Responsible Weightlifting

Every time you go to the gym to work out with weights, you know you’re headed for pain.  Pumping iron hurts!  Why?  We build muscles by tearing down muscles.  All that pain eventually delivers impressive results, but it ain’t always fun.

Parenting today’s teens involves the same painful process.

As parents, we are responsible to help our children build the muscle they need to lift the heavy issues of life.  But as their virtual personal trainer, it takes a lot of discernment to help them understand how much weight they should lift.  I can tell you from my experience with kids at Heartlight, teens are quite capable of handling tough issues, but they can’t do all the heavy lifting on their own.  Teens are still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world.  You get to help your teen manage their muscle-building program, and all of us go through lots of blood, sweat and tears along the way.

When your child appears weak and insecure, it’s tempting to want to step in and rescue them from the pain of failure.  Or, we become over-controlling and smother them with advice, lecturing and counsel.  In these times, we do little to help our teen build the muscle they need and, in essence, we try to manipulate what only God can do in their life.

Psalm 1 describes a process that a person follows when he is learning something.  First they walk, then stand, and eventually they sit.  The psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the one 

    who does not walk in step with the wicked 

or stand in the way that sinners take 

    or sit in the company of mockers, 

but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, 

    and who meditates on his law day and night. 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, 

    which yields its fruit in season 

and whose leaf does not wither— 

whatever they do prospers.

When your child is young, you can’t demand a lot of that child because you know he doesn’t have the skills, experience, or wisdom to make the decisions on his own yet.  Your child walks in the way that you direct him, looking to you for guidance in placing each step.  But your teen is in transition now.  He is in the standing position, getting ready to take his position on life.

Remember this when you interact with your teen!  When your child is standing, you can transfer opportunities for him to build his muscles while you are still standing next to him.  But this means you need to know where he is standing as well.  What are his challenges?  Who are his friends?  What are his needs?  With open lines of communication, you will have a greater opportunity for sharing your own experiences and wisdom with your teen.

In a few years, your teen will choose where he will sit.  Which way will he be facing?  What outlook will he take on life?  What things that you have taught him will he hold onto and what will he discard?  Everything he has experienced up until this point will help him make that decision.

If your goal is to help your child grow up, then be intentional in your relationship with your child.  This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye when bad stuff happens, but it doesn’t mean holding onto the reins so tightly either.  Teens aren’t perfect.  Parents aren’t perfect either.  But when you allow your teen to exercise his freedom and to face the consequences in a safe environment, surrounded by people who love him and want him to succeed, he’ll be able to flex his muscles and grow.

I would never want to run a marathon without any training.  In fact, if I signed up for a marathon, I’d be out there every day getting ready for my 26-mile trek.  Bit by bit, I would run farther and faster.  And eventually, I should be able to reach my goal.  The day is coming when your teen will leave your home and be on his own.  Sure, working out right now might create some risk as you and your teen determine his boundaries, but if you wait until that day to allow him to experience freedom, he may not be able to handle his newfound liberty

When you train your body as a weightlifter, the key to success is to keep at it.  There are days when you won’t want to get up and pump iron, do squats or run on the treadmill.  It’s the same way with your relationship with your teen.  If your family isn’t intentionally building strength together every day, the muscles you are trying instill in your child’s body will atrophy.

If you have been holding onto the reins tightly, try starting off with some light weights.  See how he responds to responsibility, and then gradually increase the weight.  If you have been taking a hands-off approach, get a sense of whether your teen might be struggling under too much weight.  Remove some of the freedom until he is able to show that he can handle the responsibility.

When you give your teen the opportunity to succeed and the opportunity to fail, he will either make a mistake, face the consequences, and try his hardest not to do it again, or he will succeed and remember how good it feels.  With every choice that is made, your teen will strengthen his ability to handle the harder decisions and responsibilities later on in life.  When that day comes, you can look back with deep satisfaction knowing that God used you to be his personal trainer.

Mom, dad, keep up the good work.  Your son or daughter is well worth the effort!



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.

Dear Mom and Dad…

Have you ever drafted a note to somebody when you were really miffed?  Not that you would send it, of course, but the exercise of writing out your thoughts often helps us process through our anger.

Your teen probably has a note like this waiting for you.  Oh, it’s not likely on paper yet.  But I can guarantee you, there’s something in your teen’s life that he or she is just waiting for the right time, the perfect occasion, to share with you.

In today’s culture, kids are flexing their communications muscles by using text and tweets, and it’s much harder for them to communicate eye-to-eye.  They talk to each other on Facebook and sometimes in emails (although even email is becoming a relic of the past).  They share their deepest thoughts on blogs and never think about the person on the other side of the computer who might be reading it.  And yet, when confronted with a face-to-face conversation, our kids often struggle to naturally communicate their emotions.

One of my favorite things to do is take time to meet and talk with kids.  I enjoy learning about their culture and trying to get a better sense of who they are and what they are going through (this is one reason why I enjoy having teens on the Parenting Today’s Teens radio program).  Teens rarely reveal their heart until I ask them questions that require more than “yes” and “no” answers.  But as I move closer toward them in a trusted relationship, they move closer to me and are willing to drop their guard and tell me what’s really on their heart.

Most kids have this hidden desire:  “I wish I could tell my mom and dad what’s really on my mind.”

I remember meeting with one teen who was frustrated with his parents.  His mom and dad had been talking with him, but they seemed to be more interested in managing his behavior than diving into real issues.  After I spent an hour asking this teen questions, the truth finally spilled out.  He had entered into a sexual relationship with his teacher.  His parents were devastated.  When his mom asked why he hadn’t shared this before, his answer was telling:

“You never asked.”

As parents, we have to mine for the nugget of truth that our teens are longing to share with us.  If we don’t give our kids the opportunity, you can be certain they will never volunteer their most personal thoughts.

The trouble is, when you attempt to communicate with your teen, sometimes he will push you away.  If he hasn’t heard this kind of talk from you before, he might brush you off at first.  It won’t be easy to start this kind of communication if you haven’t had it with your teen before.  So, let your teen know that it’s okay to share the things that are truly in his or her heart.  Try not to over react.  That only serves to shut them down.  We need to give our kids a trusted place where they feel safe to open up their heart and be vulnerable.  It’s a scary moment for most kids, and we need to create an environment where they know it’s okay to be real.

If your teen isn’t as open with you as you’d like, you may need to find creative ways to draw them out.  Whenever I meet with a teen, I let them know that I will pursue them no matter what.  Even if they push me away, I will try to connect with them.  This establishes an expectation in their mind that you don’t plan on giving up on them or retreating on them even when they act belligerent or indifferent.

One way to show your teen that you care is by taking part in what he enjoys.  If your teen likes animals, go horseback riding together.  If your teen is into music, find some music that you can listen to together.  It’s not the activity that matters, it’s that we convince our kids that we truly want to engage with them on their terms.

Wendy Mattner is a guidance counselor at Harvest Christian Academy near Chicago.  Wendy will join us on this weekend’s broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens to talk about her work with teens and the things they share when in the counselor’s office.

Every teen has something they want to communicate.  They are harboring thoughts about things they’ve done, things that define them, problems they’re struggling to solve, and situations that cause them frustration with their parents.  By building a relationship that allows for a balance between guidance and accountability, we can cultivate an environment of trust that convinces our kids that we love them … no matter what.


If you are in the Houston area or know of someone in the Houston area then make plans to attend the upcoming Turbulence Ahead seminar on Saturday, May 5th. The seminar takes place at Windwood Presbyterian Church. Go to www.turbulenceahead.org or call 1-866-700-3264 for more information.


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.

Balanced Parenting

The “Baby Boom” generation was so anxious to have good relationships with their children that they tended to set aside their primary role as parents.  Their desire to be their child’s best friend nurtured the advent of a self-centered, demanding, “Me Generation” who believes the world revolves around them.  But there’s hope!

Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid

As I’ve grown older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose.  And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad’s parenting style.  I’ve learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.

My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family.  Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family.  He demanded respect.  He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.

My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on.  He also saw to it that our family was protected.  Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.

Parenting in Today’s Generation — Too Relational

Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along.  Some called it a revolution.  Millions of “Baby Boomers” fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind.  Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love.  We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and “smile on your brother; everybody get together; try to love one another right now.”  There was a “whole lotta’ love” going around.  And we “showered the people we love with love … showing them the way that we feel.”  Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.

Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs.  We determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme.  Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more.  Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility.  Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald’s in-between.  We indulged, spoiled and provided too much “stuff” as misguided expressions of our love.

But Good Relationships Are Good, Aren’t They?

What’s wrong with too much love?  Nothing!  But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus.  To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement.  Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them.  Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements.  They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills.  When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry.  We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance.  After all, they wouldn’t admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home.  Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home right now?

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes.  So, I’ve seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.

The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children.  This becomes especially difficult in step-families and some adoptive families.  The crucial role of correcting and holding children accountable is impossible when our overriding concern is to avoid any form of damage to our friendship.  But what we need to realize is that our children need parents first, not more friends.

So, the big question is this:  How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen?  In other words, how do we find a proper balance without swinging the pendulum too far the other way?

Parenting the Right Way – Balanced

A simple answer is to say things like “No” and “Maybe” more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line.  Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time.  It is not just one or the other, it is both.  The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.

Kids learn quickly when they come to live with us at Heartlight that I am an authority in their life.  But that is always coupled with acceptance and love.  That’s why we continue to have great relationships with them over the years.  I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to come to their college graduations or weddings, or who have connected with me on the Internet or by phone.  And most of them have turned out great, so I know there is hope, even with the most difficult and selfish teenagers.  There is a way to resolve this dilemma, but it takes a balanced approach.

Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up.  But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily.  Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released.  Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers, and they’ll realize that you did it out of love, not to be mean or rigid.  In fact, they’ll ask for advice when they have children — and the beat goes on.

Scripture describes God as a mighty warrior and a fierce lion.  Scripture also reveals His softer side, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa 66:13).  One purpose of parenting is to give a child a taste of the character of God, and that means giving them both sides of His character.

It’s never too late to start being a balanced parent; have a loving relationship, while also holding them responsible.  Your children need your correction, wisdom, and willingness to help them travel the path God has for them.  They need you to be gentle and loving, but also firm – a clear reflection of both sides of God’s character.

A wise man once told me, “When you’re called to be a servant, don’t stoop to be a king.”  Parents are never a more like a servant than when they willingly love a child through anything.  But don’t grow weary in doing what is right, since your first job is to be an authority in your child’s life.  Your teen needs a parent and a friend, but when push comes to shove, they need a parent more.

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.