Connecting with Your Teen

Connecting with Your TeenEvery parent of a teenager wants to build a strong line of communication with his or her teen. But sadly, the opposite is most often true. I’d like to share with you some simple tips to improve your communications with your teen.

You may wonder what the best timing is for building good lines of communication with your teen or pre-teen. That’s simple.  Do it NOW, before problems, struggles and difficulties begin. And never stop working at it, even when there is conflict.

As your children move from the elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that you adapt your style of communication to the changes taking place with your child. What was non-hormonal now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence, and that affects how your teen interacts with you.  Unless you change with them, there will be conflict and broken communications.

There is a scripture that I believe accurately reflects the condition of most teens, and the “should-be” role of most parents. It’s when Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden (the condition of the teens part), and I will give you rest for your soul” (the parent’s part).

The hope is that we, as parents, become that place of rest for our kids a place where they might be restored.

Too many times parents become a place of added burden or hardship, or an extra “measure” of correction, when correcting, and a life of training, has already been done. Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer bunny” communication that just keeps on going. And dads have that tendency to tune out when communication is most needed.

Moms, your over-correcting does not provide the rest your child needs. And dad, your refusal to speak up does not restore. What is crucial for your child is the balance of the mom and dad mix, which will result in that place of rest.

But to achieve this balance, it is important for us as parents to transition with our children, to change our style of communication. If we can successfully make this transition, then the day when our children begin to struggle or have difficulties and desperately need someone to talk to we are the ones they will turn to.

Now, let me give you some advice on how to build that bridge–how to make that transition…

1.  Start by laying down some new rules, not ones that dictate, but those that invite. In fact, these are rules for yourself, not as much for your child, including making it a priority to have one-on-one time with your child. For example, you might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a mother-daughter, or father-son special vacation each year. Another might be a Joke Night that gets everyone laughing, just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached, just pure fun time together.

2. Ask Thoughtful Questions…create a sense of wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, offer them thoughtful questions. And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately, or at all. They will learn to think on their own, and begin to ask you questions as you model one who asks questions. The questions themselves can lead to the right answers, without preaching.

3. PAUSE…and wait to be invited. Hold off on the tendency to always drive the conversation and share your own opinions (Scripture says that “a fool delights in airing his own opinion”). Don’t break genuine interest, but poignant moments of silence (especially when they are not accustomed to silence from you) will move a child to ask, “What do you think?” Try not to force your opinion unless it is invited.

4. The statement “I Was Wrong” (when said by the parent) diffuses difficult discussions and might just bring you amazing results in your communication with your teen.  If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you are wrong.  You will take the fuse out of the firecracker when you do that. Once you admit you blew it, the issue can no longer be held against you.  Anger puts up barriers and must always be diffused before communications will open up.

5. Give Them Respect…consider others to be more important. Easy to say, and sometimes tough to do.  It’s basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand that of them. This should affect the way you speak to them (you wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect), the way you discipline, the way you show grace and the way you respond when you are disappointed and upset.

I want to challenge you today to commit to building a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. Make time to communicate and really get to know your teen. And no matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always HOPE.  It may take time and persistence, but keep at it in a loving and natural way and they will eventually open up.

Remember, don’t give up — for God promises to turn your ashes to beauty, your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing. The God that has put His thumbprint on the life of your child still holds him (and you) in His palm.

Recently, someone sent me this e-mail that captures precisely what I’m talking about in this article.

Dear Mark…Our son is on a terrible life path, he is extremely difficult to talk with because he simply will not say more than a few words about anything. We can’t get him to explain what’s going on at school, what he’s thinking, why he does things. His mother and I have tried everything from screaming (I know this was not the right thing and it’s only happened once) to being loving, gentle. Our son is the quiet one in the middle of a family of very verbal people. Even in counseling our son refuses to speak with us much at all. He is secretive and hangs out with the wrong crowd.  He has been caught with pot. He spends most of his time holed up in his room like a hermit either sleeping or watching TV, or out with his crowd. Can you give us some advice?

My Answer: The clue to your question is that your child is the quiet one “of a family of verbal people.” Everyone else’s verbal power might be causing your son to shut down. If he can’t get a word in edgewise, then he just quits talking. I think he probably talks quite a bit when he is out with his crowd.

There are some important checks you should make when trying to figure this out. It’s always a good response to first look at where you might be wrong before jumping to the conclusion that your child is in the wrong. So start by asking yourself some difficult questions:

Do I allow my child to express himself, or do I constantly lecture, criticize, warn, and instruct him?

Does everyone in the family react negatively to him when he speaks?

Is he always challenged, argued with, told he’s “stupid” in so many words, or ignored?

Sometimes teens don’t talk because everyone else is talking for them. Maybe no one really listens or he is shamed by what he is feeling and shamed by what he is saying about it.

Your son is not talking for a reason. Questions we need to ask include: Has he been abused? Has he been ridiculed? Has he been emotionally hampered by some event in his life? Has he experienced something that you don’t know about? And before you answer that question ask yourself, “Do my parents know everything that happened to me?” So, what makes you think you know everything about your son?

Behavior is always there for a reason. If you can’t get to that reason, it would be good to have him spend some one-on-one time with someone who can “connect” with him….a counselor, youth minister, teacher, coach, or a close relative.  Chances are he has a lot to say, and either doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with you or feels shamed by something and chooses to keep quiet. It’s only after searching all areas of his life that you may determine the next steps.

My impression is that your son is involved in more than you think (It’s never what you could imagine, but always more than what you think). Smoking dope, not talking, sleeping all the time, secretive, not so good friends…..sounds like the makings of a disaster. And if your attempts to “reach” him haven’t worked, you speak the truth when you say that it might be time for him to be away from you and from his friends.

Right now, you are dealing with the unknown. As you begin to understand exactly what you’re dealing with, then you can more readily determine what to do. BUT whatever you do, I would encourage you to act quickly. When teens spin out of control, they spiral at an increasing rate. Things may get worse before they get better. But knowing what he’s into and dealing with it is better than not knowing and letting the situation get totally out of hand.

It’s a long answer to a rather short question, but filled with many important lessons for all parents to acknowledge.

So, Moms, Dads…do this for me today.  Be diligent in asking your teen these questions today.  First, “Do you think we have good communication within our family?”  And second, “How could I be a better communicator?”

Ask them to be honest and don’t discount their answers or tell them how they have it all wrong (a first step in changing the way you engage with your teen).  Just listen, acknowledge your appreciation for their honesty, and spend some time thinking how to engage differently.  And if they tell you that the communication is fine, and that you’re a great communicator, ask them to sleep on it and answer tomorrow after they’ve had some time to think about it.  We can all improve on the way we engage with all our kids.  Hopefully they’ll come back to you with some great feedback.

“Monkey see, monkey do,” Moms and Dads. The way you communicate with them will be the way that they learn to communicate with you.

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.

Approaching Teens with Grace

Approaching Teens with GraceWhen a teenager’s behavior is way out of line, when he or she crosses established boundaries and offends us and makes us angry, it is easy to think he or she doesn’t deserve grace. But that may be exactly the right time to give it.

Grace – given at just the right moment – has the power to change the direction of any struggle, and may ultimately bring it to an end. Grace can bring healing, restoration, and redirect your teen’s path.

A biblical definition of grace is this: God’s undeserved favor and forgiveness when we’ve chosen the unforgivable. In human terms, grace is an act of kindness, love, and forgiveness in the face of bad behavior or poor choices. For your teen, it can even extend to outright rebellion and rotten attitudes.

I recently worked with a teen who rarely received grace at home. He was angry, all the time, and spewed anger on everyone and everything around him, including the side of my van. Instead of having him arrested for bashing my vehicle with a baseball bat, I sat him down and told him he was forgiven, he wouldn’t be arrested, and that we were going to work things out differently from now on.

As we began to talk, tears came to his eyes. He had never experienced that kind of forgiveness in the face of his anger, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t have the police waiting to take him to jail. Giving him grace, at just the right moment, went a long way to change the direction he was headed, and in the end, after a lot of work, he successfully completed the Heartlight program.

Grace When it is Least Deserved

How do you know exactly the right time to extend grace? How about when it’s least deserved? I guess that’s how you’ll know it’s grace – because it won’t feel good – in fact, it may be enough to put you in a really bad mood. I didn’t enjoy having a smashed-in van. I didn’t like having to pay for the repairs. But that’s the nature of grace. It doesn’t feel good when you’re giving it, it’s costly, but you are never more like Christ than when you offer it.

As believers, we should understand grace giving. After all, didn’t God love us so much that while we were sinners He sent His Son to die for us? He took our place for the penalty of sin. That kind of grace didn’t come easily, but we can learn from it and imitate it.

Grace is Not Meant to Enable Bad Behavior

Seeking grace in parenting doesn’t mean we allow bad behavior to continue unchecked. That’s not grace. That’s enabling or empowering our child to keep up their bad behavior without fear of consequences. As I’ve talked about many times, the pain of consequences is what causes all of us to take notice of our bad behavior -so we make a change. Some say that pain is a terrible part of God’s creation, but the fact is, without it we’d never change. Pain keeps us in check and tells us when something is wrong.

Grace Can be Misunderstood by Others

The biblical story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-22) is a good illustration of a father who extended grace without enabling. It wasn’t easy to see his son leave, and as the story goes, the son only came to his senses when he had wasted all of his inheritance and hit bottom. The father still welcomed him back into the family, but to our knowledge, he didn’t offer the son more money or enable him to go back to an unfruitful lifestyle.

But giving grace isn’t always popular. Remember the sibling in the story – the good son? He questioned his father’s decision to extend grace to his prodigal brother. After all, he had stayed behind to help the family while the prodigal was off seeking pleasure. Even though the decision was unpopular, the father gave grace and most likely did so not just because his son returned, but because the he wisely saw that his son had finally come to his senses.

Remember, Giving Grace is…

  • Most often needed when it is least deserved
  • Doesn’t directly benefit the giver
  • Can be misunderstood by others
  • Doesn’t enable bad behavior to continue
  • Is best when it is offered at just the right time
  • Comes from a desire for a new direction, understanding your child’s heart, and his need to be restored.

We are never more like Christ than when we give our teen grace in the face of a struggle. And, giving grace when it surely is not deserved may change the direction of the struggle, or even bring it to an end.

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.

Navigating Your Teen’s Universe

Navigating Your Teen’s UniverseIt’s been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  And teens?  Well, they seem to be from a completely different universe!  Sure, teenagers look human, but the way they speak, the way they dress, and the things they value all seem to point to an origin in a galaxy far, far away.

But maybe I exaggerate.  Just because some elements of the new teen culture are alien to us, doesn’t mean our kids are from another dimension (even though it can seem that way).  Let’s face it; the world that our sons and daughters are growing up in is far different than the one in which we were raised.  When we wrote a school paper, we had to travel to a place called “the library.”  Students now have the all the information they need at their fingertips, just by visiting Google.  Our TVs carried three stations.  Today, teens have access to a thousand different programs, not only on TV, but also on their computers and phones.  I grew up respecting coaches, police, clergy, and those in authority.  Our teens live in a culture where the flaws and mistakes of those in charge have left them questioning their leaders.

You could likely come up with even more differences between your world and your teen’s world.  We could also spend considerable time beginning conversations with “I would have never done …” or “I couldn’t have imagined saying …” or “They didn’t have this when I was …” But I’ve come to realize that such nostalgic comparisons don’t accomplish much.  The homespun wisdom of how we navigated our world does little to help our teens survive theirs.  No doubt today’s culture is vastly different, and perhaps even more dangerous, than our own.  But instead of preaching the virtues of a bygone era, as moms and dads I would suggest we learn how to live in this culture, and guide our kids in the here and now.

In order to do that, let me offer a basic crash course on the universe your son or daughter currently inhabits.


The average teen today spends ten hours in front of a screen every single day.  Whether it’s the computer in the classroom, the TV in the living room, or the phone in their bedroom, kids spend a lot of time with eyeballs glued to monitors.  All that screen time is hurting our teens because it’s affecting their personal connections.  There is a lot more communication between teens these days, but a lot less interaction between them.  Kids are gaining tech skills, but losing social skills.  And it’s a loss that teens acutely feel.  That’s why social media is so important to young people.  They are hungry for meaningful connections, and so they gravitate towards Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, texting, and IM in order to interact with those around them.

But we know that nothing can replace the act of sitting down with another human being and conversing with them face-to-face.  Texts are fine.  But personal conversations are so much better.  Facebook friends are nice.  But real friends are valuable.  And more than peer-to-peer relationships, teens need a good relationship with mom and dad.  To help your son or daughter navigate this connection-starved world, shut off the phone, power down the computer, and turn off the TV.  Take them to coffee and talk with them.  Practice meaningful conversations around your house.  Show them how to communicate with a spouse and how to interact with friends.  The ability to maintain and develop personal connections is an invaluable tool teens need in order to survive this culture.


As I mentioned earlier, respect for authority has dwindled in today’s climate.  Authority figures don’t garner the same respect from teens anymore.  But it’s not only those in authority.  We live in a pessimistic society where no person or topic is off limits to derision.  The ability to mock, ridicule, and sarcastically put down others is considered a virtue.  Thrust into such a hostile and negative culture, it’s no wonder our kids have a tough time nurturing a sense of respect.

So how can you climb into their world and help your son or daughter navigate this problem?  First, know what music, movies, TV shows and websites your child is interacting with.  The purpose is two-fold.  First, you can monitor what your child is being exposed to.  And second, you’ll be able to actively engage in your teen’s life!  When you sit down with them, you can intelligently talk about the storylines of a TV drama.  You can discuss the antics of current musicians.  You can understand the draw of popular video games.  You may even surprise yourself and start to enjoy some of these things along with your child!  And if kids find out that you know what you are talking about, you’ll earn their respect.

But if you say, “That’s a bad movie!” or “Don’t listen to that song!” simply because you don’t like it, your teen is going to see right through you.  Then it’s no longer a discussion of the merits of media; it becomes a generational debate between Elvis and Lady Gaga.

If you want to teach your teenagers respect, begin by respecting them.  Listen to their thoughts.  Ask their opinion.  You don’t have to agree with them.  And you may still put your foot down about certain movies, music, or video games.  But if you engage your children with respect, they will be more likely to listen to your rules.  And then, model what it looks like to respect others.  Speak respectfully of government leaders, even if you don’t agree with them.  And don’t lob negative character assaults against people.  I hear parents disparage celebrities all the time, then wonder why their teens turn around and mock and ridicule other people, as well!  To gain and teach respect in this culture, you have to model it well yourself.


Here’s the truth; teens love themselves.  A lot.  We have given birth to a “me-first,” narcissistic generation.  Many teens walk around believing that the universe revolves around their needs, wants and expectations.  They think, “Success doesn’t come because we earn it; success should come because we deserve it!”

Moms and Dads, correcting this narcissistic mindset begins at home.  We may have to change our own behaviors and attitudes towards our kids in order for them to change.  Does your life revolve around your teen?  If so, put an end to that today!  Stop doing everything for your child, and let them start figuring some things out for themselves.  Let your son make his lunch for school each day.  Put your daughter in charge of managing her clothing budget.  Give your kids chores and responsibilities around the house.  Don’t drop everything to chauffer them to the mall, or help them with an over-due school project, or fix a problem they got themselves into.  Parenting a teenager should feel more like coaching, and less like being a butler.

And then, as a family, volunteer to help others.  If your daughter thinks the world revolves around her, take her to the rescue mission to help out.  If your son thinks he is the center of the universe, encourage him to use some of his hard-earned cash to support local missionaries.  When you model this kind of service as a parent, and then ask your teens to get involved, they’re more likely to join you with a willing attitude.  And by serving others on a regular basis, they’ll soon sweat out any remnant of that narcissism that remains.

Teens may be from another universe.  But that’s simply because they are trying to live in a culture that is vastly different than the one we used to know.  As moms and dads, if we step into the culture with them, instead of standing on the sidelines shaking our heads, we’ll find that we not only understand our kids more, but we help them become better people.  Remember; change starts at home. With you.

You might wonder, why is this whole topic of “Navigating Your Teen’s Universe” so important?  It’s because in a world where “connections” and “respect” are missing, and “self” moves to the forefront, you, as a parent, might just be the last hope for your child.  I’ve always thought that it’s not my job to pass judgment on a world that seems to be a mess, but to help teens navigate through the challenges it presents in their life.  And, I’ve found that my navigation in their world happens best when I make a “connection” with them, “respect” them for the challenges they face, and become “selfless”, with the intent of helping them, not just forcing what I think they need to do.  Remember, kids change because of relationship, not because of my forcing a lifestyle upon them.

May the Word in you become flesh and dwell among your kids in such a way that you offer help, and hope, and light in the darkness of this teen culture that is far different from the one in which you and I grew up.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.