When to Share Your Past with Your Teen

I’ve never heard parents ever state, “We want our kids to be perfect!” Yet, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard adolescents say, “My parents expect me to be perfect!” I’d be a rich man. For many parents, the intended message gets lost in interpretation because their teen is having a hard time embracing the authenticity of the messenger.

As a child moves into their teen years, it’s crucial for Mom and Dad to shift their parenting style from a teaching model to a training model; helping teens take what they know to be true and apply it to the life they live in the culture they belong. In a performance and appearance teen culture where “posers” and ‘wanna-be’s” are a dime a dozen, teens are crying out for connections in relationships that are authentic. Never before have parents had the opportunity as the one before them now to be that genuine and trustworthy connection when their kids transition into their adolescent years.

A parent’s first move from a teaching to a training model is to begin sharing about his or her own imperfections. This in an intentional action that might begin when a child is anywhere between the ages of 12 and 14; the age when they’re beginning to learn from their social circles that they and their parents aren’t as perfect as they have been led to or allowed to believe.   This shift in parenting models authenticates not only the teaching that has happened the first 12 years of their child’s life, but creates a genuine and “real” relationship of training for the years ahead.

This “new” relationship moves a parent into a bond with their teen that can now share what Paul shared with the Philippians when he said, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.” (Philippians 4:9 -The Message). Paul is saying, “Okay guys, you’ve learned a lot… now let’s put it all into practice.”

To allow pre-teens and teens to continue the belief that their parents are perfect and the expectation is for them to be perfect, will build conflict into the parent-teen relationship for obvious reasons. First of all, it’s hard to live with perfect people. And secondly, the lifelong teachings of the younger years will become invalidated in the minds of a teen, because they lack genuineness and realness as they shift their cognitive process from concrete to abstract thinking.

For parents who have never debunked or deflated their child’s perceived perfection of them, or allowed their teens to continue living out their belief of their necessity for perfection, the sharing of their “own story” becomes crucial and necessary to help a pre-teen make a healthy transition into adolescence. When parents share their past relational hurts, their shortcomings and struggles, and their “own issues”, they open the door for a deeper and more meaningful relationship.

Parents always ask me if they should share their “past” with their kids. My answer is a resounding, “Absolutely, YES!” I would add that parents should also be engaged in sharing their current struggles. This type of conversation authenticates not only the parent, but brings to life the necessity of a relationship with Christ as they see the message of the Gospel fleshed out in the life of Mom and Dad.

To those parents that say the sharing of their sinful and hurtful past might give license for their child to do the same, I would tell you that is not what I see in the current of today’s teen culture. Teens aren’t looking for justification of inappropriate behavior; they’re looking for authenticity in relationships around them that undergird the values and principles they have been taught and really know to be true.

Moms and Dads are those people that can offer what their teen is looking for in making a transition from childhood to adulthood. And it begins with authenticity.

Now, of course, all that’s shared should be timely, age appropriate, and for the benefit of the child’s development. The determined action to share imperfections, thus validating the need for embracing the biblical principles taught in a child’s early years, should be unleashed.   Details that border on TMI (Too Much Information) should be bridled. Make sure that what is shared is communicated for the benefit of your emerging teen. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians stated it well when he said, Do not let any unwholesome (distasteful, my addition) talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

As a point of action today, text your teen and ask them, “Do you think I want you to be perfect?” Text them, don’t call them. They may be more open in their thoughts writing to you than talking to you face-to-face. You might just be surprised at your teen’s response. But I guarantee you this, they will be even more surprised at your new style of engagement, a style that will open new pathways into the heart of your teen at a time in life that they need you the most. Whatever their response, use it as an opportunity to break the “perfectionist image” they have of you, or as a springboard to engage in a new type of conversation with your emerging teen.

And as you begin your intentional effort to “put feet to the lessons they have learned”, be just as committed in your goal to help them become more authentic. Talk less, listen more. Stop the lectures and have more discussions. Quit correcting all the time, and begin providing a place of rest for their hearts. Quit being perfect, and begin showing your imperfections. Share more of your failures and less of your successes.

Paul, the greatest teacher of how to communicate with your teens, tells Timothy, Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth……” (2 Timothy 2:22-26 The Message)

It’s a move toward authenticity.  And more importantly, it’s perhaps the first steps to helping your child understand what it’s like to be a real follower of Christ in a broken world.



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.







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.