Picking Up The Broken Pieces of Shattered Trust

Picking Up The Broken Pieces of Shattered TrustTrust is a valuable and fragile commodity.  In the economy of family relationships, trust is both given and received as parents and teens gingerly pass it back and forth.  When these trust transactions are handled properly, relationships grow and thrive.  But Mom and Dad—don’t hold on to that commodity too tightly, because your teenage son or daughter will break it.  It’s really not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”  At some point, you’ll place your trust in the hands of your teenage child, and they’ll drop it and shatter it into pieces.

I’m not just being dramatic here.  After four decades of working with, talking and listening to teens and their parents, I know from experience that kids will make mistakes.  Disappoint you.  Maybe even break your heart.  And this is regardless of temperament, personality, or even consequences.  But if you’re prepared for having your trust broken, you’ll be miles of ahead of the parents who are still sitting there open-mouthed and shocked.

So how do you prepare and deal with the disappointment coming your way?

Keep the Relationship

Here are the usual responses I hear from parents when their teen blows it—

I can’t believe you didn’t know better!

I thought we had a good relationship!

I don’t know if I can ever trust you again!

How could you do such a thing? You know better!

I don’t know why you would disrespect me in this way.

These types of phrases express your emotions in the moment, but can be misinterpreted by your teen.  When a child breaks your trust, don’t let the mistake interfere with your relationship.  When you tell your son, “I thought we were close,” what he hears is, “Our relationship is ruined.”  In your daughter’s mind, saying “I’m so disappointed with you right now,” is interpreted to mean, “I can’t love you.”  Of course, as adults, we realize that teens may read something into our words that we didn’t put there.  But perception is nine-tenths of reality.  And caught in the moment when his mistakes are being unearthed, a teen may hear your words of anger and hurt as an indicator that he’s lost some of your love and compassion.

Always move towards your children, even when they have betrayed your trust.  Explain clearly that there is nothing they could do to make you love them more, and nothing they could do to make you love them less.  Don’t let their mistake impact the connection between you and your son or daughter.  The best way to avoid this is to tell them openly—“I’m upset right now, but I want you to know, I love you.  And nothing you can do will ever change that!

Acknowledge the Pain

Just because you move toward your child when they break your trust, doesn’t mean you have to hide the pain.  I get hurt by kids all the time.  I’ve been lied too, stolen from, sworn at and used.  I may put on a strong demeanor, but inside I’m crushed.  There is no way to dull the pain when your teenager breaks your heart.  So be disappointed.  Be upset.  Be angry, even.  But talk to someone about what you’re experiencing.  You can’t bottle up those emotions, and your child may not be able to handle hearing how they’ve injured you.  Grab a spouse, a friend, a pastor or a counselor, and let them know, “what my child did really hurt me!”  Get it out in the open and let those wounds heal in the clean air of a safe relationship.  If you let your feelings fester inside you, the pain will build and you’ll slowly start resenting your teen for the mistakes they’ve made.  Acknowledge the hurt and the frustration and deal with it, and you’ll have the emotional energy to return to your teen with love and grace.

Set Up Your Beliefs

Sometimes a child will break our trust without even knowing about it.  It happens when we cling to unspoken rules or guidelines in the house, and expect our teens to instinctively understand them.  Trust me; if that’s the way your home operates, you’ll find yourself disappointed over and over again.

Even if your child is 17 and ready to leave home, I recommend setting up a belief system for your house.  Sit down and clearly define and discuss the rules and expectations every person in the house must adhere to.  That includes curfews, dating parameters, the kind of language spoken in the house, and the use of social media.  Openly state what you believe about honesty, respect, compassion and having fun with the family.  Once you’ve set up your specific belief system, follow up by explaining some pre-determined consequences that will come into effect should those rules be broken.

This takes away the surprise when your teen strays out of bounds and has to deal with the results.  Once household rules and beliefs are understood, the penalties won’t seem to come out of left field.

The kids at Heartlight understand that the rules we have in place are for their own protection and the safety of others.  They also understand the consequences of breaking those rules.  I have to stifle a laugh when a kid comes up to me and says, “Well, I know I have yard cleanup duty this week.

“Why is that?

Well, because I was disrespectful to some of the staff.”

They may not like all the rules we have in place, but our teens don’t really complain about the results, because they knew ahead of time what was expected and what the consequences are should they go rogue.

Allow Dreams to Be Crushed

We all have hopes and aspirations for our children.  No dad wants his daughter to be an unwed teen mother.  No mom is hoping her son will spend some time in jail.  Our dreams for our teens include visions of happy families, productive lives and meaningful careers.  But sometimes when a teen breaks our trust, a dream may die.  The goals we set for our son or daughter start to wither away.  That’s a rather hopeless feeling, and it compounds the pain.

But Mom and Dad, let me encourage you to let those dreams die.  God has a plan for your teen, and it may be radically different than what you had in mind.

I’ll always remember getting a call from my son telling me that he and his wife were getting a divorce due to an affair.  My heart was crushed as I watched my son break not only my trust, but his wife’s as well.  My dream for him was leveled in a few minutes on a brief phone call.  But God redeemed my son, and now his ex-wife is married to a good man, my son is married to a lovely young lady, and I have some beautiful grandbabies to prove it!

Here’s the point:  God can take your broken trust and crushed dreams and transform them into something beyond your wildest expectations.  Maybe the life you envisioned for your son or daughter is not coming to pass.  That’s okay.  God is still in control, and He’s not finished with you or your child yet.  Let go of those aspirations, and find hope in what God is doing in your teen’s life.

I wish I could give you practical steps to prevent your child from breaking your trust.  But that is never going to happen.  As parents, all we can do is prepare for and deal with mistakes as they happen; moving towards our children in the midst of the pain and allowing God to guide our future.



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.

Finding the Hidden Messages In Your Teen’s Inappropriate Behavior

Finding the Hidden Messages In Your Teen’s Inappropriate BehaviorDon’t judge; but I’m a fan of the National Treasure movies.  Remember those films?  They starred Nicholas Cage as Benjamin Gates, a historian and modern fortune hunter who believed that America’s national monuments and historical artifacts contained a secret treasure map from the founding fathers.  While other researchers and academics laughed at his conspiracy theories, Benjamin Gates eventually proved that underneath the common symbols and landmarks we see in America was a trail of messages pointing to new discoveries.

What does the National Treasure have to do with parenting teens?  Just this:  Our child’s inappropriate behaviors, whether it’s blatant disrespect, substance abuse, continuous lying, sexual activity, stealing, out-of-control anger, or spiraling depression, are visible landmarks that stick out in our teen’s life.  But if we take the time to look underneath these monuments, we will find the true message our teens are trying to convey, but cannot find the words to do so.

All behavior, good or bad, is goal-oriented.  A teen doesn’t act up without a reason.  There is always a purpose and motivation behind a child’s actions.  That means that inappropriate behavior is a visible indicator of an invisible problem.  It’s the smoke that signals a hidden fire.  It’s the warning light on the dashboard telling us to check our engine.  Inappropriate behavior is a teen trying desperately to get help!

Heart Transformation Versus Behavior Modification

I get it.  When our precious son or daughter is spinning out of control, our natural impulse is to correct their behavior.  We want them to switch from doing wrong to doing right.  We want to stop the lying, halt the cheating, curb the anger, and put an end to whatever harmful habit our teen is engaged in.

But if we only address the behavior and not the motivation behind it, we’re not truly helping our kids.  It’s like the guy who went to see the doctor, because no matter what he touched on his body, it hurt.  “Doc, when I touch my arm, I get this shooting pain.  When I touch my leg, same thing.  Even when I touch my face, I almost pass out, it hurts so bad.  What’s the matter with me?” The doctor took one look and said, “You have a broken finger.”

When something is broken in your child’s life, it will affect everything else.  And unless we address a teen’s heart, we’re not addressing the real cause of the problem.  Focusing solely on the inappropriate actions is a form of behavior modification, but it is only a temporary Band-Aid.  Aim for heart transformation instead.  Investigate the reasons why your child is acting out, and address those concerns.

Becky is a funny, compassionate, and well-spoken student in the Heartlight program.  Born with a blood disorder that made many activities dangerous, Becky always had to work harder than most kids to stay connected to friends.  And as she got older, it seemed to become more and more difficult.  Becky told us that it wasn’t easy to fit in among her school friends, who liked to party, because that just wasn’t her scene.  Yet, at the same time, Becky was finding it hard to relate to her church friends, who seemed to have perfect, sin-free lives, while she did not.  As the gap widened between real connections, the lonelier Becky became.  So in order to be close with anyone, and to feel accepted, Becky would often sneak out of her house at night to meet up with boys and engage in risky sexual activity. “I knew it was wrong,” Becky confessed. “But those guys made me feel special, wanted, needed.  I so badly wanted friends I could relate to, that I settled for boys who really just took advantage of me.

Now, to help Becky and get her back on the right track, it would be easy to set up strict boundaries and rules, and point out the mistakes of sexual experimentation.  But after listening to this sweet, young lady speak, I realized it wasn’t behavior modification that she really needed.  She was desperate for connection, and in her immaturity, she was looking for it in all the wrong places.  So if we take time to affirm her, set up friends who care about her, involve her in social circles with people she can relate to, those inappropriate behaviors will no longer have the same pull on her life.  By addressing her heart, we’ve solved the problems with her behavior.

How to Find the Hidden Message

Now the question on the floor is, “Okay Mark, I need to look past the behavior to see what my son or daughter is really trying to say.  But how can I possibly decode those hidden messages?

First, to hear a teen’s heart, we need to actively listen.  That might mean withholding advice, judgment or comments for a while.  I have found that most teens know when their actions are out of line.  They don’t need mom and dad pointing that out.  So instead of rehashing the mistakes, ask questions and sit back and listen.  “What got you so angry?” or “How did that drug make you feel?” or “What made you go to that website?”  These types of probing questions can peel back the layers of inappropriate behavior and give you insight into your child’s heart.  Of course, in the moment, your teen may reply with the customary “I don’t know.”  But don’t let their first answer stop you.  In a gentle, loving and firm way, keep asking the questions that help you find the reason behind the behavior.

Second, don’t wait to address the behavior itself.  You can search for the motive behind the actions at the same time that you are dealing with the action itself.  While you’re taking away the car keys, you can say, “I don’t want to take the car privileges away from you again.  So let’s talk about why this happened and how we can keep it from happening in the future.”  The longer you wait to speak to the behavior, the harder it will be to deal with it correctly.  By confronting the behavior, you’re also letting your teen know that, while you do care about the reasons behind those actions, you love them enough not to sweep the inappropriate behavior under the rug.

Lastly, be open to what God wants to teach you through your child’s behavior.  Often, it’s the times of struggle, or hardships, or conflict that strengthen our relationships and deepen our character.  I Peter 1:6 says, “Though for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials … these have come so that the genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold—may result in the praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Look behind the trials of parenting a teen to see the faith, grace and hope God is building into your life.  Underneath all that inappropriate behavior you may find a map to the eternal treasures of peace, grace, and hope God has in store for both you and your teen.


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.


Releasing Your Teen into the World

Releasing Your TeenVery few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when they announce they have plans to go on a medical mission and travel to Guatemala, spend a few weeks in Rwanda with orphan kids, or go to Indonesia to minister to girls involved in the tragic and pathetic sex trade.  As they share their excitement and enthusiasm for their hopeful venture, parents shudder with nervousness about all the potential hazards of travel as their child’s first campaign to “fly the coop” and “make a difference” silently fade to the background as all the reasons they shouldn’t go come to a parent’s mind, shouting, “We can’t let this happen!”

Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and change the world, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking, and reflect on this potential opportunity that is set before your family to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter.  This may be the opportunity that you have practiced for all your life, so be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Instead of thinking about all the reasons your child shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on what was first thought to be a bad idea. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity.  Consider these things.

They want to make a make an impact.  They want to fly and use the tools that you have given them.  They see a mission trip to a foreign country as a new adventure, an excursion of excitement and intrigue, and an opportunity to travel and see the world.   They have a sense of compassion because you have built it into their life.  They want to “go and make disciples” because you have shared with them the truth of scripture.  They want to help, because they have seen you help others.  Their longing is one that has been instilled in their life, because of your influence on their life.  And, because “their” world is more global than the world of teens ten years ago, distance or travel is no longer a barrier that limits their dreams or passion.

I always encourage parents to trust a couple of sure things as they release their kids to the world.  First, trust what you have taught them.  All the seeds that you have sown into their life will come to completion.  Scripture reminds us that God will “bring to completion” that which He has started.  And scripture reminds us (and encourages us) to not grow weary in doing good, for in due time you (a parent) will reap if you surely sow. Your “sowing” is not in vain.  A parent must trust what they have done, in hopes that a harvest will come later in the life of their child.

Second, parents must trust that God, who brought their child into this life, will continue to be involved in the life of their child.  The promise in scripture that tells us that He will never leave or forsake one of His own is a promise that applies to our children.

Now, I’m not saying that we should allow our twelve-year-old daughter to travel to western Africa to dig water wells.  Nor am I encouraging any parent to throw caution to the wind.  But I am saying that perhaps because our twelve year old will become that eighteen or nineteen year old young lady that might, one day, want to travel and “change the world” that we, as parents, not only teach, but train our kids to have the tools to accomplish their dreams when they come of age to be able to do so.

For all parents of tweens and teens, are you training your child to fulfill the great commission as it applies to their life?  Are you working on them becoming independent?  Are you helping them make good decisions, and training them to be able to do so, when the consequences of making poor decisions becomes more and more potentially life changing as the years pass?  Are you training your child about finances?  How to handle stress?  How to deal with disappointment?  How to not be influenced by people who have no interest in the wellbeing of your child?  How to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow anger?  How to take the scripture they know and apply it to the life they will be required to live?  These are all parenting goals to make sure your child is ready to fulfill the call of God on their life when He decides to call them to the task He has set before them.

And what if you haven’t trained them for a trip or adventure?  Then this “trip” they’re wanting to take might just be the opportunity for them to have a crash course on some pretty valuable character traits that need to be developed in their life.  I would rather have a young person learn these valuable lessons on the mission field under the guidance of a mission director and an organization that can teach some principles that were missed during their younger years, than have them learn these lessons on their own without someone speaking truth into their life when they need it the most.

If you’re like me, you receive plenty of requests from folks wanting to experience the mission field; and wanting me to financially help them change the world.  Well, this is what I’ve found.  The lives changed on these mission trips are not always the ones touched by the child who goes to change the world.  The lives who are truly changed are the ones who “go” and have their lives touched by the hand of God who uses a mission trip to affirm those qualities parents have been building into their child’s life.  They learn about the needs of others.  Their heart is moved with compassion, instilled by a Mom and a Dad, and fueled by interactions with people in another country, in another culture, living a life far different than the way they were raised.  And there is a change.  It’s a change that will one day change the world.

They learn to embrace the blessings of their life and the plenty that their family has provided while developing a thankfulness for their possessions and circumstances, countering the effects of a selfish and entitled culture in which they live.   I believe they make a connection with the very heart of God and capture His vision for all people.  They find the significance they desire, the impact they long for, and the feeling that their life does indeed matter, thus motivating them to further His Kingdom.  All because of a trip abroad, a trip to see another culture, and a trip dedicated to change the world of your child.  These trips are profitable for all involved and help your child…your young adult…find the significance for life that only a God of love can provide.

Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child.  In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!”

Trust what you have taught.  And, trust that the God of this world holds your child in the palm of His hand, and wants to use your child to further His Kingdom.  It will change your family.  It will change your child.  It might just change you.


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.