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Keeping Hope Alive

When you’re struggling with a wayward teenager, it can seem as though your world is being turned upside down. Everything you’ve planned and hoped for in the child’s life appears to be fading away. In essence, you feel like a failure.

It is common for such parents to have sleepless nights… finger-pointing arguments… tears… and stress far beyond what they’ve ever experienced before. The energetic little boy who was so fun… or the sweet little girl who used to be full of hugs… has become someone totally different, and is teetering on the edge of disaster. It’s enough to make you lose all hope.

Over the past 30 years, my wife Jan and I have spent countless hours with teens and their parents, and we’ve seen God do some incredible, amazing things. And what I have learned is this: Because God is faithful, there is hope. There is hope for your teen… and there is hope for your family… no matter how desperate the situation may seem.

First of all, hope can be found by focusing on God’s promises and seeking support from other caring believers. Search God’s Word and let it speak hope into your life. Get into a small group of other parents going through something similar to what you’re experiencing. There’s nothing like having a crowd of people around you who are in the same boat trying to bail. Many times, people get involved in small groups just to talk. I would encourage you to get into a small group so you can also listen. When all you know to do isn’t working, the counsel of others might spark some new ideas or directions with your teen. There is wisdom and comfort in the presence of many.

Second, hope can be found by pinpointing possible underlying triggers of the problem. You see, good kids generally don’t make bad choices or hang out with the wrong crowd unless something else is bothering them. Knowing what those triggers may be — usually a loss or damage in their life of some sort — can help you better understand why your teen is acting the way they do. This isn’t to justify the behavior, but to better understand it. Pinpointing the cause of the struggle will help you realize that your teen isn’t necessarily choosing a lifestyle or turning away from you or your values at this point. They are simply responding to or covering up the hurts that they feel by grasping onto new things that their culture says will bring them joy, pleasure and satisfaction.

Third, hope can be found by tightening the boundaries. Just because someone is lost, hurt, or damaged doesn’t give him or her license to destroy you or your home, or constantly disrupt your family. When a teen has lost his way, he doesn’t know where he is, much less where he is going, so any attempt to get him somewhere or keep him from heading down a path of trouble is usually met with resistance. Parents can spend all the time they want telling their teen that the path he is on will take him somewhere he doesn’t want to be, but it will usually have little effect. So establish solid boundaries, which will give your teen a road map.  He’ll then know what to expect if he sways off the road. It also helps take some of the parental emotion and anger out of the equation.

And fourth, hope can be found through taking time to build a stronger relationship with your teen.  Begin with a conversation of restoration.  You do this by admitting where you may have been wrong as well. Tell your teen where you’ve made mistakes and how you’d like to relate differently in the future. Sharing your failures just might give her the motivation and example she needs to do the same, though usually not right away. Require that you do something fun together (fun to the teen, not necessarily you) once every week and then let the conversation flow naturally. It may take several weeks of outings before anything is said by the teen, but keep it up. This approach conveys the message that you can still love your child even though she is a mess, even though she is making mistakes and being hurtful. It lets her know that you can love her when she has it all together, and you can love her when she doesn’t. Isn’t this what we all desire?

You can rest assured that God is pursuing your child just as intensely as you are. And He won’t stop until your wayward one is found. God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God has not left what He is building. This doesn’t mean you can just sit back and let God do all the work. He’s going to use you in that process. As an old Russian proverb about a group of sailors struggling to get to shore on a tumultuous sea says, “Pray to God that he will save us, but keep rowing until He does.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


The Four Attitudes of Teenagers

Nothing brings down the mood of your household any quicker than a teen whose outlook has gone south.  A bad attitude.  Stinkin’ thinkin’ can ruin anybody’s day.

At some point, every teen drives every parent crazy over a bad attitude.  The symptoms include (but aren’t limited to) the classic eye-roll, the angry outburst, the sarcastic retort, the very loud and long sigh, the cold shoulder, the hot temper, or the look your child gives you that declares, I think everything you’re saying right now is totally ridiculous.

Some teens grow into their brash behaviors and wear them like a badge of honor.  Others pull a Jekyll and Hyde trick—one minute a sweet and caring child, the next an angry and arrogant teen.  You’re never quite sure which teen is going to show up.

Over the years, we’ve accommodated more than 2,500 kids at the Heartlight residential program.  I’ve definitely witnessed all the physical and verbal manifestations of a bad attitude.  While each child is unique, you can generally categorize the teenage mindset in one of four ways.  Recognizing which attitude our teen exhibits will help us address the behavior and find a peaceable resolution in our homes.

Angst

The child with angst demonstrates a constant dread—a fear of life and the world.  He hates going to school, is afraid of social events, or angry about the state of the world.  This outlook on life is common among kids who look around at the state of our culture—famine, war, disease, murder, inequality—and think, Hey, this is not right!  I don’t know if I really care about this world after all.  It’s a pretty crummy place.  So they develop an attitude of anguish and try to block out the world.  Even with their best efforts to remain shielded, they can’t help but express sorrow, worry and fear that spills over into other people’s lives.

For the child with angst, dad or mom, you have to put it all into perspective.  Show your teen that this world has good things to offer, as well.  Unfortunately, it’s the tragic and evil things that receive the majority of the spotlight in media.  Take time to point out the myriad of pure, noble, right, and true things happening all around the world.  Talk about the things worth celebrating.  Show your troubled son or daughter that life has more joy and happiness that what he or she can see at the moment.

Anxiety

Maybe you’ve noticed that there seem to be more anxious adolescents than ever.  Our society is silently producing more and more young people who are stressed, stretched, and strained.  They feel the concerns and pressures of parents, peers, or culture (and maybe a mixture of all three) and gain an attitude of self-doubt and apprehension.  This is the child that develops social qualms, has levels of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and lives in a state of fear about all the terrible things that could happen to them.  When you interact with them, they put off an air of restlessness and trouble.

Hey, a little anxiety is a great motivator.  Pressure can help us study harder, practice more and prepare better.  But too much worry and your teen can quickly spiral out of control.  If you see your child with these tendencies, give them the freedom to take a break.  At the dinner table, don’t talk about what needs to be done tomorrow or the problems of the day.  Instead, laugh.  Tell a story.  Watch TV.  Give your worried child an opportunity to breathe and escape the world that overwhelms them.  Assure your son or daughter that it’s okay to drop the tension once in awhile to relax and have fun.

Anger

If you have a teen with an angry attitude, you’re in good company!  At some point, every parent experiences the wrath of an angry child.  For a teenager, rage can be processed in a variety of ways.  I’ve seen irate kids punch holes in the drywall or bang their heads onto the floor in fury.  But I’ve also seen teens turn that anger inward, and become depressed, isolated and lonely.

In working with teens for over thirty years, I have discovered that all anger is an emotional response to an unmet need.  This need could be something important like wanting praise or acceptance, or it could be something trivial like not having a new phone or being grounded.  It’s important to realize that anger is not necessarily a bad thing.  Everybody gets fired up from time to time.  But an angry attitude should not be excused or ignored.  If you encounter a fiery flare up with your child, don’t match their temper with your own.  Instead, say something like … You’re coming off like you’re very angry.  Do you need some time to cool down?

If your teen turns their wrath into a cold shoulder, don’t abandon them.  Get them to open up and share what’s going on.  Also, dig into the “whys” of your child’s anger.  Are they mad about something in school?  Are they upset about a broken relationship?  Are they unhappy with some decisions they’ve made?  It’s not a good idea to isolate an angry child.  Getting at the root of your kid’s anger defuses the whole encounter and allows discussions to take place on a calmer level.

Arrogance

The arrogant attitude is the one that can really get under your skin.  You see this attitude when kids say, Mom, you’re dumb.  Or, Dad, you can’t understand.  Man, makes your blood boil, doesn’t it?  But this cocky attitude is a sign of insecurity, a sense that a teen is not measuring up so they have to put on a false bravado to mask it.

If you’re living with a child in need of daily attitude adjustments, you are not alone!  It is difficult (and even maddening at times), but with God’s grace you can get through it.  We shouldn’t excuse a teen’s behavior or coddle their bad attitudes.  Instead, the most important thing to teach your teen is that they can choose their attitude.  They don’t have to be controlled by their emotions.  They have the power to think correctly and adjust their attitude.

And that’s a powerful lesson for us all. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Navigating Your Teen’s Universe

It’s been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. And teens? Well, they seem to be from a completely different universe! Sure, teenagers look human, but the way they speak, the way they dress, and the things they value all seem to point to an origin in a galaxy far, far away. I don’t want to “date” myself, but you have to admit, it is different. And it’s that culture that you and I have said “I’m glad I don’t have to grow up in today’s teen culture.” Ever said that?

But maybe I exaggerate. Just because some elements of the new teen culture are alien to us, doesn’t mean our kids are from another dimension (even though it can seem that way). Let’s face it; the world that our sons and daughters are growing up in is far different than the one in which we were raised. When we wrote a school paper, we had to travel to a place called “the library.” Students now have the all the information they need at their fingertips, just by visiting Google. Our TVs carried three stations. Today, teens have access to a thousand different programs, not only on TV, but on their computers and phones. I grew up respecting coaches, police, clergy, and those in authority. Our teens live in a culture where the flaws and mistakes of those in charge have left them questioning their leaders.

You could likely come up with even more differences between your world and your teen’s world. We could also spend considerable time beginning conversations with “I would have never done …” or “I couldn’t have imagined saying …” or “They didn’t have this when I was …”, but I’ve come to realize that such nostalgic comparisons don’t accomplish much. The homespun wisdom of how we navigated our world does little to help our teens survive theirs. No doubt today’s culture is vastly different, and perhaps even more dangerous, than our own. But instead of preaching the virtues of a bygone era, as moms and dads I would suggest we learn how to live in this culture, and guide our kids in the here and now.

In order to do that, let me offer a basic crash course on the universe your son or daughter currently inhabits.

Connections

The average teen today spends ten hours in front of a screen every single day. Whether it’s the computer in the classroom, the TV in the living room, or the phone in their bedroom, kids spend a lot of time with eyeballs glued to monitors. All that screen time is hurting our teens because it’s affecting their personal connections. There is a lot more communication between teens these days, but a lot less interaction between them. Kids are gaining tech skills, but losing social skills. And it’s a loss that teens acutely feel. That’s why social media is so important to young people. They are hungry for meaningful connections, and so they gravitate towards Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, texting, and IM in order to interact with those around them.

But we know that nothing can replace the act of sitting down with another human being and conversing with them face-to-face. Texts are fine. But personal conversations are so much better. Facebook friends are nice. But real friends are valuable. And more than peer-to-peer relationships, teens need a good relationship with mom and dad. To help your son or daughter navigate this connection-starved world, shut off the phone, power down the computer, and turn off the TV. Take them to coffee and talk with them. Practice meaningful conversations around your house. Show them how to communicate with a spouse and how to interact with friends. The ability to maintain and develop personal connections is an invaluable tool teens need in order to survive this culture.

Respect

As I mentioned earlier, respect for authority has dwindled in today’s climate. Authority figures don’t garner the same respect from teens anymore. But it’s not only those in authority. We live in a pessimistic society where no person or topic is off limits to derision. The ability to mock, ridicule, and sarcastically put down others is considered a virtue. Thrust into such a hostile and negative culture, it’s no wonder our kids have a tough time nurturing a sense of respect.

So how can you climb into their world and help your son or daughter navigate this problem? First, know what music, movies, TV shows and websites your child is interacting with. The purpose is two-fold. First, you can monitor what your child is being exposed to. And second, you’ll be able to actively engage in your teen’s life! When you sit down with them, you can intelligently talk about the storylines of a TV drama. You can discuss the antics of current musicians. You can understand the draw of popular video games. You may even surprise yourself and start to enjoy some of these things along with your child! And if kids find out that you know what you are talking about, you’ll earn their respect.

But if you say, “That’s a bad movie!” or “Don’t listen to that song!” simply because you don’t like it, your teen is going to see right through you. Then it’s no longer a discussion of the merits of media; it becomes a generational debate between Elvis and Lady Gaga.

If you want to teach your teenagers respect, begin by respecting them. Listen to their thoughts. Ask their opinion. You don’t have to agree with them. And you may still put your foot down about certain movies, music, or video games. But if you engage your children with respect, they will be more likely to listen to your rules. And then, model what it looks like to respect others. Speak respectfully of government leaders, even if you don’t agree with them. And don’t lob negative character assaults against people. I hear parents disparage celebrities all the time, then wonder why their teens turn around and mock and ridicule other people, as well! To gain and teach respect in this culture, you have to model it well yourself.

Self

Here’s the truth; teens love themselves. A lot. We have given birth to a “me-first,” narcissistic generation. Many teens walk around believing that the universe revolves around their needs, wants and expectations. They think, “Success doesn’t come because we earn it; success should come because we deserve it!”

Moms and Dads, correcting this narcissistic mindset begins at home. We may have to change our own behaviors and attitudes towards our kids in order for them to change. Does your life revolve around your teen? If so, put an end to that today! Stop doing everything for your child, and let them start figuring some things out for themselves. Let your son make his lunch for school each day. Put your daughter in charge of managing her clothing budget. Give your kids chores and responsibilities around the house. Don’t drop everything to chauffer them to the mall, or help them with an over-due school project, or fix a problem they got themselves into. Parenting a teenager should feel more like coaching, and less like being a butler.

And then, as a family, volunteer to help others. If your daughter thinks the world revolves around her, take her to the rescue mission to help out. If your son thinks he is the center of the universe, encourage him to use some of his hard-earned cash to support local missionaries. When you model this kind of service as a parent, and then ask your teens to get involved, they’re more likely to join you with a willing attitude. And by serving others on a regular basis, they’ll soon sweat out any remnant of that narcissism that remains.

Teens may be from another universe. But that’s simply because they are trying to live in a culture that is vastly different than the one we used to know. As moms and dads, if we step into the culture with them, instead of standing on the sidelines shaking our heads, we’ll find that we not only understand our kids more, but we help them become better people. Remember; change starts at home. With you.

You might wonder, why is this whole topic of “Navigating Your Teen’s Universe” so important? It’s because in a world where “connections” and “respect” are missing, and “self” moves to the forefront, you, as a parent, might just be the last hope for your child. I’ve always thought that it’s not my job to pass judgment on a world that seems to be a mess, but help teens navigate through the challenges it presents in their life. And, I’ve found that my navigation in their world happens best when I make a “connection” with them, “respect” them for the challenges they face, and become “selfless”, with the intent of helping them, not just forcing what I think they need to do. Remember, kids change because of relationships, not because of my forcing a lifestyle upon them.

May the Word in you become flesh and dwell among your kids in such a way that you offer help, and hope, and light in the darkness of this teen culture that is far different from the one you and I grew up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.