Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t

Piggy Bank Ethnic Female

Teens today seem much more demanding than recent generations.  That’s relatively new, but what’s not new is that teens are also less mature today.  Add the two together and what you get is kids who expect their parents to be a walking, breathing ATM machine.

Parents who continually meet the financial demands of a teen fail to realize that they are unwittingly postponing their teen’s development into a responsible and mature adult.  That’s because generosity and a parent’s desire to provide for their child often gets misinterpreted by the teen, leading them believe that this provisional lifestyle will continue endlessly.  They want more and more and appreciate it less and less.

It echoes the attitudes of the Prodigal Son found in scripture, with one difference. Today’s prodigals don’t leave home.  In fact, they are comfortable at home because they can continue a self-centered and lavish lifestyle right under their parent’s noses, with no real-life consequences to help them come to their senses.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing inherently wrong for parents (and grandparents) to want to do great things for their children. But when the teen years come along and the child has not learned how to to earn and manage their own money, then the over indulgent parent is unintentionally cutting short their teen’s ability to make it out in the real world.

I hear from parents every day who want to place their teenager in our Heartlight Residential program for troubled teenagers.  Many of these kids come homes where parents have lavished on them everything they ever wanted and required nothing of them in return.

We have little ability to change the materialistic world in which our teens live. But I have no doubt of our ability to change what we will and won’t give a child.

So, my recommendation is this. Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad will help them make good buying choices and may provide ways for them to earn money, but they will no longer give them everything they want.

I’m usually pretty straight forward with a teen in such a conversation. I’ll say, “Thanks for telling me what you want. But I need you to know something.  Every time you ask, I get a feeling that it’s more of a demand than a request. I just want to let you know that as your parent I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything. For right now, my greatest gift to you would be to help you learn how to make make and manage your own money.”

This immediately lets your child know they need to lower their expectations about what you will provide, and allows them to begin assuming responsibility for what they want.

For instance, “Honey, your asking for a cell phone is important to you, and I know you would really like to have it. It’s important for me to allow you to take responsibility for it, so let’s talk about what you can do to make it happen. I’m willing to help you find an inexpensive way to have a cell phone, and you’ll need that since you’ll be paying for it.”

But if your child is still young, you can head off such “entitled” attitudes. Begin early to teach them financial responsibility. For instance, when they are 13 they can begin to manage a checking account and pay for minor expenses like lunch money out of a weekly allowance. When they are 15 they can get themselves out of bed for school, do their own laundry, clean their own room, learn how to cook for themselves, and get a summer job to cover some of their own wants and needs.  When they’re 16 and can drive, an after-school or weekend job will help them pay for gas, auto insurance and other needs.

Let alone keeping idle hands busy and out of trouble, starting sooner to teach your teen how to work to make money will give them a greater feeling of independence and self-confidence and prepare them for the day in the future when they tell you they are starting out on their own.


The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Teen

Greatest GiftAs parents, we often put a lot of blame on ourselves for what we cannot offer our kids.  When Christmas or birthdays roll around, we feel guilty when we can’t afford the latest and greatest iPads, video games, designer shoes, or state-of-the-art cell phones.  Perhaps we feel embarrassed that, when it comes to housework, we’re barely keeping our head above water, and it’s all we can do to start the laundry, run the dishwasher, and feed the dog.  And if that’s not bad enough, we have the tendency to compare ourselves to what other moms and dads can offer their teens.  Instead of being able to take a family vacation to Disney World, perhaps all you can do is pack the car up for a weekend with Grandpa and Grandma in Peoria, Illinois (I love people in Peoria; this is just an example).  While other teens you know are taking private ski lessons, learning Italian in Europe, or going out to a movie every weekend, you feel like you’re letting your teen down because you’re not able to offer the same type of experiences.  So we start to believe that we don’t pass muster as parents.

Mom and Dad; let me encourage you today.  The bottom line is, there’s only one thing that your teen needs from you.  It doesn’t involve money.  It’s got nothing to do with exciting opportunities.  It’s not even about offering protection from the outside world!  To be the parent God has called you to be, all you have to do is offer your child a relationship.  A relationship with your son or daughter is, hands-down, the most important thing you can give your child.  Why is it so critical?

Your Child is Disconnected

Teens today are disconnected from life.  A recent study showed that the average child spends about ten hours a day staring at a screen.  While a constant stream of interfacing has led to a boom in adolescent communication, it has also led to a breakdown in meaningful connection.  We assume that teens are building relationships because they are on Facebook or Skype, or are texting, blogging, or using any number of social media outlets.  But that’s simply not the case.  Learning how to build meaningful connections starts with mom and dad.  Your relationship with your teenager is the model for how they connect with other people.  When you take time to sit down and have a conversation eyeball-to-eyeball with your child, you’re giving them what Facebook and Twitter cannot; a personal relationship.

Parents; you shape the ideals for the husbands and wives your children will one day marry.  You’re also the main example of character, conviction, and values for your teens. From you, they will understand the importance of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.  You get to be a daily model of what it means to be a godly person in today’s world.

You are so important in the life of disconnected teens.  The personal relationship you offer your teen can never be replaced.  Trust me on this; if your son or daughter is not finding a relationship with mom and dad at home, they will look for it elsewhere.  They will seek to fill their relational voids through dating, friends, academics, sports, or destructive habits like drugs and alcohol in order to find a sense of value and love.

Don’t ever think that your relationship with your teen can be replaced.  It’s simply too valuable.

Your Child is Pulling Away

While I have attempted to encourage you today, maybe you’re feeling even more disheartened.  Though you desire a better connection, maybe your teen has made it clear that he doesn’t want a relationship with you.  You’ve tried to mend the fences and build some bridges, only to have those fences and bridges burned.

It you truly want a better relationship with your child; don’t give up!  Any relationship worth having takes time.  It won’t happen overnight.  And even in spite of past hurts and disappointments we can always move forward and strive for a clean slate.  But it will take work.

If something has come between you and your teen, sit down with them face-to-face and start asking those tough questions to get to the root of the issue.  Start by saying, “You are very important to me, and I’m sorry if our relationship hasn’t been what it should.  But I want to change that.  So what could I do to make our relationship better?”  Be prepared to patiently listen to the response, even if it’s painful.  Criticism is never easy to hear, but this is a chance for your teen to share her heart, and for you to hear how you can improve.  It will require humbleness and self-evaluation.  But think of it as in an investment towards a greater, future reward.

Of course, I know that some kids may say, “There’s nothing you can do to fix our relationship.  I don’t want anything to do with you.”  And while that is a devastating blow to any parent, keep moving forward.  Tell your son or daughter, “I am really sorry to hear that.  But I don’t want to miss out on having a relationship with you, so even though you may not like me now, I’m still going to pursue you.”  Now, that is not easy.  But remember how God’s interacts with us:  Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Even when we wanted nothing to do with Him, God continued to pursue a relationship with us.  And He can give us the strength to do the same thing with our teens, as well.  Don’t be belligerent in your attempts to improve your connection with your teen, but don’t walk away from him either.  A relationship with your child is too important to let it slip by.

Rules of Engagement

If you want to improve your relationship with your teen, let me offer nine suggestions, or “rules of engagement”:

  1. Make many of your conversations about your teen.  What are his opinions, feelings, or thoughts on a subject?
  2. Share something personal about yourself.  Let your child know about a mistake in your past, a particular emotion, or surprising thought.  Show her that that you are human and imperfect.
  3. Share your heart in short bits.  No long diatribes or hour-long monologues.
  4. You don’t always have to be right.
  5. You don’t always have to have the answer.
  6. Your final sentence doesn’t always have to end in a period.  Let your teen have the final say once-and-a-while.
  7. Never use one-on-one time with your teenager as an opportunity to criticize.
  8. Acknowledging your mistakes provides the opportunity for your teen to share his.
  9. Don’t judge a teen’s comments.  Maybe they’re foolish, or dumb, or incorrect.  But if you blast them, chances are your teen won’t share his thoughts with you again.

I hope that this call for relationships is encouraging.  We often think we have to be constantly doing in order to be a good parent. But in reality, being a good parent is all about being.  It’s not about the possessions we give our kids.  It’s not about the cleanliness of our homes.  To be the best parent you can be, all you need to do is strive to have a loving and personal relationship with your teen.  Everything else is secondary.


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.

Picking Up the Pieces of Broken Trust

Motorcycle WreckI remember the day my dad brought home that shiny new motorcycle.  My brother and I couldn’t wait to hop on that hog and careen down the streets of our town.  But wisely, our father put the motorcycle in the garage and told us boys not to ride it unless he was there.  Well if you’re the parent of a teenage boy, you might see where this story is headed.  When my dad left one day, his car wasn’t halfway down the street before we pulled the forbidden vehicle out for a spin.  The result of our ill-conceived joy ride was my brother breaking his jaw, a friend breaking his ankle, and a busted air conditioning unit.  While a friend’s dad took the necessary people to hospital, I was given the unwelcome job of trying to smooth things over with my father.  It did not go well.  I had broken the trust my dad had given me.  After meting out the consequences, my dad sold the motorcycle and did not talk to my brother and I for close to three months.

Here’s the cold hard fact: kids will break your trust.  It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.  And when the inevitable disappointment comes, we have one of two options.  Either distance ourselves from the teenage offenders, or move closer to them.

Mistakes Will Happen

You can’t trust your child to always make good decisions.  But you can definitely trust your son or daughter to make mistakes.  But if you want move forward and get past the hurt of broken trust, you have to realize that your teenager is not perfect.  Now, that might sound too ridiculous to even mention.  Yet, when our child goes behind our back, breaks a promise, or blows it big time, we often react as if it’s the last thing we would have expected from them.  In reality, we should understand that growing up involves making mistakes.  This doesn’t mean you have bad kids.  It only proves that they are in need of a Savior, and a parent to help them get back on the right track.

God Finishes What He Starts

I’ve talked to numerous parents who’ve said, “Mark, my kid has disappointed me too many times.  It’s getting harder and harder to move past the hurt.  Will this ever get better?”  The answer is, “Yes, it will!”  Philippians 1:6 tells us that we can be confident of this; “He who began a good work… will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God doesn’t leave His work half-done.  The job that God has started in the life of your teen will not be left unfinished.  Trust in the fact that though it may be hard for you to see how circumstances or family dynamics will improve, God is still at work, and He is not finished molding and shaping your child.

Give Another Chance

When your child breaks your trust, it’s difficult to allow them additional opportunities to show maturity.  Our natural reaction is to lock them in a room somewhere and throw away the key!  But picking up the pieces after mistakes are made requires us to give kids another chance.  And another chance.  And another chance after that.  Memorize the motto; “Forgive constantly. Forget quickly.  And forego reminding them of their mistakes.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enforce the appropriate consequences for bad behavior.  Offering mercy doesn’t negate discipline.  But it does take away the option to withhold grace as a punishment.  Be a mom or dad who is always ready to extend a second, third, or fourth chance to a child who is willing to redeem himself.

Don’t Say This

Maybe your son or daughter is making use of those chances you’re giving him or her.  But as the mistakes are repeated again and again, you may wonder if your teen will ever turn the corner.  In those moments, refrain from saying anything like, “You’ll never change.”  Such a thought will crush any motivation your child has to make things right or get her life back in order.  Instead, be the parent who even in the midst of a mistake says, “I know you can turn this around.  You can make this right.”  Encouragements like this go a long way in building back a relationship of mutual trust.

Move Towards Them

Molly was a sweet little girl whose recent stay at our Heartlight residential center had been going well.  I had just taken her and some other girls out for dinner to celebrate a birthday, and the conversations around the table had been fun and encouraging.  One night, a week later, I was on my way out, when I saw Molly in my rear-view mirror, storming across the property in her pajamas with counselors hot on her trail.  I got out to see what I could do to help.  As I approached this visibly angry girl, whom I had grown to love and care for, she let loose with a string of hateful and bitter comments about how she hated me, hated this place, and how she was going to leave that night.  Molly really let me have it, holding nothing back as she told me what she really thought about me.  I was hurt, wounded, and confused, and didn’t sleep well that night.

The next morning, Molly was assigned yard duty for leaving her cabin at night.  As I walked past where she was raking leaves, she looked up, waved to me, and yelled, “Hi Mark!”  In that moment, my gut reaction was to walk away and let her feel the brokenness I was feeling.  But I remembered how I felt when my father ignored me for that motorcycle ride.  It tore me up inside.  So instead of walking away from Molly, I made the decision to walk towards her, hug her, and let her know I had forgiven her.

When it comes to picking up the pieces of broken trust, we need to practice grace.  We need to give our teens mercy and forgiveness even though they don’t deserve it.  Don’t wait for your teenager to come to you on humble knees.  Make the first move and let them know that though they’ve hurt you, you still want to maintain a close relationship with them.  Remind them that there’s nothing they could do to make you love them more, and there’s nothing they can do to make you love them less.

It tool me a long time to get over the emotions I felt after my father snubbed me over the mistakes I made.  It’s something I carried around for a long time.  Even though they may not show it, your teens are feeling guilty, shameful, or shattered over their mistakes as well.  This is your chance to offer them grace and take the broken pieces of trust and shape them into a stronger connection with your child.  Will your child break your trust?  You can count it.  Can you move past those hurts and disappointments and make your relationship with your teen stronger for it?  You bet.



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.