What Makes Boys Different

Teenagers Using DrugsAfter numerous, harrowing experiences babysitting little boys, a friend recalled saying to God, “You know Lord, I don’t think I want kids.  And I especially don’t want boys!”  But as you may know, God has a sense of humor, and this young lady not only had seven kids, but six of them were male!

Being a mother to six boys, my friend became well acquainted with messy rooms, muddy shoes, smelly clothes, wrestling tournaments in the house, stupid pranks, dumber stunts, holes in the drywall, fiery tempers, and stubborn wills.  In the process of raising a pack of wild boys into mature and responsible men, this mom discovered that God had changed her heart considerably.  Where once she could not imagine coping with a house full of adolescent men, she found that she loved being a mother to these boys, despite the challenges.  Watching them develop, she had a front row seat to the unique challenges and obstacles that men face in today’s world.  Over the years, my friend gained a deep appreciation for the work that goes into training a boy to be a man.

Maybe you’ve got your own wild son at home, and you can relate to the trials and tests that come with being a parent for that particular gender.  Obviously, the goal of every mom and dad is to take that wild and willful boy and teach him to be a caring and courageous man.  To get to that point, parents have to understand the qualities and characteristics that make boys special.

Boys Are Different

Boys are different than girls, and I’m not just talking about the physical plumbing.  Each gender learns and grows differently.  The best way to talk with a girl is eyeball-to-eyeball, using words, attitudes and tones to convey information.  But boys learn best shoulder-to-shoulder.  You have to come alongside them in order to instruct them.  Boys process information in the course of living life.  Ever been talking directly to your son, looking him right in the eye, and it’s clear the words are washing right over him?  That’s because boys are wired that way.  Sure, it’s important that our kids pay attention when we speak and learn how to communicate properly with others.  But the best way to reach a boy’s mind is through action.  Spend time engaged in an activity with your son, and you’ll discover you’re training and teaching him as you participate together.  He’ll learn the value of taking care of property when you show him how to replace the oil in his car.  Your son can learn to make his own decisions when you take him shopping for school clothes.  If you feel like you’re banging up against a teen boy who is just not listening, switch your approach and teach him through doing.

Boys Are Independent

Here is the truth.  Boys from an early age want to be independent.  So they often challenge you on what you say, or question your actions and motives.  It’s why dads and sons can engage in some heated discussions.  Having two independent men butting heads in the same house can be difficult.  But if your son is showing signs of independence, it may just be part of the natural growth process.  As teenagers mature they begin to separate themselves from their parents as they test their capabilities in the outside world.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Look, it’s not always comfortable when your son starts pushing away from mom and dad.  You might feel some grinding in your relationship with him, and that’s when the sparks start flying.  But in reality, he is sharpening the beliefs, convictions, and attitudes you’ve worked hard to instill in him.  As moms and dads, we want our teenagers to have some independence.  We want them to learn how to think and make decisions for themselves.  So when your son starts questioning or seems to be testing your authority, don’t take it personally.  He’s flexing his muscles of independence.  Don’t allow disrespect, but don’t dampen the healthy independence in your teen.  Instead, give him more responsibility.  Feed your boy’s desire for self-reliance.  It will give him the needed experience to become a responsible adult.

Boys Are Macho

I’ve been around enough teen boys to know that a bravado attitude begins to enter the picture around twelve years old and sometimes doesn’t leave!  When the voice starts to drop, that’s when the swagger starts.  This need to prove their manliness, to display their tough guy attitude, is what leads boys to perform idiotic stunts, grow wispy tufts of hair on their chin, and pursue girls with reckless abandon.

Dealing with an arrogant teen is frustrating.  Parents often feel the urge to take them down a notch or two.  But try and look past your son’s macho behavior and respond to his heart.  Dig deep and find that inner softie in your son.  Once you get past the tough guy act and connect with your son’s heart, you’ll have a devoted friend for life.

Also, give your macho teen a model of strength under control.  Point them to Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2:6).  Jesus could have easily walked around, thumping His chest, and using His power and might to beat people into submission.  But instead, Jesus showed His great strength by being a servant.  And as He did so, people followed Him.  Dads, be an example of humility and quiet courage your sons can follow.  Show your boys that inner confidence and strength of character means more than how much you can bench press, or how many girlfriends you have.  You don’t have to be macho to be manly.

Boys Are Relational

What would make a teenage boy ditch school to hang out with a cute girl?  Hormones would be one answer, for sure.  But really it’s because teen boys are relational creatures.  Adolescence is the time when they are yearning for connections outside the home.  That’s why they spend so much time on Facebook, or texting, or hanging out with friends and girlfriends.  Boys crave relationships where they are valued, respected, and needed.  It’s a natural and important part of becoming a man.  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” (Genesis 2:24)  Boys want to form bonds outside the parental borders.  That’s why they’ll walk backwards in the snow for sixty miles to hang out with their friends, or stand outside a girl’s window with love songs blaring on the stereo.  Boys are on the hunt for relationships.  This means parents need to be careful that a teenage boy is building relationships appropriately and with the right people.  Also, the predilection to pursue these connections also means boys get stuck emotionally very easily.  Teenagers longing for relationships may get frustrated and turn to drugs or pornography and get caught in a damaging cycle that is not easily broken.

If you’re a single mom struggling to play the part of both parents, encourage your son not only to maintain healthy relationships with peers, but more importantly, to build friendships with a group of godly men.  It’s within a group of mature and responsible guys that your son will be initiated into manhood and find mentors that can help him make the transition into adult life.

Boys Are Fighters

Why is every stick in the hands of a boy magically transformed into a sword?  Why do boys crave the competition of sports, the challenges of video games?  It’s because boys are fighters.  It’s why they grow up to be boxers, soldiers, football players, firemen, or policemen.  In his book, Wild at Heart, author John Elridge writes, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”  This inner warrior in your son is a good thing.  A healthy, fighting spirit is what gives men perseverance, strength of will, and the ability to tackle life’s obstacles in their path.

But like all good qualities, being a fighter can get a boy in trouble.  And I’m not talking about getting in skirmishes at school or wrestling with siblings.  Many parents are struggling to understand why their sons are addicted to violent video games.  Left to their own devices, some teenage boys will spend hours and hours in front of a screen, lost in a world of adventure.  For them, it might be an outlet for that daring spirit, the need to do battle and feel accomplished.  So rather than ban your son from video games, channel that desire into more worthy hobbies.  Get him a membership to a rock-climbing gym.  Assign a section of the garage for him to paint or make pottery.  Sign him up for karate classes.  Buy a second-hand guitar, and take him out to dinner when he finally plays “Smoke on the Water.”  Boys go to battle to accomplish something.  So fuel that good desire for ambition by giving them opportunities to succeed at projects, quests, and activities that are worthwhile.

Boys are different than girls.  Parents must develop an entirely new skill set to get their teenage boys to the next phase of adulthood.  Though training a boy into a man is challenging, it’s also rewarding.  This world needs more men who are strong and humble, who lead and serve, who stand for what’s right and fight against what’s wrong.  Mom and dad; you have the awesome privilege of training and teaching the next generation of men.  And when you understand how boys are built, you can better raise a godly man.


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.

When Parents Are Too Controlling

Teenagers Using DrugsYour teenage daughter wakes up one Saturday morning with a plan. She decides to make the whole family waffles, so she gets out the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, butter and some vanilla extract, and goes to work. The problem is that your daughter is not quite a culinary chef. In fact, toast and cereal are her only specialties up to this point. As you stumble into the kitchen looking for a bit of morning coffee, you notice the flour on the counters, egg yolk dripping from the table, and smoke pouring from the waffle iron. That’s when your parental instincts kick into overdrive and you turn to your daughter-playing-cook and say, “You’re doing this wrong,” or “That’s not how you mix the batter,” or even “I’ll take over from here.” Discouraged and frustrated, your daughter leaves the kitchen saying, “I quit!” resolved to never try her hand at baking again.

It’s possible that in this scenario, mom and dad don’t know they’re controlling the situation. They may think they are helping their daughter learn how to cook waffles. But there is a difference between teaching a teen, and controlling a teen. Here are four markers that identify a parent who needs to loosen the reins.

Let Me Do That!

Do you want to know if you are too controlling as a parent? One of the clearest signs of a micro-managing mom or dad is the feeling that you have to do everything for your child. If you do your child’s homework, clean up after him, maybe even order food for her at restaurants, you need to back off a little bit. When a parent does everything on their child’s behalf, the child’s decision-making muscles atrophy. They start losing the ability to make their own choices. It may seem beneficial at the time, but controlling every aspect of your teen’s life will only train up an adult who doesn’t know how to control their own life.

Giving your child the chance to make decisions can never start too early. I remember when my son Adam was around seven years old, we went over to McDonald’s for lunch. As we got to the front of the counter, I ordered my food, then turned to Adam and said, “Tell them what you want.” Taken aback, my son looked at me and replied, “I don’t know. Tell them for me.” But I wasn’t going to start down that road. I wanted Adam to start using his decision-making capabilities and not always rely me. So he didn’t order. I got my food, we sat down, and I started munching away happily. After watching me eat for a little bit, Adam said, “Okay, I know what I want.” So we went back up to the counter, and Adam confidently ordered his lunch.

If you’re noticing that you’re suffocating your teen’s choices, now is the time to start backing off. Give your son or daughter an alarm clock, and let them get up for school themselves. Show your teen how to work the washer and dryer, and let them be responsible for doing their own laundry. Let them choose where to go for dinner one night, or decide on the next family vacation. Give your child the opportunity to flex their decision-making muscles.

I Told You So!

Another way to identify if you are exerting too much control in your teen’s life is to examine the words you use around them. Do you use phrases like, “You should have listened to me,” or, “You need to do it my way,” or, “If you love me, you won’t do that”? There are times when we don’t even realize that the words we use are unconscious means of controlling, manipulating, or shaming our kids into doing what we want them to do. Proverbs 16:21 says, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.”

In our efforts to train up our kids, there’s a temptation to use our words to cajole, threaten, or placate our teens into right behavior. But God’s Word reminds us that “gracious words promote instruction.” We shouldn’t attempt to manage our children by means of verbal control or clever arguments. Take a second look at the phrases your family hears from you on a regular basis. It could be time to strike some words from your parental vocabulary.

You Can’t Handle the Responsibility

Whenever I encourage parents to ease off the domineering behavior, inevitably someone will say, “Mark, you just don’t know my teen. I have to control their life. If I don’t, they will end up making terrible mistakes.” To which I say, “Great!” Mistakes are a great learning tool for a teen. But as parents, we worry about our kids. We don’t want them to feel pain, suffer through bad choices, or have to clean up their own mistakes. So we naturally want to take control. But that only stunts a teen’s growth.

Before a teen gets his drivers license, you or a driving instructor take the time to show him how to work the gas and the brake, how to navigate the freeways, and how to avoid an accident. Once he gets his license, you have to trust that your teen will put those lessons to good use. Is there a chance he will make a mistake? Get a ticket? Have a little fender-bender? Sure. But that doesn’t stop you from letting him drive. And you can’t drive him around for the rest of his life!

Don’t let your anxiety or concern for your teen push you into taking over the wheel. They will make some bad choices. They will fall down. But by giving teenagers some control over their own lives, you are giving them a chance to grow, mature, and become a responsible adult.

You’re Making Me Look Bad

Another reason parents are prone to control their child’s life is because they don’t want their kid’s bad behavior to be a reflection upon them. So they micro-manage their house to put up a façade of perfection. But this attitude can be devastating for both you and your teen. Controlling your child so you look good is the quickest way to build resentment in your home. If a teen has to have the haircut you want, listen to the music you approve of, wear the clothes you pick out, work at the job you chose, or have the friends you like, then you’re inviting rebellion. A teen at the Heartlight residential center once told me, “I’d rather do wrong and be in control, than do right and not be in control.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you lower the standards for proper behavior in your home. But if your guidelines are in place only to stroke your parental ego, it’s time to let go.

Parents want their teens to grow. Teens want to grow. Both parties have the same goal. But they often try to reach this objective though opposite means. Remember that over-protective and controlling actions will never help our teens become responsible adults. It’s only when moms and dads loosen the restraints that teens can learn how to control their own lives.


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.

Dealing with the Cards You’ve Been Dealt

When Life Deals You A Bad HandAt times, life can seem like a fixed card game.  To your right is a neighbor who is holding pocket aces.  Their family is like a Norman Rockwell painting, and they never seem to struggle.  You, on the other hand?  Your family is more like a reality TV show than a Rockwell painting.  You look at your cards, and you feel like you’ve been dealt a crummy hand.

Wouldn’t it be nice to throw your bad cards away, and reshuffle the deck?  It could be that the teenage years are throwing your home into a tailspin, and you’re tempted to just walk away.  Or perhaps your raising your child has been a battle, and you’re thinking about waving the white flag and giving up.  I get it.  Life is not fair.  Sometimes the family members God has placed in our lives aren’t the folks we would have chosen ourselves.  Why is it your kid who has the issues?  Why is your family the one going through so many struggles?

Mom and dad; let me give you some encouragement.  Though we cannot throw in our cards and reshuffle the deck, it’s possible to take what’s been handed to us and turn it into something beautiful, meaningful, and full of blessing.

Don’t Wriggle Away

I heard Chuck Swindoll say something about trials that has stuck with me throughout my years dealing with troubled teens.  He said, “Everything that comes to you has first come through the hands of God.”  Recognizing that God intimately knows whatever teen troubles or family issues you are facing will give you a different perspective on your situation.  Your problems are not unfortunate coincidences; they are divine circumstances!  That teen under your roof was placed there by God.  She’s not an accident or a mistake.  He’s there for a reason.  When you experience conflict or hard times at home, don’t run away or retreat.  Pray for more patience.  Ask for wisdom.  Let the Holy Spirit search your heart in case there are any logs in your own eye adding to the difficulties (Matthew 7:5).

When we try to escape trials by ignoring them, we are like kids who sleep with a textbook under their pillow before a test, hoping that answers will come to them through mental osmosis.  But real life character tests don’t work that way.  We have to work hard to know ourselves and our kids.  And we also have to know how to gently, but firmly, handle conflict.  Then, when the pressure is on, we will have the opportunity to grow and become better parents.  It’s through difficult circumstances that we gain patience, grace, forgiveness, strength, and perseverance.  So when the trials come, don’t wriggle away.  Embrace them as opportunities to grow, knowing God is using hardship to change you.

Expect Bumpiness

C.S. Lewis once said, “I don’t doubt God’s desire to want the best for us—I just wonder how painful it’s going to be!”  I have talked to countless parents who have come to my conferences or seminars, and told me, “I didn’t anticipate the trouble I would have with my child.”  Because these moms and dads weren’t expecting trials, when difficulties came, they were taken off guard.  If you’re the parent of a pre-teen or a teen; expect bumps!  It will not be smooth sailing.  As a teen gradually moves away from mom and dad and achieves a healthy independence, the movements often include unhealthy emotional shoving, jostling, elbowing, and some bumps and bruises.  While it’s not pleasant, it’s a natural part of growing up.

If you are under the impression that your teen will not make mistakes, push your buttons, or try your patience, then you will be unpleasantly surprised when all of this eventually happens.  Handling what has been handed to you means being ready for whatever comes your way.

Take the Long View

I love to water ski.  Around the Heartlight campus in Texas are some of the best lakes in the country to carve the waves (as my kids would say).  But if you’ve never waterskied before, here’s the trick.  Never, ever, ever look at your feet.  If you do, you’ll hit the water at 60 miles an hour, and skip across the surface like a rock.  Instead, find a point in the distance, keep your focus there, and you’ll stay on your feet.

Raising a teenager is a little like water skiing. If you focus on where you are and not where you’re going, you’ll get caught off balance.  In the present you may be discouraged thinking, “How will this ever get better?  When will this turn around?”  Caught up in the troubles of the here and now, you can lose sight of the future.  And what’s the future?  “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you [or your child, teenager, husband, wife, or any other person in your house] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God is still at work.  He hasn’t handed you this trial only to leave you hanging.  The good work that He started, He promises to finish.  Though you cannot see how God is going to get you through this problem now, or how He is going to turn it around, He can, and He will.

When what’s been handed to you starts to bring you down, look up.  Get a glimpse of the future and know that years from now, you’ll look back and say, “Yes, God was working in that circumstance and in my kid the whole time.”

Work in Community

Trying to cope with parenting a teen all alone is hard, exhausting, and isolating.  It can make you feel like you are the only one struggling.  But that’s just not the case.  There are moms and dads just like you in your church, at work, and in your PTA that are trying to deal with what’s been handed to them.  They need support just as much as you do.  God has put us in our communities so we can come alongside each other, encourage each another, and take comfort in the fact that we have similar problems and issues.

If you’re trying to deal with a troubled teen on your own, stop!  Get together with other people in your church.  Start a weekly gathering.  Share your burdens with each other and find comfort among other believers.  It’s a resource that God wants you to take full advantage of.

Your Child is Right For You

Trust me, there are times when I wonder whether at the hospital certain children got swapped and I took home the wrong kid!  This can’t be my son or daughter who is making life so difficult!  But here’s the truth.  God hand-picked you for a reason.  Of every mom and dad on the planet He chose you to parent your child.  Your son or daughter needs you.  And you need them.  Through your teenager, God is molding and shaping you to be more like Christ.

Handling what’s been handed to you is no easy feat.  I can’t know every struggle or trial that you are facing.  But I do know that it’s possible not only to deal with each situation, but to allow it to be a blessing for you and your child.  You can take that crummy hand and turn it into a winning combination.


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.