Which Parent Are You? Part II

Okay, earlier this week I detailed some various types of parents in hopes of helping us all realize that no parent is perfect, and there are always ways to improve who we are and how we come across.

This article is a continuation of that. If you weren’t able to read the one published a few days ago, click here, and read it first. I’ve exaggerated a bit of the descriptions to make it a little easier to “swallow” who you might really be, or how your child perceives you.

Here’s the next set of parents. Which one are you?

Spiritual Stan (identical twin to Bible Bob)

Stan loves the Lord, possesses wonderful biblical wisdom, yet looses his effectiveness in communicating with his teens because he’s more concerned about how he appears spiritually rather than showing interest in the life of his children. In other words, he’s more concerned about the appearance of the messenger than the crucial-ness of his message. And he can’t be challenged with because he possesses the answer, and any attempt for discussion only ends up in an argument.   Stan believes that the now antiquated way of instilling the Truth by telling, trumps the great need of his teens to have this wisdom shared. Many times, Stan is so determined to have to be “right” because he feels the only alternative to talking about scripture can never be wrong. Well intended, Stan talks about his love for the Lord and scripture in such a way that doesn’t allow for discussion, the critical way to engage with teens wanting to learn to process the Truth.

Here’s what you can do to change the perception of yourself, Stan.

If the Gospel is being lifted up and its not drawing people to it, then there’s something wrong in the presentation or with the messenger. I think we all have to figure this one out for our self. How we present the Truth that we know to be true is important. And as kids move into their teen years, we’ve got to allow them to wrestle a bit with what they know to be true, and learn how to apply it to their lives. It’s okay to let them struggle a bit with learning how to take all the truth given to them and assimilating it into their life. We don’t have to push, because they’ll seek. So the atmosphere I create is key to the invite of having your teen engage, knowing their questions, comments, reflections, and answers won’t be shot down every time they “process” out loud. Rightly handling scripture should invite participation, not discourage it.

Never Wrong William (aka: Always Right Willy)

Willy is never wrong. He’s always got to be right. So anyone that might make him even appear to be wrong becomes an adversary that must be verbally crushed. He knows everything, about everything. Most people feel that there’s not much need for a discussion because Willy already knows the answer. And if a discussion begins, he dominates the verbal exchange by being a know-it-all, who needs nothing from the other. He spends little time listening, and most of his time figuring out how he should appropriately respond. A discussion with a mirror would be of more benefit to Willy than wasting the time of a teen who deep down knows that this dad really won’t ever hear anything that he says… because this dad is so bent to always be right. And if he’s right, then any other comments or reflections are treated as wrong.

Here’s some help for you, Willy.

Willy…. you can’t always be right, and you’ll never always be wrong. And people know that you possess a great amount of knowledge. So use that knowledge for good so that others are attracted to your timely words, your deep intelligence, and godly wisdom. But, no one likes to be around someone who’s never wrong. So flavor your conversation with comments like “I may be wrong, but I think….” , or “You know, you’re right… I’m wrong,” or “I don’t know,” even when you do know… just so you can engage with folks and not make them feel stupid because they can’t keep up with your intellect.

Trainer Tom

Tom gets it. This is one dad who understands that he must switch parenting style from teaching to training. Instead of having everything depend on him, he realizes that his purpose of his parenting during the adolescent years is to prepare his kids for the next stage of life. He takes advantages of opportunities to transfer wisdom through allowing his teens to observe, reflect, and experience different parts of his life. He spends more time in discussion than trying to compete with Siri. He spends more time letting his kids make decisions; less time deciding everything for them. More time listening, less time talking. Gives fewer answers, asks more questions. Tom pushes his teen to independence on Him, and less time on him. He allows consequences to have their full effect when rules have been broken, and spends more time engaging in relationship. Trainer Tom allows experiences to speak for itself, and daily interactions to become the platform for displaying a daily walk with the Lord. Tom gets it. And his kids love him dearly because they know he truly has them as the focus.

Tom, here’s my comments to you, my friend.

Way to go, Tom. Seems like you’ve got this parenting thing down.

Teacher Trish

Mom Trish doesn’t leave a stone unturned. She never stops and is always looking for a new way to teach her teens a new lesson. She does it with a tenacity that would almost show that she would have very little value in the life of her kids unless she is doing her “mom program” as if she were competing for some world “mother of the year” award. Now, don’t get me wrong. She wants good things for her kids and wants to be a good mom, but her kids ignore her because they want a mom, not just a teacher. Trish doesn’t realize that not every teachable moment needs to be a time of teaching.   Familiar comment from her kids would be, “Stop, mom”, “Mom, not now”, or “We get it, Mom”.  Trish doesn’t realize that too much teaching douses the flames of wanting to learn. She also doesn’t realize that what all kids want first is a mom who can teach instead of a teacher that can occasionally do the “mom thing.”

Here’s some good lessons for you to learn, Trish.

You are to be applauded for your desire to be thorough. And there are a million lessons to teach teens, especially in a culture where we’re all concerned about our kids knowing enough to survive. But it’s okay to back it up a few notches and trust what you’ve taught yours kids will “stick”. And, know that God is involved in the life of your teen as well. You can rest in the job that you’ve done with them and now allow them to come to you with questions, rather than you going to them constantly with answers. The teachable moments NOW that will stick are the ones that are demonstrated through your life as they observe, reflect, and experience life with you. This is how they learn now. So don’t push them away with teaching times and miss out on the opportunity on the training experiences that they NOW so desperately need. Put as much effort in trainable moments, on their terms, as you have in your teaching opportunities, and you’ll be a parent who will never be forgotten.

Perfectionist Pam

Pam doesn’t think that she communicates how she wants her daughter to be perfect. But her daughter would tell you otherwise. Pam portrays herself as perfect. All is good, everyone is doing well, and her life is lined up perfectly. She doesn’t know it, but people feel uncomfortable around her. They feel judged just by being in her presence. Her kids couldn’t tell you where their mom has made a mistake, nor can they tell you one wrong thing in her life. What is presented is that she has it all together, struggles with nothing, all is well. How her teenage kids would love to see a flaw, or imperfection to feel that it’s okay that they can have flaws in their life.   Pam doesn’t know it, but if she would ask her kids if they thought she wanted them to be perfect, she would be surprised. It’s not her intent, but she subtly demands those around her to be perfect, because she show’s no imperfection. Pam’s perceived perfection pushes her kids away. And Pam, can’t understand why her kids want to hang out with those “imperfect kids”. What she doesn’t know is that her kids find rest in those “imperfect kids”, because they identify more with imperfection than perfection.

Oh Pam, I know it’s hard to improve on perfection, but here are some thoughts that might help.

It’s time to start showing some of your imperfections to your kids. Share some of your “mistake” stories and let them know that you’re not perfect. You don’t have to give them all the details and you must use discretion in your storytelling, but you must let them know that you’re not perfect, they’re not perfect, and all of you won’t be this side of heaven. And do this also. Flavor your speech with comments like “I don’t want you guys to be perfect…” or “I know I may sound like I want perfect kids but that’s not what I’m saying.” You have probably become accustomed to verbiage that you use that conveys perfection. Identify what that is and stop it. Ask your kids what it is about you and your words that bothers them the most. Tell them they have to be brutally honest. Whatever they say, don’t correct, change, or justify their answer or reflections. Just listen. And even if they’re wrong. Stop doing it. It will help you engage with them so they can hear all the wisdom that you possess.

Judgmental John

John doesn’t really think he’s judgmental. He truly believes that he’s just sharing his faith and giving good guidance and direction to his teenage kids. Little does he know that they think he’s the most judgmental person in their world.   John’s trying to share biblical truth and principled living ideas with his teenage kids, but they perceive him as cutting down those around them. John doesn’t intend to be judgmental, but his kids perceive him as that. He doesn’t intend to push them away by presenting Biblical truth, but they are more distant today than they ever have been. And John is confused. He’s confused why he feels so far away from his kid’s heart, when he tries so hard to communicate truth and wisdom to them. He’s stuck. And he’s really as frustrated as his kids are. Perception is truth to the one who perceives. And John’s kids perceive something different than what John really intends.

If you kids feel like you’re a judgmental person in their life, here are some thoughts that might help.

John, if your teens feel like you’re being judgmental of them or their friends they’ll shut you out. And if they shut you out, they’ll shut down all you stand for, missing out on the great wisdom you need to transfer to them. Standards, principles, and values when conveyed in a perceived judgmental way these days are pretty inflammatory so it’s important to learn how to get your ideas principles across without judgment. Do this. Flavor your speech with comments like “I don’t mean to be judgmental, but what do you think about…”, or “I know I might sound like I’m speaking down to this, but…”, or “Don’t take this as judgmental, but…”. These statements many times will diffuse the judgment perception if your teens feel like you are.

Critical Chris – (cousin to Pointer Paul)

Chris is good in the workplace. He’s a problem solver. He spends his days solving problems, and doing what men do best… fix things. He’s on a daily mission to search and destroy problems and to detect and destroy anything that would interfere with the mission of his workplace environment. And he’s good at it. Matter of fact, he’s one of the best. But when he comes home and does that same, he’s destroying his family. Chris hasn’t realized that what makes him good in the workplace will destroy his relationships with family members at home. Chris’ cousin, Pointer Paul is the same way. He gets home and all he does it point out things that are wrong. After a while, the teens in the home ignore all he is saying and eventually ignore the once close relationship they’ve all had. Chris and Paul don’t understand that their pointing out and detection of problems communicates tenuous atmosphere where everyone has to walk on eggshells, and be careful on what expose of themselves, fearful that someone might detect and point out their problems.

Chris! You’ve got to quit… you’re killing your kids and ruining your relationship with them. Here are some thoughts; please don’t pick this apart (Ha!)

To the two cousins, Critical Chris and Pointer Paul, I would tell you to only correct your kids on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I know that you’re good as seeing faults, but you have to be better at bridling your tongue so that you don’t discourage your teen’s presence in your life. No one likes to be criticized all the time, nor have areas of needed improvement point out continually. This may work in your child’s earlier years, but it doesn’t in the teen years.

Nagging Nancy

Nancy nags, pesters, irritates, and badgers people around her. Her teenage kids feel like its harassment. They are constantly told what they’ve done wrong, what they need to do different, and how they can do it better. They know that they’ll never be good enough, that their attempts will never be appreciated, and their efforts will always be futile. Nancy feels justified in her comments and as she really believes that it is her role to point out issues. And she’s frustrated because she can’t see anything but that which is wrong, or could be done better. What she’s finding out is that her kids begin to lie to her or say whatever is necessary to get the dripping faucet to stop. And the bigger problem is that her kids will shut her down and miss out on all the wisdom she could share. That wisdom gets lost in all the noise. Nancy’s got to give it a break or she’ll break the spirits of her kids and spouse.

Nancy, let me give you a bit of advice that all parents would do well to hear.

It’s time to turn off the dripping faucet before you flood those you love with critical constancy that will only drown your relationship with them. Scripture says “A fool delights in airing his opinion” and also states “Even a fool appears wise when he keeps his mouth shut”. It’s time to do both. And reason is that if you continue to nag, a habit that is easily to develop, your family will miss out on all the great wisdom and encouragement that you have to offer. So tonight, around the dinner table, ask your family a question. Tell them that you want to quit being a “nag” and ask them for ways that you can break your habit. It’s a hard question, but one that will enhance your relationships with each of your family members.

Well that’s about all the types of parents that I know. How did you fare? What’s important here is to ask that question that is found in the book of Psalms. “Lord, search me, know my heart, and see if there is any hurtful way in me…” There’s nothing wrong with some introspection, and things can only get better will a little self evaluation.


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.

Which Parent Are You?

We all portray certain images of parenting, many of which usually hinder rather than help our attempt to raise our kids and encourage them to develop Godly character traits in an oftentimes-godless appearing culture. While you may be overflowing with good intentions in your approach, your poorly handled presentation may not be appealing to your teen’s longing for direction and guidance from you. Basically, your “style” may be messing up your message.

I’ve put together a list of some of those parenting styles for you to scroll through and see if you carry some of these well-intended parental approaches that might be backfiring on your goals and objectives. Most of us reflect a combination of these styles. So read through and see if you might just be undermining what you really want for your teen.

And I won’t leave you hanging with the feeling that you’re a lousy parent, but give you some quick thoughts on how to change what your kids see into what you want them to embrace. So put a smile on your face, laugh at yourself a bit, and figure out which of the following “parents” best represents you (not your spouse), and try a new approach to touch your child’s heart. And if you don’t’ know what category you might fall in, ask your kids. It will give you some great discussion around the table tonight. What types of parent styles have you embraced?

Motor Mouth Maria

Oh, you know Maria. She never shuts up. If the average woman will speak 75,000 words in a day, she can double that before lunch. She spends so much time talking that her kid’s chief complaint is that she never listens. Her words might be good “stuff” but she Maria is so intent in communication her message instead of listening to her teen’s heart, that her kids are tuning her out. She’s like “Siri on steroids”, spewing a wealth of information when what others around her really want is a listening ear. Her kids walk away from her and all her wisdom because they need some rest or a break from the constant chatter that clouds compassionate communication. They want more, and really desire to have discussions rather than lecture, listening rather than another opinion, and understanding more than verbal constancy. Maria has never embraced the scripture; “Even a fool appears wise when they keep their mouth shut.”

Maria, here are some directives that might answer the question as to why your kids don’t want to hear your voice.

Ask your kids the question, “Do I talk too much?” and encourage them to be honest; brutally if necessary. Text them right now and ask that question. Sometimes kids will say things in a text that they wouldn’t say face-to-face.

Try this. Try the “24 Hour Shut Up Challenge”. Please don’t take it offensively; it’s meant to drive home a point that kids sometimes get to a point where they just want someone (and they think it) to shut up. So do so for 24 hours and see what happens. I believe you’ll find that some silence invites them to enter into discussion. It also encourages them to take responsibility to make conversation happen instead of you always having to verbally initiate communication.

Overbearing Betty

Betty is always. She is always there. She is always injecting opinions. She is always helping. Always present in activities, nearby to lend a not so needed hand, in attendance at everything, everywhere, all the time. You just cannot get away from Betty and her involvement. Her kids spend time other places just to feel a sense of freedom. They disengage more than engage because they want control of their life without the constancy of an overseer. People around here ask the question “Who invited you?” into the conversation, the activity, or the organization. It’s not that she’s not welcome, it’s her intense domineering and bossy (and almost pompous and arrogant) demeanor that pushes people away, and pushes her out of otherwise hospitable settings. Her involvement “worked” when her kids were in elementary school, but is working against her as they enter their teens. Her teens feel that her involvement is more about her, and not about her participation in their life.

Betty, give some thought to some of these thoughts.

Ever have too much garlic on a meal? Garlic is my favorite spice. Even when I cook, I load up the meal with fresh ground garlic. But you and I know this. Too much of a good thing can ruin a meal. And hear me. Too much of a “good thing”.   What you have become accustomed to is “too much”. You’ve got to back off. It doesn’t mean to quite putting spice into the relationships you have. It just means cut back a bit if you feel like your strength is overwhelming and a little over bearing. Don’t know if you’re palatable? Then ask some close friends the easy question – “Am I overbearing?” and tell them that if they don’t tell you the truth, you’ll crush them. (ha!) Seriously, Betty, you’ve got to back it up a notch or your aggressiveness will push others away, and that’s not what you want to do to your teens. It’s the time that they need you the most.

Authoritative Art

Ol’ Art. Bless the heart of my good friend, Art. He not only wants to be an authority, he needs to be the authority. He’s not quite like Never Wrong William because it’s not about right or wrong; it’s about position. Art will let everyone know that “As for me and my house, we will…..” with a repeated right handed karate chop to his left hand that shows he’s in power, he’s in control, and others better toe the line to live up to his expectations. Matter of fact, Art’s position is more important than his relationship with his adolescent kids. And when you boil it down, it’s more about him than about them. Because he doesn’t know how to lead with relationship, he has to demand with authority. And it’s not because he doesn’t have the God-given authority. He does. But he uses it to fill a void in his life rather be the relationship seeking dad who longs to engage, listen, and adapt rules and ways to the ever-changing teen environment his kids live within. Art will have quite a bit of conflict with his maturing sons, as testosterone elevates in their pursuit of independence. And he’ll push away his older daughters who want more of a warm relationship than a demanding existence. Art will be the Dad who one day stands at his daughter’s wedding with a sense of regret of how he could have been more to the one he is giving away. He’ll be the one who sits and watches his son take a bride and wonder why he wasn’t closer to the fellow that will carry on his family name.

Art, not to take away from your authority, but if your approach isn’t working and really pushing your kids away, consider this.

Your strength is not in your authoritarian approach. Your strength is in the display of the authority that you’ve been given. Jesus described himself as “gentle and humble in heart”. What a wonderful approach to displaying the greatest strength! The authoritarian approach works well when your kids are young, but as they become teens, respect has to be earned. It’s not given as easy as it used to be given (I wish it was). Back up a bit on the expression of authority and ratchet it up a bit in the relationship arena. Kids change because of relationship and the respect you have earned… they don’t change because of the display of authority.

Hovering Helen

The difference between Hovering Helen and Overbearing Betty is that Betty is pushing her agenda on others, and Helen is taking everyone’s agenda from them. Helen does everything for her kids. She washes their laundry, does their homework, writes their papers, rescues them from consequences, makes excuses for any type of inappropriate behavior, never finds fault in her child, and always blames others for her child’s failures. My good friend, Helen wants to do everything perhaps because her parents never “did” for her. She is motivated out of a sense of trying to find her own value than concerned about the developed maturity needed in her teen’s life. She’ll baby her child, excuse behavior, justify actions, and never really acknowledge that she’s hampering more than helping her child get ready for the world they will one day live in. She chooses to raise her kids in the zoo rather than prepare them to survive in the jungle. Another trait of Helen is that she feels like she’s better than anyone else, which fuels her over-involvement in her child’s life. She’s better than any trained teacher, knows more than anyone else who tries to coach her child. The problem with hovering is that it is a hard position to hold for a long period of time. Eventually, this “helicopter” will crash, and the collateral damage will probably include her teens.

Helen, if you can pull yourself away for just a few moments to listen to how you’re actually causing more damage than you are helping, your kids will appreciate your new approach.

What are you afraid of that would cause you to continue to do everything for your kids as they enter the teen years? You’ve got to back up or they will push you away. And do this. Learn to trust that the seeds that you have sewn into their lives will come to fruition one day. God promises to finish what he has started. He’ll do that… you don’t have to. And trust that God is involved in the life of your child. Remember, everything you do for your child is one less thing that they’ll learn to do on their own. Training up a child isn’t doing everything for them. It’s teaching, showing, and then allowing them to do some of those things you’ve trained them in. Now, give them some room.   Which means you’ve got to back away a bit and trust.

Free & Easy Ernie

Ernie’s motto is “No Problemo!” He’s one of those “sugar daddy” Dads that wants to keep the peace, never enforce consequences to rules that have been violated, and runs from conflict like the plague. His easy-going style works well during the pre-adolescent years, but can’t be depended on by his teens during the tougher years. His “hakuna-matata” perception of the world avoids responsibility, and almost encourages immaturity and irresponsibility from his kids who will soon leave his fairy tale understanding of life. Here’s the problem. He can’t because he hasn’t. He’s never been taught himself, the great need for the development of responsibility, decision-making skills, and how to handle conflict. So, as a result, he’s fun to be with, but not one that can be counted on when he’s needed the most.

Ernie, Ernie, Ernie….it’s time to make a change. Here’s some advice that comes from my heart in hope that you’ll touch your child’s heart as well.

Listen! Your kids don’t need another friend. They need a parent. They need a parent who will stand up to them, so that when they need someone to stand next to them, they’ll come to you. They need someone who will be strong, so when they need a strong person in their arena, they can count on you. Responsibility is caught, not taught. If they don’t catch it from you, I fear you’ll have an immature mess that you’ll have take care of in your later years. Hardly a “hakuna-matata” for any parent. Be who your kids need you to be… not what you feel you want to be. Time to grow up.

Rescuer Robert

Robert will not allow consequences to have their full affect on his teen.   Good ol’ Bob, will bail his teen out of anything. Pay for him to get out of jail, talk the principal out of detention, give an excuse for absenteeism from work or school, lie for their child, manipulate for teen, and sometimes ignore that which shouldn’t be ignored. Mark my words. One day, Robert will be woken up by the needle of reality that will burst his rescue mentality bubble when he won’t be able to “cover” for his child and get him out of the inevitable.   Proverbs 18:18 is clear. Rescue an angry man once, and you’ll only have to rescue him again.   Robert’s desire to be a knight in shining armor will eventually tarnish as his son realizes that Dad didn’t help prepare him for a world that isn’t so quick to overlook poor choices and accept excuses.

Robert, here’s some advice I got from a good friend long ago… it changed the way that I parented and work with teens today.

You’re postponing the inevitable. And you’re missing the greatest teaching and training opportunity that is before your kids – consequences. If you don’t let them learn now, they’ll only have to learn later in life with the consequences of inappropriate behavior are greater and affect more people.   Let them learn now. If you need to rescue something to be that knight in shining armor, go adopt a dog. But don’t rescue your teens to make yourself feel better. Let their pain, be their pain. It will make them mature, accept responsibility for their actions, and teach them to make good decisions in life. Every time you rescue them from their pain, you are preventing, not encouraging, the development of skills and character traits they’ll need to be successful in the future. I’ve never met a dad that has said, “I’d like to help my kids be failures in life”. But your actions are shouting that message to your kids, and they’ll one day hate you for it if you don’t stop.

Vicarious Victor

Victor couldn’t live the perfect life that he wanted to live, so he’s decided to live that life vicariously through his child. Many times, Victor will demand that a son or daughter become what he thinks he was meant to be, not what his children were created to be. This dad looks like he’s participating with his teen, but actually is living his life through his teen. And the problem is that kids will eventually know the difference. It’s all about motivation. He wants his child to win… for himself… not for his child. The anger that Victor displays when disappointed in his son or daughter is his response to not getting what he wants. This mindset builds an expectation of performance where acceptance and value is based on one’s showing, which will eventually crumble. Victor’s true intent can be disguised in comments like “I only want the best for you”. But, if truth be told, dad’s comment would be more accurately communicated with “I need you to do well to make me look good.”

Victor, here’s some thoughts that will help you help your kids.

Let your life be your life, and their life be theirs. If you want your daughter to make good grades because it’s a reflection of you, then she’ll prove to you that she’s her own person by flunking her grades. And if you’re living your life through your son’s sports, he’ll quit one day because he’ll quickly want to take control of his life and not live it for another. Check your motives, Vic. Make sure your participation in your teen’s life brings value to their life… not taking value away from them.

Which one are you? Exaggerated a bit to lighten the message, but real parenting styles nonetheless. There’s some good lessons here.


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.

Communicating with Teens

Every parent of a teenager wants to build a strong line of communication with their teen. But sadly, the opposite is most often true. I’d like to share with you some simple tips to improve your communications with your teen.

You may wonder what the best timing is for building good lines of communication with your teen or pre-teen. That’s simple.  Do it NOW, before problems, struggles and difficulties begin. And never stop working at it, even when there is conflict.

As your children move from the elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that you adapt your style of communication to the changes taking place with your child. What was non-hormonal, now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence, and that affects how your teen interacts with you.  Unless you change with them, there will be conflict and broken communications.

There is a scripture that I believe accurately reflects the condition of most teens, and the “should-be” role of most parents. It’s when Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden (the condition of the teens part), and I will give you rest for your soul” (the parent’s part).

The hope is that we, as parents, become that place of rest for our kids a place where they might be restored.

Too many times parents become a place of added burden or hardship, or an extra “measure” of correction, when correcting, and a life of training, has already been done. Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer bunny” communication that just keeps on going. And dads have that tendency to tune out when communication is most needed.

Moms, your over-correcting does not provide the rest your child needs. And dad, your refusal to speak up does not restore. What is crucial for your child is the balance of the mom and dad mix, which will result in that place of rest.

But to achieve this balance, it is important for us as parents to transition with our children, to change our style of communication. If we can successfully make this transition, then the day when our children begin to struggle or have difficulties and desperately need someone to talk to we are the ones they will turn to.

Now, let me give you some advice on how to build that bridge–how to make that transition…

  1. Start by laying down some new rules, not ones that dictate, but those that invite. In fact, these are rules for yourself, not as much for your child, including making it a priority to have one-on-one time with your child. For example, you might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a mother-daughter, or father-son special vacation each year. Another might be a Joke Night that gets everyone laughing, just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached, just pure fun time together.
  2. Ask Thoughtful Questions… create a sense of wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, offer them thoughtful questions. And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately, or at all. They will learn to think on their own, and begin to ask you questions as you model one who asks questions. The questions themselves can lead to the right answers, without preaching.
  3. .. and wait to be invited. Hold off on the tendency to always drive the conversation and share your own opinions (Scripture says that a fool delights in airing his own opinion). Don’t break genuine interest, but poignant moments of silence (especially when they are not accustomed to silence from you) will move a child to ask, “What do you think?” Try not to force your opinion unless it is invited.
  1. “I Was Wrong” diffuses difficult discussions. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you are wrong.  You will take the fuse out of the firecracker when you do that. Once you admit you blew it, the issue can no longer be held against you.  Anger puts up barriers and must always be diffused before communications will open up.
  1. Give Them Respect… consider others to be more important. Easy to say, and sometimes tough to do.  It’s basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand that of them. This should affect the way you speak to them (you wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect), the way you discipline, the way you show grace and the way you respond when you are disappointed and upset.

I want to challenge you today to commit to building a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. Make time to communicate and really get to know your teen. And no matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always HOPE.  It may take time and persistence, but keep at it in a loving and natural way and they will eventually open up.

Remember, don’t give up — for God promises to turn your ashes to beauty, your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing. The God that has put His thumbprint on the life of your child still holds him (and you) in His palm.


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.