Teens and Self-Control

Parenting teens is not just about caring for their physical and educational needs. It’s also about training your teen to handle what life will later dish out, with body and soul intact.  It’s about teaching self-control.

After all, your child will spend 80% of his lifetime away from you.  So, you need to ask yourself this question: “Am I willing to relinquish control to my teenager before he leaves home in order to help him learn how to act and become the one God desires him to be?”

Teens gradually need to get their feet wet in decision-making, since one day soon they will be fully in control of their own life and self-control will be paramount.  Your main goal, then, should be about preparation for making good life decisions. It’s more than teaching how to handle the finances, or how to pick the best classes, or driving responsibly. It’s about training them to be godly men or women and developing their character.

“But,” you say, “My teenager is too immature and irresponsible. He’s not capable of handling much right now.” You might be thinking that it would be better to wait until your teen begins to show some slightest signs of responsibility before you begin to trust him with more. But if you wait to see your child behaving responsibly, you may never hand over control.  They may fail at first, and that’s OK. They need to know that failure is a part of life.  This begins the important process of teaching responsibility and maturity.

Independence, But With Limits!

There is one big mistake some parents make when they turn over control to their teen, and that’s where problems can arise.  Some parents go too far, too fast.  They totally back off and don’t set proper limits for their teenager.  I see this happen most often in the life of a child who’s parents divorce, who feel guilty for what they put their child through. Other parents just want to be friends with their children and they throw out their parental role.  Children raised by such parents often become selfish, demanding, independent, and aggressively controlling as adults.  Kids need their parents to be parents, not their “peerants.”

It’s been my experience that a teen wants limits, even though they may balk at them. We all live with limits, don’t we?  Clearly defined limits give a teenager security and direction, like being limited to driving on the right side of the road to avoid a crash.  If you don’t provide limits in which to frame their decisions, they will feel unprepared for their new freedom and become confused and frustrated.  Limits you set should line up with the law, your closely held beliefs and your teen’s maturity.

Once your teen demonstrates that he can handle the first baby steps of freedom, expand that freedom to a new level. Determine if the limits also need to be adjusted or kept the same. Teenagers will become impatient with the step by step process, and there may be a need to back up to a previous level of freedom if the limits are not adhered to, but this is a necessary process to move them on to maturity.

Teaching Self-Control

Your child needs to go through a process of learning self-control, which means to not be controlled by hormones, other things, or his peers. Here are some ways to begin the process of teaching your child self-control:

1. A good place to start is with asking lots of questions. Ask your teen questions about moral issues, and wait for their answer without giving your opinion. “How do you think that person felt about being treated that way? What do you think would be the best thing to do in this situation? What would you do if you were asked to have sex, steal or take drugs? Tell me what you think about…? Allow your teen to come up with his own answer without injecting yours. Don’t use it as an opportunity to lecture or teach.  Let them realize the fullness of their answer by hearing their own words.  Their answer will often be immature or even irresponsible, but that answer will echo in their mind and begin them thinking about the issue and how they would really act if that situation were to arise.

2. Put limits around their decisions to cause them to be more responsible. Once you’ve given them more freedom, allow them to make their own decisions within that area of freedom, good or bad. For example, if you allow them use of the car and give them gas money, and if they instead spend the money on concert tickets, then they will have to figure out how another way to get around. Don’t just give them more gas money. Let them walk, if necessary, to show the foolishness and reality of spending money unwisely. Once they have to walk, they’ll never make that foolish decision again. Or, if they use the car outside of designated hours, they lose that privilege for a time.

3. Set your boundaries, make them clear, and enforce them if they are broken. For example, if you see your teen watching an inappropriate movie, something that is out of bounds in your home, ask him – “Is this an appropriate movie for you to be watching?” Allow him the opportunity to respond as he should, by turning the movie off.  Let him come to the right decision on his own. If his immaturity causes him to not respond as he should, then move in and make the decision to change the channel or turn the TV off yourself. Then reinforce the rule with consequences the next time the rule is broken, such as loss of the freedom to watch television for a time. If the rule is consistently broken, then remove the TV from the home altogether. It will be an inconvenience for you, but it shows your teen how passionately you feel about the issue of watching inappropriate material on television.

4. Encourage your child in their good decisions, and point your comments toward their successes, not their failures. Don’t say, “I told you so,” or, “I should have made that decision instead of you,” when they make a mistake. Instead, patiently allow them the opportunity to make the right choice and look for progress. Whenever you see your child respond with maturity and responsibility, congratulate them and explain that because they made a good choice you are now moving them up to a new level of freedom.  Keep in mind that instant feedback is always best.

5. Randomly offer examples of good decisions in your own life.  While teens will respond to your own stories as examples out of the dark ages, revealing your own good decisions at key moments in your life will come back to them when they have the opportunity to make similar decisions.  They will give the teen fuel and courage to make a similar decision in a similar situation.  And they will also offer something to think about if the teen makes a different decision. Developing a portfolio of good decisions (both by you and others that the teen may admire) and injecting them in conversations randomly (not to make a point when the teen does something wrong) is a good way to teach your teen self-control by example.

My advice today for parents of teenagers is to begin to shift control to your child before you think they will need it. Give them the opportunity to show what they can handle asking them to do so, and don’t bail them out or condemn them if they fail. Give them the chance to figure it out, learn from consequences, and find a better way for the next time they are faced with the same decision. Giving teenagers increasing levels of independence, coupled with proper limits and parental guidance, will begin to teach them the most important type of control, self-control.



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.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at 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.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

Mowing Lawns and Cooking Fries: Why Every Teen Needs a Job

Teen JobsExcuse me for a moment while I boast, but in fourth grade I discovered that I had a knack for selling stuff.  You know those candy bar drives schools put on to raise money?  Every student was saddled with an inventory of 2 cases of inexpensive chocolate and charged with hawking what they could to neighbors, friends, and family.  It was a ritual despised by parents and kids alike.  But when I saw the prizes I could win by selling these mediocre treats I was inspired to do whatever it would take to make my candy campaign successful.  So I hatched a plan to offer free samples of the chocolate bars to potential customers, and then charge a little bit more for the candy bars to make up the difference.  At the end of the drive, I had managed to sell sixty cases of chocolate bars!  Not bad for a ten-year-old kid!  But before my head swells too big, let me admit that I’ve also had a few failures in my work career.  I’ve even been fired from a job.  It sure didn’t feel good, but the lessons I’ve learned have stuck with me.

Here’s the point of these personal illustrations:  kids need jobs!  And no amount of after-school activities, social clubs, sports programs, or music lessons can replace the education and life skills gained at work.  These days, parents may be tempted to focus too much attention on their kids.  We used to call this “spoiling” our kids.  But doing too much, or giving too much to your teens without asking any responsibility from them in return may result in an entitled teen, who becomes an entitled adult. There’s no better way to teach responsibility than requiring your teen to have a job.  Sure, maybe the pay off is not immediate, but the void left when kids don’t work is felt later on in life.

What happens when your son or daughter gets married and the clash of finances begins?  It’s one of the main reasons marriages dissolve.  Young couples that haven’t had much experience handling their own finances don’t understand how to create and live under a budget, so they fight about who is spending what or they use credit cards to supply all their wants and needs.  Pretty soon, they’re in a financial hole that takes decades to escape!

Mom and Dad; now is the time to start instilling the value of work and the principles of financial management.  When your teenagers begin a job, they can look forward to learning a few lessons along the way that will help them succeed throughout their lives.

Learn How to Listen

Parents often tell me, “My kid just won’t listen to me!”  However, this bad habit will start to wither away once your son or daughter starts working for a boss.  They’ll understand quickly that respect and attention are essential in order to earn that paycheck at the end of the week.  You can’t mouth off to a superior (well, you can, but you won’t have a job very long).  You have to listen to instructions and have the maturity to carry them out.  If your teen is not grasping this lesson at home, he will definitely be able to learn it at the workplace.

Learn to Handle Finances

What’s that old proverb?  Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.  Applied to the area of finances, this time-tested bit of wisdom holds water.  We can give teenagers an allowance of money, pay their bills, finance their hobbies, and supply their needs and wants.  But when we do this, we are really robbing them of the chance to earn and handle money on their own. I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide anything for your kids.  As a parent, it’s your responsibility to care for their basic needs.  But it’s possible to take this too far.  Some parents never turn down their teens’ requests for cash, and are always buying them bigger and better toys. It’s wiser to encourage your teens to earn money and budget for what they want.  A dollar earned is more valuable than a dollar given.  When teens realize the effort that goes into making money, they’ll understand the value of being good stewards of what they have.  So every year, slowly step back from financing their lives.  One year, let them pay for gifts for Christmas and birthday parties.  The next year, have them help pay for school clothes.  When they get a license, let your son or daughter pay for their car insurance.  In college, have them pay for books or the interest payments on their school loans.  Of course, they’ll need a job to pay for all these things.  But that’s good!  Give them the opportunity to handle money at an early age, and you’ll be preparing them for a financially healthy life later on.

Learn to Work Well

It’s not all about the dollars and cents.  Having a job can instill a sense of accomplishment and purpose in a teen’s life.  Your child can learn what it means to be devoted to doing quality and valuable work.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling that comes from a job well done.  So start early, and give your child chores around the house and praise him or her for a good job.  If your teen mows the lawn, comment on how good the yard looks.  If your kids are in charge of feeding and walking the animals, let them know that you appreciate their work.  Reinforce the idea that working with your hands is worthwhile and meaningful.  Work is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced and done with an eye towards excellence.

Learn Their Own Potential

There may be some moms and dads reading this thinking, “Frankly, Mark, I think teenagers shouldn’t have to jump into the working world so soon.  I mean, they’re just kids!  They don’t have the tools necessary to handle that type of responsibility.

But that is just not true.  Teenagers have more potential then we often give them credit for.  Let’s go back a hundred years.  What would we find?  Seventeen-year-olds running the family farm.  Fourteen-year-olds managing large animals.  Nineteen year-olds leading armies into battle.  Sixteen-year-olds getting married (Of course, this doesn’t mean your high-school daughter should run off and marry her boyfriend).  Were kids inherently different back then?  I don’t think so.  Teenagers today are not all that different from the teenagers of yesterday.  The problem is, we expect less of them or don’t give them the opportunities to earn maturity.  Give a teenager a project that has substance, or meaning, or adds value, and you’ll find them rising to the challenge and displaying levels of character you might have never seen before!  Work can bring out the hidden potential in your child.

Learn Valuable Skills

Mom and Dad, let me ask you this—have you replaced your teen’s work with after-school activities?  Now, there’s nothing wrong with soccer practice, violin lessons, or being in the chess club.  Will every child who shoots hoops after school become a basketball star?  Probably not.  But every child will eventually join the workforce.  Instead of forcing activities on your child that he or she may not continue later on in life, why not give them a chance to develop the skills they will need to have a career one day?

If your teens’ schedule is too packed for a part-time job, it’s time to evaluate the priorities.  Provide the time needed to take on a construction job, or fold clothes at the GAP, cook fries at the drive-thru, or groom neighborhood animals.  Let your teens find work.  In that way, you’re supplying them with needed skills they will use for the rest of their adult life.

In this culture, work is being viewed as a lifetime punishment with no possibility of parole.  And while our teens are over exposed to the issues and subjects of adult life, they are under exposed to needed responsibilities.  We have teens that can build complex software from the ground-up, but can’t socially interact with supervisors or people in charge.

A job can change that.  And you’re not a bad parent for making your teenager get a job.  In fact, you’re giving them a priceless gift.  You’re teaching them the value of work.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential facility for teens located in Hallsville, Texas. Check out our website, www.parentingtodaysteens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent, such as other helpful articles by Mark, and practical resources for moms and dads. On our website you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcast. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264.

Training Teens to Be Leaders

Teen LeadersYou know what they say; behind every great leader stands a proud parent.  But great leaders don’t just happen.  People who stand tall on their own two feet are often the result of a family who poured into their lives and helped them develop the necessary skills to take charge and bring others with them.  But I’m sure there are some parents who will say, “Hey Mark, my teen will never be a leader!  He can’t run his own life, let alone guide anyone else’s.”  But before we jump into “never” situations, perhaps it would help to clarify what we are talking about.

What is a Leader?

Sure, your son or daughter might not be the type to run a country or occupy the corner office, but these types of professions and occupations don’t encompass all that it means to be a leader.  You don’t have to have an impressive title or an official position to be a leader.  Instead, leaders are those who have learned to govern themselves.  They’re not mindless followers.  Leaders are secure in what they know is right and will walk in that truth regardless of whether others come along.  Leaders can be fun, but they also gain respect.  Those around them understand that this is someone they can trust and perhaps look up too.  That’s the type of person we want our sons and daughters to become.  Studies show that kids who exhibit leadership qualities are less likely to participate in substance abuse, pre-marital sex, school delinquency, and self-harm.  Training your teen to become a leader not only builds character, but it protects your child from the destructive forces that can veer them off course.

So how does a mom or dad start cultivating a leader in their home?

Set the Example

Here’s the truth—like many character qualities, leadership is caught, not taught.  If you want your teen to become a leader by taking charge of their actions and attitudes, you, Mom or Dad, have to model how.  So let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you respect and honor your spouse in the home?
  • Do you care for other people?
  • Are you a safe and responsible driver?
  • How do you act towards those who are in need, but cannot do anything for you?
  • How do you respond when you’re wronged or insulted?
  • Are you insecure, and always sharing your opinion or trying to make yourself sound better than you are?

Tough questions, I know.  But if we honestly examine our own words and actions, we may discover that we’re not being the type of leaders our children can look up to.  Training a teenager to be a leader begins with you!  Show them how to lead when others follow, to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.  Exhibit how to treat others with respect.  Display poise under pressure.  Model perseverance even when the chips are down.  Your kids will learn how to be leaders by watching you.

Set the Mentality

This goes hand-in-hand with modeling leadership to your teen.  To raise a future leader in your home, start to develop a leadership mentality.  Begin by asking, “What does it mean to lead?”  Sit down and write out the specific traits your teen wants to build into his life.  It could be learning to stand up for weaker people.  Or being more assertive.  Or striving to take more initiative for homework, for their schedule, or in their small jobs.  Once the list is made up, post it somewhere for the whole family to see and strive towards.

You know, often times as parents, we focus on the negative traits in our kids.  It’s a natural by-product of guiding and correcting them.  But we also need to balance that with a healthy dose of positive affirmation when teens get it right.  When you see your son or daughter practicing leadership skills, stop whatever you’re doing and affirm them then and there.  In this way, you’ll create an environment where leadership is noticed, practiced, and rewarded.  That’s what I mean by setting a leadership mentality.

Be Proactive

Maybe your teen is struggling with motivation right now.  It’s difficult to get her out of her room some days, let alone guide her into being a leader.  The truth is, raising a leader will be easier with some teens and harder with others.  Personality, temperament, hobbies and interests all factor in.  That’s why I encourage all parents to be proactive.  It’s not enough to sit on our hands and wait for our children to become leaders all on their own.  Get creative about ways to develop those traits in your child.

A simple (and time-tested) method is to give your teen chores to accomplish.  Tasks like feeding the dog, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, vacuuming the living room and making dinner once a week build responsibility and accountability in your teen.  Contributing to the family can give them a sense of ownership and appreciation.

Also, encourage your child to use his gifts to help others.  I know a few mature, young guys who excel in soccer, football, baseball, and basketball, and are involved coaching younger kids on the mechanics of these sports.  Knowing that these youngsters look up to them drives them to become better leaders and to live up to their calling.  Maybe your daughter is musically inclined, and can give piano lessons at the rec center or help in the lower grades’ band classes.  Or perhaps your teen can get involved in Sunday School at church and develop their leadership qualities there.

Be creative in your approach.  Have a “good deed” week, where you challenge everyone in the family to take the lead in helping someone else.  If someone looks lost, give them directions.  Offer to help carry something for a person overloaded with bags.  Spend some time with someone who can offer you nothing in return.  If everyone in the family completes a good deed that week, celebrate with a night out at the family’s favorite restaurant.  Building leadership doesn’t have to be boring.  Make the process exciting and worthwhile, and your teens will run towards it!

Remember the Big Picture

Obviously, training a teen to become a leader is beneficial not only for the child, but for parents as well.  But in the midst of your training, remember to keep the big picture in mind.  It’s really not about us as moms and dads.  We want to instill leadership qualities in our kids in order that they may better serve the Lord.

Joshua was just a young adult when Moses took him under his wing and made him his protégé.  Moses knew that the only way Joshua could become a worthy leader of Israel was by learning how to better follow God.  And it was evident that Moses’ strategy had worked when Joshua declared in front of the entire nation, “choose for yourselves whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

That’s a statement that we want to hear echoed in the mouths of our sons and daughters.  So begin today to instill leadership qualities in your child, realizing that it will equip them not only govern themselves and lead others, but also prepare them to make a difference for the Lord.


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.