Struggle and Pain

prodigalWith Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably thinking about last-minute shopping or getting your final preparations done.

And then, maybe once those pressing to-do’s are complete, and Christmas is in the rear view mirror, you’ll have a few quiet moments to yourself when you can reflect.  How was the year?  What went well at home?  What didn’t?  What conversations, or conflicts, do I wish I could erase from the year?  And what’s ahead in the new year?

There’s something about the Christmas season that puts us in a nostalgic reflective mood.  It reminds us that God is with us.  It gives us a sense of hope.  But for many people, the holidays stir up all kinds of raw emotions that remind them of their weakness and loneliness.

Reflection Can Bring Pain

At Heartlight, Christmas is a time when we often see a new batch of kids arrive at our residential program.  These kids are in pain.  They have been dropped off by their parents and we often find these kids feeling a mix of anger and failure.  Every family that we see at Heartlight is going through some kind of difficulty.  Christmas is anything but merry to these people.  They are in pain and don’t know where to turn.  And so they have come to Heartlight for help.

When teens begin to act out and express their issues in rebellion and destructive behavior, it places incredible pressure on mom and dad.  It’s a confusing and painful time for the entire family.  Especially when we feel like we’ve done everything right.  We’ve read all the books, followed all the guidelines for happy homes, and yet our kids are struggling and we can’t figure out why.  And we say, Wait a minute!  I’ve checked every box and done what I’m supposed to do.  Why am I not happy?  Why are my kids messed up?  

Owning the Struggle

Allow yourself to struggle with these issues.  Struggle isn’t a bad thing!  It’s important for your kids (and for you) to live with the struggle for a while.  Just because you’ve checked the boxes doesn’t make you a perfect parent.  And you’re not going to be one despite your good intentions.  All of us have fallen short in our parenting skills in some way.  But you can learn to struggle well.

The struggle gives us the answers we need.  Answers will eventually emerge from our confusion if we allow ourselves time to wrestle through the difficult issues.  Instead of filling the holes in our lives with the latest fad on parenting, an oversimplified four-point outline, or shallow advice from well-meaning friends, we need to be okay with the void in our life until we realize that it can only be filled by a relationship with God.

Life is hard.  It is a struggle.  That’s the point.  If we think that we filled the hole with something we did, like a clever parenting strategy or a one-size-fits-all program, then when it fails, we’ll think that we have failed.

The jigsaw pieces of your life will not always fit together like a scenic puzzle picture.  If it does, and we think it does, then we’re on the wrong track.  If there is something in your life that feels okay and perfect, then chances are you are filling the void with something that only God is supposed to fill.

Being With Our Teens in Their Struggle

Depression runs rampant this time of year.  It’s odd that it’s the most joyful time of the year for us as Christians, but for many teens, it’s among the most painful.  When the culture tells us it’s time to be joyful, we can disengage from sons and daughters who are in pain.  When we disengage from our kids, we tell them that they aren’t worthy.  They aren’t worthy of entering into the pain they’re feeling.  They aren’t worthy of working through the problem with them.  They aren’t worthy of the time it will take to engage with them.  If we walk away from their struggle, we tell our teens that they are only good if they are being and feeling good.  There’s something desperately wrong with that notion.

When we telegraph to our kids that they aren’t worthy of our attention, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.  Parents feels like they’re doing something wrong because their kids aren’t okay; the kids feel like they’re alone in the time when they need you the most.  It’s not okay to tell people that everything is okay.  Somewhere we’ve lost the perspective that it’s okay to not be okay.

Christmas:  God’s Response to Our Struggle

When things aren’t okay, we are forced to look to God.  That’s what Christmas is about.  Parents, God sent His Son to fill that empty place inside of us.  In the middle of the struggle, there are a lot of families who are having a wonderful time because of the hope of Christ.  They know that God has given us something to bring these broken pieces together.  Things aren’t always fixed this side of heaven, but we can have hope that the pieces will eventually come together.

Don’t let the sadness and frustrations of the year rob you of the celebration of what God is doing.  Through the first Christmas, God offered His Son to be involved in our life.  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God told us that He is with us, and He will always be with us.  God is calling us to do the same with our kids.

The Bible helps us enter into the suffering of our family.  There is a path, a way to find joy in the midst of our pain.  That path is not what you might expect.  That path is lament.  Popular recording artist and Bible teacher Michael Card has done a lot of deep thinking about lament and what it’s like to sense this feeling of isolation and loneliness.  You can hear my conversation with Michael on our radio program.  Listen to Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, my friend.  In the midst of our struggles this season, let’s keep our eyes on the One who was willing to walk among us.  Through Christ, we can have hope because He controls our future!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Connecting with Your Teen

I read recently more 200,000 cell phone text messages are sent every minute–mostly by teenagers–which adds up to more than 6 trillion per year. That’s a staggering amount of “connecting” but it isn’t producing much in the way of real connection between parents and teens.

Like a new coat of paint slapped on to the surface of a sagging barn without making repairs to the structure, it may look impressive to see teens making so many text communications, but it’s not a real improvement. Kids are lonelier than ever.    That’s why parents today have a wonderful opportunity to reach their teens by making real and meaningful connections with them. They’re looking for it, frantically tapping keys with their thumbs, but they’re not finding it.  Let me share some tips with you. Continue reading “Connecting with Your Teen”